In addition to my review of Blind Spot, this issue includes a host of noteworthy items, including Wilfred McClay’s essay, “The Soul & The City,” and a review by HBU provost Paul Bonicelli of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, by Dambisa Moyo. Bonicelli, formerly an assistant administrator for USAID, discusses how his own experience as a “foreign aid official” coheres with Moyo’s depiction of the state of affairs in international development.
“I saw the same people doing the same things over and over again,” writes Bonicelli, “heard the same mythical references to the power of aid to transform a society, and of course observed the same people and institutions ignoring the history of aid-giving–all things are made new once the cycle begins again with new tranches of money because a new program or leader is now in place.”
This issue of The City, which is available in hardcopy via a complimentary subscription, is the first to be fully available in digital format. This is worth consideration because this is a publication that I used as an example in a post exploring the state of magazines and print journals in the digital age. At that time editor Ben Domenech sent me a note discussing the journal’s desire to appear in full form online.
While searching for the right venue the editors seem to have settled, at least for now, on Zmags, which uses a browsable form that imitates the print version as well as providing the option for a full PDF download.
In the midst of declining revenues, increased competition from digital sources of information, and new costs associated with distribution, a number of print magazines have launched in recent months. This is noteworthy, in part because it attests to a disruption in the narrative of digital progress that sees print as an obsolete medium.
The New York Post reported that magazine advertising revenues were down 21.5% in the first quarter of 2009 (compared with Q12008). Here’s a rundown of some notable publications that have launched within the past year or so, right in the thick of this downturn:
- Bible Study Magazine, published by Logos Research Systems, appears six times per year. The magazine is a complement to Logos’ powerful Libronix software, which is geared toward engagement with biblical, linguistic, and theological resources in digital form. As the magazine’s name indicates, the focus is on providing resources and guidance for engagement with the biblical text. This is a most worthy pursuit. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “We must once again get to know the Scriptures as the reformers and our forebears knew them. We must not shy away from the work and the time required for this task.” Bible Study Magazine is a great place to start.
- We’ve had a guest contribution from an associate editor of a promising publication published by Cardus. As the publication of a non-profit, Comment represents one avenue for the survival of print media, in the sense that it is not dependent solely on breaking even for survival. It is underwritten and subsidized as part of the larger mission of Cardus. The folks behind Comment have done a good job using the power of both print and digital media (including social networking) to promote and disseminate their product.
- The Purpose Driven Connection is another non-profit print publication that is connected to a larger digital world. Rick Warren’s ministry launched PDC this year in part as a way to connect people to the larger Purpose Driven website. But the magazine itself is full of features, including a mix of new and repurposed content.
- My own denomination, the CRC, has an office which launched a new web publication called Justice Seekers. The layout mimics a traditional print publication, and the email notice about the magazine also noted that it is available in print, although for a number of reasons it seems clear that digital delivery is the main concern.
- Townhall.com also recently put out a new print publication, which represents a move from the digital back to print, Townhall magazine.
Each of these projects represents in its own way the possibilities for ongoing usefulness of the print medium, whether as a complement or a secondary alternative to some kind of digital offering. All of the above except for Bible Study Magazine are offered by some kind of non-profit, and this may represent a signal about the future of print media.
Indeed, non-profits still have an option for print delivery that’s unavailable to traditional publishers, and that’s an alternative pricing structure for USPS delivery. This can lead to a significant advantage, as in the past rates have gone up for regular publishers while decreasing for non-profits. The differentiation of rates is one way politically to provide a competitive advantage for non-profit print publications.
My alma mater’s flagship student publication, The State News, where I broke into the ranks of op-ed columnists, celebrated its centennial anniversary earlier this month. The economics of news media increasingly make it seem as if the few kinds of print publications that will survive in the next 100 years will be those that are institutionally subsidized, whether more traditionally as student newspapers or more innovative “nonprofit” models.
Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson writes in the Financial Times that one hopeful prospect for the continuation of traditional print media is “that charitable endowments may replace commercial business models.” I have to say that this I’m much more optimistic about this possibility rather than the idea that government should somehow bailout mainstream media. (While deregulation might be a good step, direct subsidy would most certainly undermine the “free” press.) But as Alan Mutter notes in Edgecliffe-Johnson’s extensive and worthy analysis, “The idea of charitable endowments is a bit of a red herring.”
