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Citizen Journalism: In With the New

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Posted on May 22, 2008
Obama and journos
AP photo / JP photo / Jae C. Hong

Bring on the citizen journos: Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign hit a speed bump this spring when a citizen journalist reported his comments about “bitter” small-town Americans.

By Bill Boyarsky

In the world of conventional journalists—my old world—the idea of a non-journalist, a “civilian,” doing our work is an outrage.

No matter that one of the best editors I know says writing a good straight news story is nothing more than a “parlor trick.” No matter that one of the best young reporters of my acquaintance learned to write news stories not in journalism school but by copying and rewriting stories from The New York Times and other papers.

In our minds, journalism is a high-church mixture of complex rules, codes, practices, skills, traditions and taboos. If not exactly a religion in our minds, we certainly consider it a “calling,” open only to those who receive and accept the mysterious call.

But with the rise of the Internet, no call is necessary. Spurred on by a historic presidential election, an increasing number of people are engaged in journalism on the Web. They are changing journalism for the better. Their impact will be felt in not only national politics but in something often more important: the coverage of city councils, mayors, neighborhoods, schools, crime, health care, poverty and other important aspects of life in America’s cities and towns.

Some are amateurs, as in the case of contributors to OffTheBus, a presidential campaign site sponsored by The Huffington Post and Truthdig, on the other hand, is produced largely by pros. The diversification of the media is a welcome development, especially in the coverage of the presidential campaign. Political journalism has become rooted in the obvious. It’s boring and mind-numbingly conventional.


Square, Site wide
When I was a young political writer for the Associated Press, then a bastion of conventional journalism, I used to escape its restrictions by writing part time for a small liberal magazine in Los Angeles called Frontier. It was against AP rules, but I correctly figured my bosses would never read the magazine.

The late Phil Kerby, the Frontier editor who later won a Pulitzer Prize as an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, urged me to stick it to those crooked lobbyists and legislators. These lectures were followed by his cautionary advice to be correct and careful. Kerby was a colleague of the late Carey McWilliams, a great historian and editor of The Nation. When Frontier folded, The Nation took it over. From working for Kerby and from reading and knowing McWilliams, I learned to deal with ideas, to develop my opinions and to back them up with solid reporting and direct, straight-ahead writing.

A much less positive experience occurred at the Los Angeles Times when I was covering the 1976 presidential campaign.

The industrial belt was turning into the rust belt, and I reported on what was obviously the decline of American heavy industry. I’d arrive in a city knowing nobody and then would dig out my story. I loved the work, and the stories were played on Page 1. But a friendly editor told me I was making a big mistake, that my colleagues were getting more notice in the office by riding the campaign bus. I switched to covering Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign and spent the fall in the campaign cocoon. After election day, I quit political writing and returned to Los Angeles as a general assignment reporter for the Times. My family was a big reason for abandoning something I had done full time for many years. But another reason was that I no longer respected the work. I didn’t think riding the bus was real reporting.

I made it to columnist and then city editor, jobs I had always wanted, and retired from the Times. When I began blogging for LA Observed, a site featuring local news and comment, and writing about politics for Truthdig, I saw their potential and compared it to what Carey McWilliams and Phil Kerby accomplished outside journalism’s mainstream with their gutsy and well-reported publications. I sometimes think of McWilliams and Kerby when trying to live up to the freedom I have been given on the Internet.

As I immersed myself in the Internet, OffTheBus, an effort to harness the energy and intelligence of interested amateurs in covering the campaign, attracted my attention. Such amateurs are called “citizen journalists.”  As a traditionalist, I was skeptical and was reminded of an old anti-Ronald Reagan speech, given when he was an actor-citizen politician running for governor, that included a line that went something like: “Hi. I’m your citizen pilot. I’ve never flown a plane before, but I have always had a deep interest in aviation.”

But the editorial director of OffTheBus is my friend and USC faculty colleague, Marc Cooper, a Nation contributing editor and definitely a Carey McWilliams-Phil Kerby kind of journalist. Having stepped off the bus myself years ago, the name of the project intrigued me.

