Category Archives: Currents

The newsroom and the greatest country

Jeff Daniels in HBO’s Newsroom.

Among the hundreds of reviews of  HBO’s The Newsroom during the summer of 2012,  so far, none have questioned the basic accuracy of the screed heard round the world.

You can watch it at this link  or just read it here:

“And you — sorority girl — yeah — just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world.”
“We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, No. 4 in labor force, and No. 4 in exports. America leads the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined.”

Acerbic. Bitter.  Certainly human. But …  journalistically accurate?  Let’s take a look. Continue reading

Information politics and oil wars

Were we wrong on “peak oil”?  Or just misinformed? 

By Bill Kovarik

One of the more painful lessons of recent  history involves the way politics can slant  scientific information.

The latest entry in this category seems to be the curiously sudden abundance of fossil fuels.   Where we once had imminent shortages and a series of resource wars for Middle Eastern oil, we have natural gas from fracking, heavy oil from Venezuela and unconventional oil from Canada’s tar sands now hitting world markets.

Reactions from the world press include the following:

  • “We were wrong on peak oil,” said  George Monbiot of the Guardian in July, 2012.  “There’s enough to fry us all.”   Environmental strategies must change now because “the facts have changed,” he said. Continue reading

New metaphors for information

At the end of the 20th century,  two main metaphors for information were common:   information “overload” and the information “superhighway,” and the two concepts worked together.   Just as trucks on a highway can be over weight limits, so, too, could a person’s capacity to absorb information deliveries also be overloaded.

The problem with this metaphor is that it assumes a one-dimensional delivery of a quantity of information from point A to point B.

Continue reading

Niles Register's 200th Anniversary

Its not often that anything in our relatively young nation turns 200, especially not a newspaper of the caliber of Niles Weekly Register, the most influential publication of the early 1800s and an enduring source of documentation for modern historians.

On Sept. 7, 1811, Hezekiah  Niles published the first of a series of weekly news  summaries that would grow to 75 volumes and 30,000 pages by the publication’s end in 1849.   As a paper of record for news in the United States, it is only matched by the New York Times, founded in 1851.

Great credit goes to Bill Earle, a Maryland historian who has spent years cataloging and researching the Register.   Earle’s publication history of the Register and other online resources have proven extraordinarily useful.   Continue reading

No surprises in the FCC report

The FCC’s June 9,  2011  “Information Needs of Communities” report will surprise no one.  Echoing many earlier reports on the decline of American journalism, the FCC has expressed concern that power is shifting away from citizens.

As a snapshot of the current situation, the report contains excellent statistics. For instance, it notes that the number of professional news reporters has declined from 55,000 in 2006 to 41,600 in 2010.

And it observes with appropriate concern, as did the Miller and Knight reports in recent years, that a loss of journalism is a loss of civic accountability: Continue reading

Nausea at the Newseum

“We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five,
She can tell you bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die, we love dirty laundry …”
– Don Henley

If you want to meet that bubble-head, just drop a Jackson and visit the shiny new Newseum on the Mall in Washington DC. She’s there in her natural element, enshrined in a vast warehouse of media fantasies, in a vacuum so complete that even a news chopper hanging from the ceiling virtually vanishes into irrelevance. Continue reading