“Two prominent US newspapers are supposedly sheltered by not-for-profit parents, he says, but The Christian Science Monitor has abandoned its print edition and the Poynter Institute is selling the Congressional Quarterly to support its St Petersburg Times flagship: ‘There’s nothing about that form of ownership that insulates you,'” says Mutter, “a veteran newspaper editor who writes the influential Reflections of a Newsosaur blog.”
What bodes even more poorly for traditional print or “old” media is the alarming decline in public trust. The General Social Survey, which has conducted “basic scientific research on the structure and development of American society” since 1972, announced this week that in 2008 only 9 percent of those surveyed express a “great deal” of confidence in the press, a decline from 28 percent in 1976. (HT: Between Two Worlds) This decline in trust in the press is no doubt a major reason why less than half (43%) of people surveyed in a recent Pew poll said that the loss of their local newspaper would “would hurt civic life in their community ‘a lot.'”
Edgecliffe-Johnson quotes a publishing consultant Anthea Stratigos, who says, “The core journalistic values have to be there for the product to perform.” This is essentially my argument in brief in this week’s ANC: these “core journalistic values” are essential irrespective of the medium used. As another study from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism (also noted by Edgecliff-Johnson) concludes rightly, “The old norms of traditional journalism continue to have value.”
Let me give one quick example of how this recognition has been lost. Last year I attended a RightOnline conference, which was aimed at harnessing new media among conservatives. In a presentation from representatives of the Media Research Center, I raised the issue of the importance of the ability of sources to speak “off the record.” When I asked this question, it was dismissed out-of-hand: the gist of the response was, “There’s no such thing as ‘off the record’ in today’s digital age.” In a world where personal video recorders can fit into your pocket, nothing anyone ever says is off limits.
This has the real potential to undermine and destroy public discourse. Politicians are already so guarded that it is rare to find one who is willing to tell the straight, unadulterated truth. This kind of caustic and corrosive “paparazzi” mentality among new media practitioners is a real threat to the common good. And the extent to which “old” media have been influenced by this has undoubtedly played a part in the decline of the public’s trust over the last 30 years.
The International Blogging and New Media Association is starting to consider issues surrounding the need for professionalism. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is an excellent place to start. The Ninth Commandment is another.
More reading on the state of the newspaper:
- “Preparing the Obituary,” by James V. DeLong, The American (March 3, 2009).
- “The Online Experiments That Could Help Newspapers,” by Olga Kharif, BusinessWeek (March 8, 2009).
- “No News will be bad news,” by Stanley Bing, The Bing Blog (March 9, 2009).
- “The Ten Major Newspapers That Will Fold Or Go Digital Next,” by Douglas McIntyre, 24/7 Wall St. (March 9, 2009).
- “With Print Dying, Online Newspapers Herald the Future,” by Brennon Slattery, PCWorld (March 10, 2009).
- “Times Techie Envisions the Future of News,” by Ryan Singel, Wired (March 10, 2009).
- “Journalism evolving, not dying: science author,” AFP (March 14, 2009).
By almost any measure, the first Right Online conference, as part of the Defending the American Dream summit in Austin, TX, has to be judged a success.
The organizers of the event weren’t sure quite what to expect. How many bloggers and new media folks would attend? On the first day the summit organizers had to rely on special support given by the hotel because initially there were not enough lunches available…there were so many more people in attendance than they had expected or even hoped.
Later in September a second Right Online summit will happen in New Jersey, followed by a national summit in Washington, DC on October 10-11.
In a key way the conservative movement is behind the curve, both in comparison with the progressive political movement and the Christian blogging community, but better late than never. While this year’s summits are the first of their kind and scope amongst political conservatism, last year the Acton Institute was a sponsor of GodblogCon, a conference for Christian bloggers and new media professionals and hobbyists. This year we’ll be supporting the fourth annual GodblogCon to be held in Las Vegas, NV on September 20-21.