OffTheBus was started by Jay Rosen, an NYU journalism professor and Internet communications pioneer, and Arianna Huffington, founder of the Web’s Huffington Post. She was interested in a project for the ‘08 campaign. He wanted to mobilize large numbers of “people who are not professional reporters.” They would devote much of their attention to finding out what was happening on the ground and what concerned voters.

Directing the project is Amanda Michel, an Internet organizing veteran of the Howard Dean presidential campaign, the first such successful political effort on the Web. She also worked John Kerry’s campaign later that year and with Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Michel, editorial director Cooper and managing editor John Tomasic compose the project’s paid staff. Everyone else is a volunteer.

“We rely on the wisdom of the mass [the volunteers],” Cooper told me. “But it is mediated and edited by professionals. We get the best of both worlds.”

The most notable OffTheBus contribution to the campaign came from citizen journalist Mayhill Fowler. She is an unpublished fiction and nonfiction writer and a Sen. Barack Obama supporter who, according to the Federal Elections Commission, has given the senator $2,000.

She volunteered for OffTheBus when she heard of it. Fowler first wrote about grass-roots Obama campaigning within driving range of her home on the Oakland-Berkeley border. Soon, with two grown daughters away at Princeton and a lawyer-husband at home, she took off on the campaign trail, following the Obama bus in a rented car. She has a great eye and a unique style.

After returning to the Bay Area from her travels, she was alerted to an Obama fundraiser in San Francisco’s rich Pacific Heights neighborhood. She called two Obama supporters she knew for permission to attend, which was granted. “They knew I was a reporter,” she told me.

She heard Obama say something that has caused him trouble ever since she reported it: “You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Traditionalists in the press thought Fowler had somehow broken some of the craft’s rules. One deals with what is off the record. This rule is so loose and confusing that I have never been able to completely understand it. The traditional press wasn’t invited to the fundraiser, meaning it was closed to the press but apparently not off the record. (I have never heard of this variation of the rule). Nobody stopped Fowler from taking and recording notes. Nor did anyone stop other attendees who brought video and audio recorders.

The second rule deals with contributing to campaigns. Traditionalists say Fowler should not write about Obama because she is one of his contributors. I don’t agree with that. I’m not one of those journalists who brag about never voting. I never miss an election. What’s the difference between, on the one hand, voting, and defending my choices at dinner parties, and, on the other, contributing? When I covered the conservative movement and Ronald Reagan, I made it a point to tell my right-wing sources that I was a liberal Democrat. I wanted to be honest. They accepted that, and some sources became drinking companions. After Reagan was elected governor, an aide offered me a job as a press secretary. I said no, I was just starting to get ahead in my job at the Associated Press. “Anyway, ” I added, “you know I don’t agree with a thing he believes in.” The aide dismissed the point, saying Reagan liked me and thought I was a straight shooter.

Individual journalism, such as Fowler’s, is just part of the OffTheBus report. Its most significant contribution is assembling groups of citizen journalists for special projects. Project director Michel, experienced in political organization, puts these projects together.

Early in the campaign, she assigned volunteers to accompany Obama canvassers on a national canvassing day. As a matter of fact, she said, some of the OffTheBus volunteers were also Obama canvassers. They asked the same questions and turned in the answers on forms that Michel tabulated.

The OffTheBus crew found that contrary to what most journalists were reporting, the economy rather than the war was the biggest concern.

How could Michel trust the Obama volunteers as reporters?  All the reports had the same findings, she said, whether they came from plain reporters or Obama canvasser reporters.

Another project was an in-depth look at the backgrounds of the superdelegates. The information is available on the OffTheBus Web site.

I read OffTheBus every day and see it as a work in progress, breaking new ground and old rules, and producing analyses that can be as tired as anything in the traditional media. But in general, OffTheBus offers a fresh and imaginative look at the campaign. “We are learning as we are going,” said editorial director Cooper. “We are trying to make up the rules as we go along.  We really don’t have a guide. ... We found in our early work that it is not so easy to get people to do good journalism.  We don’t want to downplay or discard the old skills.”

The model of a professional staff reading and fact-checking the work of amateurs is something that newspapers, with their increasingly small staffs and growing inability to connect with readers, should consider. When I was city editor of the Times, we had a hard time figuring out how to cover our huge area. I think something like this would have helped.

Most of all, it’s imaginative. It dares to challenge old ways. The presidential campaign is historic for a few reasons, not the least of which is the opening up of that mysterious “calling,” journalism.




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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, May 26, 2008 at 5:01 pm Link to this comment

How else can we address MSM taboo subjects?

A handful of Republican and Democrat congressmen, with military industry in their districts continue to support this war while 70% of the American public opposes it.  Israel advocates continual war in the mideast and with influential religious ties to the owners of media and the hierarchy of the RNC and DNC and with decades long influence by lobbiests they sucessfully embellish the actual representation they should be accorded and we are dragged into their paranoial disputes.

Legalization and taxation of marijuana.  When was the last national referendum on this?  We need industrial hemp, fiber, oil and to curtail money speny infringing on the pursuit of happiness aspect of the constitution.  Victimless crimes are in the spirit of the U.S. Constitution.

$4.99/gal for diesel in W.Virginia, haven’t they heard of coal gasification?  S.Africa did it for $35.00/bbl for years.  Who do the oil companies pay royalties to for extracting oil and gas from the public domain in this country.  Why do we have to “buy” oil for the SPR.

Anti-trust actions are needed against the media, oil companies and wall street whom we should not bail out with tax dollars.  The contracts for oil should require speculators to “take delivery” and require substantial money down instead of the 5% they pay until they can resell their “paper”.

Just a few thing I would like to see the bona-fide jouralists report on…...besides 9/11.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 26, 2008 at 10:30 am Link to this comment

Good points, Leefeller.  But we both may be delusional.  First, I believe we’ve all been duped by “experts” way too often.  (Hence, my screen name.) In my field of education, it’s been my experience that much of the trouble and back-peddling comes from “educators” being too willing to listen to “experts,” many of them PhD’s and highly paid “consultants” and think tanks.  When you look at the policies created by our so-called experts in DC, it doesn’t say much good about “experts.”

DC, congress and the WH have a raft of advisory councils made up of dinterested interested parties.  Those very vocal Foundations effecting policy and information?  I couldn’t believe some of the people who sit on those.

I like to joke that, if world progress can be attributed to “intelligence” then it doesn’t say much for either. 

You’re right.  It’s about money.  And, like you, I’m suspect.  I have to say, many of the ideas and voices I read here, I place far more credence in than any of the crap I get from elsewhere.  I think these people are at least as expert as any of the “experts” and it’s likely they’re more trustworthy because I don’t see that they have a lot to gain.  As for me, I tend to trust my own judgement, too, because it’s validity often gets born out by events.  But, then, I might be deluding myself.

I hold out hope that the internet might be the mechanism through which change can come for the simple reason that lines of communication are nearly limitless, as is the exchange of ideas. 

What I’d really like to see is one, thorough clearing house that is completely unbiased to which people needing true info could turn regularly and feel as though they get the truth.  I know there are many, but that can be a problem since reading and sifting through just one or two takes a ton of time.

As I reread, I see I ramble but I’m out of time.  It’s a huge subject.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, May 26, 2008 at 7:22 am Link to this comment

When I am forced to dig deeper into information to make heads or tails from it, I usually find the time was not worthy of the work.  There seems to be way to much phony news and research out their in web land,  probably smoke and mirrors to take people away from knowing the truth. Deceptions as we have seen in this political climate have been the rule, when we make the discovery they were not true, they become almost lies. How can we protect ourselves? We may be doing it here in TD, in posting with our voiced opinions and ideas.   