The Acton Institute is an important bridge between these oft-overlapping constituencies. It’s our hope that through greater involvement with the conservative movement we can bring the importance of religious and moral formation to the forefront of that discussion, and that through our engagement with the Godbloggers we can broaden the influence and profile of religious new media. (Here’s a brief flashback from last year’s GodblogCon that gets at how these two phenomena intersect: “Giuliani and the Godbloggers.”)
As is so often the case, politics gets plenty of mainstream press coverage, while religion gets short shrift. Perhaps we can start to change that from both sides, showing how religion is an important aspect of responsible and comprehensive political coverage, and how religion itself is worthy of more and better press attention. Here’s a sample of old media coverage of this first Right Online summit:
- Laylan Copelin, “Conservative convention adds new-media component,” Austin American-Statesman, 11 July 2008.
- Jose Antonio Vargas, “In Texas, the Right Boots Up to Gain Strength Online,” Washington Post, 18 July 2008.
- Amy Schatz, “In Online Politicking, Republicans Play Catch-Up,” The Wall Street Journal, 18 July 2008.
- Kate Phillips, “Texas Boot Camp for Bloggers on the Right,” The New York Times, 18 July 2008.
- Kate Phillips and Michael Falcone, “The Early Word: ‘Tex Roots’,” The New York Times, 18 July 2008.
An excellent talk by from the Media Research Center, “Understanding and Critiquing Old Media,” opened today’s afternoon session at Austin’s Right Online summit. The speakers clarified some basics about journalism, such as the fact that typically reporters don’t write their own headlines (copy editors do) or that there is an unofficial reporter’s code of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists.
A good deal of the talk revolved around consistent forms of bias found in the media, most of which are monitored closely by MRC’s watchblog NewsBusters. An archetypal form of bias by ignorance that exists in the media, often manifesting itself in bias by labeling, has to do with the mainstream coverage of religion.
The signature authority on this form of media bias is GetReligion, whose name is taken from William Schneider’s observation that the press “just doesn’t get religion.” A great example is the most recent GR post on the media’s constant politicization of statements from the pope and other Vatican officials, a theme we’ve long covered in this venue.
These sorts of online outlets represent a huge shift in the conversation about media. The word can now get out if there are errors, intentional or otherwise, in media coverage. Quotes taken out of context can be shown in their original form. Letters to the editor can be posted online whether or not the original source chooses to acknowledge them. New media is an important form of “citizen” journalism.
One question I have is whether or not citizen journalists should recognize and respect the “off the record” phenomenon that is a hallmark of professional journalism. If nothing is ever off the record now, I think there’s a dangerous possibility that such a reality will impoverish public discourse and create an environment of cynicism and opposition. There’s a reason that ability to speak “off the record” arose in the fourth estate and I don’t think we should simply cast it off as an antiquated relic without serious reflection.
One of the other key differences between old and new media is the form that authority, influence, and celebrity take in the latter. See, for instance, New York mag’s “The Microfame Game” and Vanity Fair‘s Blogopticon.
The Sam Adams Alliance hosted a session titled “Samsphere” here in Austin, Texas at the Defending the American Dream conference. After a brief biography of American Founder Samuel Adams, discussions turned to improving networking and message organization for individuals and groups committed to freedom and political liberty.
In a nutshell, the purpose of Samsphere is to network pre-existing bloggers together into single or shared networks. The Sam Adams Alliance also spent much of their discussion focusing on the importance of strengthening the grassroots aspect of community activism. The Chicago based thinktank also promoted their new web project, Blogivists.
Additional discussion was related to comparisons of conservative and libertarian online groups with the grassroots effectiveness of groups such as Daily Kos and MoveOn.org. We also had group discussions about how ideological differences play into the different organizational components of the political right and left, which led into discussions about the motivation and objectives of online activism.
By contrast with the Netroots Nation agenda, there are no sessions devoted to how faith relates to political conservatism. The absence of the faith element in this discussion is a reminder of just how well-positioned and unique the Acton Institute is within the broader community calling for limited government. During the session we were able to connect with a writer from the Reagan Coalition. Also, Erick Erickson from RedState.com dropped by and offered some helpful comments on limited government, election strategy, and organizational technique.