Several years ago the Republicans had a peoples project (I cannot remember the name, it had a nice liberal ring to it), it appeared to be liberal.  Republicans would control and twist the information to what they wanted, sort of like the Fox not the news.  This went on until they were exposed and they pulled the plug.  My point being, things do not always seem what they are.  Me the cynic. 

From religion, politics and special interests.  Money is to be made and people to be swindled, they the powers that be, would have it no other way.

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By Expat, May 26, 2008 at 7:06 am Link to this comment

Yes, but it can be fun and it is like detective work sometimes.  Yeah, Tao posts some awesome comments: I just wish we could really hear him.

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By Expat, May 26, 2008 at 6:51 am Link to this comment

^ responding.  Maybe this is exactly the point of this article by Bill Boyarsky about citizen journalism.  Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing more about what you think regarding this Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine thing.  I think we’re on to something.  Anybody else interested; go ahead and check it out.  It’s possible this could be important…..or not.

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By Expat, May 26, 2008 at 6:43 am Link to this comment

^ and yeah, the more I dug the “worse” it got.  Every once in a while my “guts” are right on.  Everything I read flew in the face of the current wisdom.  They are really pushing Coal and Nuclear power.  They justify the increase in CO2 to a level of 600 ppm and discount sea level rising.  The current wisdom for CO2 is 350 ppm.  Allegedly Edward Teller (father of the H-Bomb) has signed on with them.  I’m certain this is a far right hack job.  The one thing I’ve learned in this life is that when you start selling Phd’s (no offense) look out!  Intelligence and degrees are no guarantee of anything.  Hell, history is fraught with twisted geniuses bent on control and domination.  Edward Teller is a case in point; I thing the Dr. Strangelove character was based on him.  But, if you have the time look deeper; it gets really; to put it kindly, “interesting”.  Just as a qualifier, I don’t accept anything just because some “expert” says it’s so; verify, verify, verify!  That’s what I think!

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 26, 2008 at 5:17 am Link to this comment

Thanks, Expat.  I went through it quickly, but what I gather they are saying is that there is no correlation between human use of hydrocarbons and climate change.  More interesting, maybe, is that they seem to be implying that Kyoto may simply be a (pardon the use of this word) conspiracy on the part of “prosperous” nations to thwart developing nations in their drive to become prosperous.  If this is true, you’d think the US, which is highly protective of its wealth, would sign on.  I guess I have to go deeper.  When I have a little more time, I will.  What did you think?

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By cyrena, May 26, 2008 at 12:34 am Link to this comment

I miss Tao Walker too, though I usually have a ‘sense’ of when he’ll gift us with his wisdom. Ya know how he feels about us tame people. smile

I especially miss Mike Mid-Cites though. I think some of these morons might have just gotten to be too much for him.

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By Expat, May 25, 2008 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment

^ far out; but you might want to follow this additional link for “The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine” it’s a paper on their reasoning for opposing the Kyoto Treaty.  I would be very interested in you opinion on this.

I hope you find this interesting, I did.

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By Expat, May 25, 2008 at 9:01 pm Link to this comment

^ and I just had a gut feeling it was bogus.  Maybe it’s not.  If true, I would be very interested in their reasoning for being anti-Koyoto.  I also got a rightwing politico sense.  That area of Oregon is a hot bed of rightwing nuts.  I’ll do some more digging because I could be wrong.  Why was it posted here on this thread?

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, May 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm Link to this comment

I Apologize for being a little rough on Marshall.  We do not see eye to eye about war.

You may be correct it would be interesting to debate in a truthful manner, with holding most emotions.  Since most of my opinions are open to new ideas, discounting my pet peeves. 

Your ideas if in place would be quite challenging.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 25, 2008 at 11:29 am Link to this comment

Now I haven’t read Marshall here for a while.  Do you think he got chased off?  I always respected his position and thought he expressed it well.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 25, 2008 at 11:26 am Link to this comment

expat, though you may have already done it, check out:

There is also a website for The Petition Project which, indeed, lists the names of thousands of scientists who have signed the petition urging that Kyoto not be adopted.

I looked at some of the credentials and they’re impressive.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, May 25, 2008 at 9:46 am Link to this comment

Good points guys or gals, what seems helpful is some people love doing their homework and imparting it to us less inclined to do the research.  Links help, but must be judged on their merits and reality.  Yes some of the topics have become long of tooth. 

Always enjoy hearing some of the old timers on TD, disagreement is part of the equation. 

Marshall has been posting as our resident right wing guy, I suspect he is really Chaney incognito.

One guy I miss is Tao Walker, his approach to the whole mess is so refreshing.

Thanks to all of you diligent folks doing the heavy research and homework for the rest of us.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, May 25, 2008 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

Good points guys or gals, what seems helpful is some people love doing their homework and imparting it to us less inclined to do the research.  Links help, but must be judged on their merits and reality.  Yes some of the topics have become long of tooth. 

Always enjoy hearing some of the old timers on TD, disagreement is part of the equation. 

Marshall has been posting as our resident right wing guy, I suspect he is really Chaney incognito.

One guy I miss is Tao Walker, his approach to the whole mess is so refreshing.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 25, 2008 at 9:22 am Link to this comment

One more thing (I’m feeling a little like Colombo) There are a lot of really pissed-off people, I among them, and it’s not easy to be civil when you’ve got so much to get off your chest.  People who are able to do that the best have my respect.  I keep trying to remember that, if you have the truth on your side, you don’t have to get hysterical to impart it.
Then, on the other hand, there’s nothing better than to watch someone being uncivil in a very civil way.  I love that and wish I were as good at it as some I watch and listen to. Enough.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 25, 2008 at 9:15 am Link to this comment

Interesting.  I use a screen name because I don’t trust the gov. or some people.  I do think the gov. has the ability to trace to the source of posts they want to find.  I know the FBI has apprehended that way.  So I recognize even a screen name is probably useless to maintain anonymity.  This is notwithstanding the kick I get out of using that name and seeing the effect it has on some other people. 

I don’t think posters can be spoilers.  Reasonable commenters here seem to have ways to redirect such people away from TD. I remember some from a while back who don’t show up anymore.  Of course, I don’t know if they were intentionally redirected or got bored or otherwise fed up.  Basically, I guess, that sort of thing takes care of itself over time. 

I have said that I know there are many very smart and informed people on this site, maybe even students of politics and government and I know that they tend to humor me with some of my commenting. 

Since I’ve been following this site,  I consider that I have become way more informed than I ever was before and I’ve had my interest peaked.  I’ve looked at a lot of other political blogs.

I don’t think I’d go in the direction of any kind of regulation.  But I do think, if I were Scheer, I’d recognize that subjects such as gays, sex, religion, guns, and probably some others, I’d try to minimize simply because they’ve really been beaten into the ground here, IMHO, and I don’t find them very interesting or productive topics anymore.

My sense is that you’re a bright and fair person and have much to contribute to discussions here. I wish more people with right wing leanings would comment here so we could have a dialogue.  I remember Hondo.  He’s (maybe she) a bright dude but got shot down so many times he left.  I know he cast a few aspersions, himself, as well.  Maybe what you want is such a place.  I would love to carry on a discussion with people who disagree with me.  For one thing, I’d have to become a researcher and that could only be good.

The comment policy is pretty broad.  I guess mutual respect is helpful, even when things get a little hot and heavy and we could probably all learn from that. People who always try to maintain a certain level of dignity in discussions are noticeable for that.  I just told troublesum her/his comment was BS and that didn’t become me and didn’t contribute to the discussion one iota, so, I continue to learn.
Thanks, expat.  I think this is something worth discussing.

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By Expat, May 25, 2008 at 7:31 am Link to this comment

By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 25 at 5:03 am #

Re: Re: Jefferson, I think

^ to the Mr. Fish cartoon.  In the past I have accused this web site of “chumming” and you seem to be saying this as well.  Sometimes I feel like a reality show contestant.  Debate on a site like this is difficult because many posters don’t know what a true debate is all about.  And then there are the cowards who post comments they would never say to our face; trolls and whackos who are obviously out of control and rude and crude.  I have considered that it might be possible to have a site that was tightly regulated to eliminate posters who were spoilers.  Of course, the posters would have input as to who was out of line.  Banning for a week, or forever depending on the offence.  4 letter words allowed if appropriate; everything allowed if supportable by a good argument.  The problem with the internet is anonymity; people say things they would never say in a face to face discussion.  I have been guilty of this; but I have always apologized because I don’t want to squelch a differing opinion.  So, what do you think?

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thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, May 25, 2008 at 6:54 am Link to this comment

Chris Horton, it seems the internet has revealed much thoughtful writing that before the digital age was not allowed to be seen. The professionals, or the people who have niches in the media elite, call these writer amateurs, which they are in the sense they are not getting paid. But the quality of their work, is as good as, if not sometimes better, than the syndicated stuff being created by the likes of David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, etc. The real bloggers, by that I mean those individuals who write to advocate thought and not just use this medium to call others insulting names, just might be able to form an association that could address the problems of big media controlled manipulation of what is essentially (the bloggers) our products.
As a professional writer on beer, I had never written anything political until less than a year ago. Now I have people who enjoy reading my work and encourage me to do more.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, May 25, 2008 at 6:48 am Link to this comment

Some of us seem enlightened enough to see beyond the MM and what it stands for, advertising special interests and the grand plan of the self proclaimed elite. 

Bill Boyarsky, thanks for the autobiography, knowing a persons background can help one decide on credibility of the source.  I will respect your opinions, even in disagreement, if it so happens.

Opinions are inherited or absorbed by osmosis in family or society and watching American Idol.  Assimilation of opinion, by sifting through vast amounts of garbage for the simple truth, is hard work, but well worth while in order to enhance ones knowing, of something close to the truth.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 25, 2008 at 6:03 am Link to this comment

At least in a coffee house you could see who you were talking to, could even get your hand around that person’s throat, if in fact there was ever much disagreement.

My experience with the internet, and I recognize compared with some is limited, is that there isn’t a lot of debate.

We can’t be certain that government spies haven’t infiltrated what debates might exist here.  I might even be one.

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By Expat, May 25, 2008 at 3:37 am Link to this comment

^ years and have been to Cave Junction many times and never heard of The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.  After checking their web site I wouldn’t give them too much credit for anything.  Verify, verify.  One may say anything; doesn’t make it true.  Your post is way off topic and makes no sense whatever.

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thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, May 24, 2008 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment

I was temporarily banned from commenting on The Huffington Post, now OffTheBus wants links to my blogs. Go figure…

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By felicity, May 24, 2008 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment

Englishmen in the early 18th century created ‘coffee houses’ as a way of combatting government censorship of their newpapers. 

Each ‘house’ was public, had a ‘host’ and a particular theme to stick to - such as philosophy, politics, finance…

They funtioned like and served the purpose of today’s Internet - obviously with a much narrower audience and much fewer sites.  Nevertheless, they answered that era’s censorship problem much as this era’s Internet can answer the problem of managed news.

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By Lola, May 24, 2008 at 9:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m an Obama supporter, but if I could say one thing to him, I would say this: he needs to learn that every single person he speaks to has the ability to report. He needs to speak as if he has a microphone attached to him all the time and act as though a camera is always on him, because it is.  I don’t like that we’ve turned our candidates into reality show contestants, but there it is. I would like him to win, but he won’t if he doesn’t realize that the world is always watching.

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By JoJo, May 24, 2008 at 8:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine this week announced that 31,072 U.S. scientists signed a petition stating that “… There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing, or will cause in the future, catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate…”

Our standard of living is at the mercy of Barack Obama and his high regard for the international hate-America crowd.

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By Peter Richardson, May 23, 2008 at 10:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Just wanted to thank you for the valuable historical perspective—both in this column and in Big Daddy—and how it bears on the news media and how they’re doing their job today.  Always glad to see the references to Carey McWilliams and Phil Kerby, too.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 23, 2008 at 3:38 pm Link to this comment

When you consider what Jefferson said about choosing between government w/o newspapers and newspapers w/o gov. it puts into perspective how limited thinking back then was. 

Surely we might want to consider throwing the baby out along with the bath water.

A totalitarian government now has limited control over the internet but I have learned from Tom and Ben and Jim, et al, it’s probably not going to stay that way.  They have way too much to lose.  Where do you go on the net for the truth and how do you know?

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By Chris Horton, May 23, 2008 at 8:57 am Link to this comment

Read Unleashing the Internet first, then Making it Work.

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By Chris Horton, May 23, 2008 at 8:55 am Link to this comment

Perhaps an alliance of progressive, libertarian and anti-imperialist writers and blogers - united only by their concern about widespread media self-censorship - could take on the job of recognizing, corresponding about and conferencing about what appear to be developing cover-ups, and then initiate the “news chain” alerts through such sites as Alternet and But anyone would have the power to start a chain, and every reader would have a responsibility for what is allowed to propagate.

Perhaps such a movement can grow slowly and spread, but that doesn’t seem to be about to happen spontaneously. There is a kind of “potential barrier” that has to be broken through to get it rolling. The idea needs to be “out there” that this is needed and possible. People need the sense that the recipients of the alert they forward will recognize it as “something that’s happening”, and won’t take it as a manipulation. To do something like this will require a cultural shift, a willingness by people to stick their necks out and forward news to their contacts. Most people that I have talked to - but especially working people and poor people - understand that they are being lied to and manipulated, although they don’t know how to sort it out. It would be a huge shift for them to feel that they can do something about it.

Once forwarding links to news stories becomes normal, I think the floodgates will open, because people want to know what is really going on, they want to have some control over events that affect their own lives, and influence with their friends and acquaintances, and they are sick and tired of being treated like sheep. Once this takes off, once the news starts to flow freely across the Internet, then - short of shutting down the Internet as we know it - control of the news by the Media Barons will be broken. There will still be a struggle over the integrity of this news flow, but it will be a whole new ball game.

What do you think? And what do you suggest? Let’s discuss this.

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By Chris Horton, May 23, 2008 at 8:53 am Link to this comment

(Long post, but not a rant, and carefully written.)

I want to discuss to discuss an idea about how to break the Corporate Media blockade on the news.

Most of you who are reading this post already understand certain demonstrable truths:

The Corporate Media is withholding vital and major stories from the public on nearly a daily basis and passing off government propaganda as news. This has been going on for a long time but as the crisis of the system deepens and as media ownership becomes ever more concentrated it is getting worse. The Media Barons almost certainly are deliberately orchestrating this, although how this is organized is not known.

The efforts of thousands of people to create and sustain alternative news resources – such as this site – have resulted in a growing number of people who consume, think about and act on real news, but we have not so far been able to shake the power of the Media Barons to control the “national conversation”. We are not yet reaching the scores of millions.

Somehow we have to dramatically increase our reach, but how?

One potential tool is to spread news stories by forwarding from person to person across the Internet. If people who became aware of an important story and aware that it was not being reported were to pass it on to 10 or 25 or 100 email contacts via the Internet, and if a sizeable fraction of the recipients were to do the same, the story would spread like a chain reaction.

My own experiments with this however have produced no results. I have no evidence that any alert I have sent to my contact list has spread very far, certainly never far enough to come back to me from someone else, and - like most people I’m sure - I have felt very inhibited about sending alerts to any but the people that I know generally agree with me, for fear of damaging my relationships. Yet I feel acutely that the need to break the corporate media stranglehold on the news is urgent.

Suppose we could start a movement, which perhaps we could call “News Chain”, to get this kind of Internet chain mail to work. A movement of people who are fed up with being “treated like mushrooms”, with as its sole purpose making sure that important stories which the Media tries to bury get disseminated quickly and widely. This sounds deceptively simple, but how could we get it to fly? How could we achieve a willingness of millions of people to forward these things to family, friends and business associates?

My sense is that people don’t want to get involved with forwarding news stories because they don’t want to be intrusive and annoying, don’t want to be seen as trying to manipulate others, don’t want to get into pointless arguments that could get nasty, don’t want to spread rumors and myths that will make them look foolish, and don’t want to bring politics into personal and business relationships that could be damaged by it. And they don’t want their emails to be treated like spam. These are real and legitimate concerns. How do we address and overcome them?

Perhaps the participants would commit to a simple set of rules for a class of emails called News Chain communications:
1. The content of a “News Chain” message would be limited to a headline, a url pointing to an article, and a standard statement of the purpose and rules of the “news chain” movement. Period. No personal comments included.
2. The article referenced should be a news story - not an opinion or analysis piece - from a credible source, that is not being carried by the Major Media, one which the poster believes to be important to everyone.
3. Readers would be asked to use their judgment, but if they decide a story is legitimate and important and they aren’t seeing it in the Major Media, to forward it it to their entire list.

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By TheRealFish, May 22, 2008 at 11:32 pm Link to this comment

If you say you love me, I may never have to ask.

If you make love to me, my eyes may never stray; my thoughts will surely not.

If you tell me the truth, I may never find a sense that something, just some little thing does not gel, does not sound right, does not smell right.

Sure, there are economic pressures threatening the very existence of newspapers, magazines, the “old” network TV. Let’s not go near Talk Radio. This is a very sad thing, considering the long history of those dear old rags, “Good night Chet,” “And that’s the way it is…”.

And most reading this too young to know what that last sentence means.

It is a Brave New World, and things in this world are going horribly, horribly wrong. It’s not Islamo-Fascism. It’s not just that the Constitution of this country lies in tatters.

It’s that the 4th Estate is no longer serving the Public Good, by and large. The era of “thoughtful analysis” and calling BS “BS” even though that may not be popular with corporate bosses is, most sadly, a too brief puff of smoke in an ever windier place.

It is very windy. Needs are not being met. The Internet is an intensely frenzied echo chamber of people wanting The Truth to be spoken, to be heard. And, of course, the people who want to ensure that frenzy prevails and that unity can not take place.

Division is death, and we live in a very fractured place — segmented, parsed and pared.

The only “calling,” in this country anyway, for the 4th Estate, is to provide another check, another firewall against totalitarianism, against the Imperium, against governments out of control.

That so many voices are speaking as convincingly, as eloquently as possible through this New Public Square is because the established media are failing us when we need them most.

Something, just some little thing does not gel, does not sound right, does not smell right in this country at this time, and the established media more interested in making a living, keeping the home fire burning. Who can blame them.

But Thomas Paine, personally printing tracts and passing them along, hand-to-hand, attempting to expose another truth than people were receiving from their government put his personal comfort, his personal freedom aside to spread that analysis of the world around him and of “what could be.” Those were perilous times, but his “calling” was to the greater good and survival of his friends and neighbors against a tyranny.

These are perilous times. Needs are not being met. This medium is the new-day’s hand-to-hand passing of tracts, even though we all know any one of our bits of writing is being viewed by a cold, distant room full of government officials who could, not metaphorically, but *really* swoop us away in the night with nary a word explaining why.

Not paranoia, not fantasy, not conspiracy theory. The Patriot Act and a government out of control that should be shouted from establishment media rooftops.

Instead we hear endless stories of missing white girls, of Monicas and Wrights and just how drunk that celebutante was last night.

Our needs are not being met, and those who can communicate are attempting to fill a void.

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