May 28, 2004
In a report published in the June issue of Extra!, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) says that "NPR’s guestlist shows the radio service relies on the same elite and influential sources that dominate mainstream commercial news, and falls short of reflecting the diversity of the American public." The report, titled How Public is Public Radio? says "elite sources" dominated NPR's guest-list, accounting for 64 percent of all sources. It's essentially the same critique Ben Bagdikian has been making of all the corporate media. And sometimes NPR seems to behave like corporate media. But I have trouble with the implied notion that NPR defines public radio. Kind of a slap in the face of all the work at local stations. I believe we have a body of work at WILL. To borrow from a movie title, analyze that! For his part, NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin says "the FAIR study seems about right to me with a couple of exceptions." One of which is the FAIR study ignores sources other than professional pundits, which account for a minority of NPR interviews and commentators. One might point out that both FAIR and NPR have their own biases. Can anyone on this planet claim that they don't?
May 27, 2004
When I started this blog I vowed to focus on great stuff in the public broadcasting online world...and every once in a while throw in something embarassing. Today's feature is both: great content, but simply awful presentation. I mean it's just bad web design, more embarassing still because I set it up, long ago when I knew even less. Keeping myself humble, as if that were a challenge... Focus 580 online audio archives stretch back to 2000. Ah, the 20th Century, seems so long ago. On this big ugly mile-long page you can find interviews from 2000 on GMOs in agriculture, before they were everywhere and there was still a debate. Interviews with Orson Scott Card and Allan Gurganus. A brilliant interview with Benjamin Barber on Globalization and Terrorism, along with all the immediate post-9/11 stuff we did on Focus 580. An interview with Bob McChesney back when a dozen media corporations owned everything instead of today's five. I can't tell you what a pain it was to encode all those RealAudio files, before we figured out automation. But that was nothing compared to the effort of actually producing the show, now in it's 23rd year. Someday we'll recover all the shows still on cassette tape and put them on the web...but we'll have a better design. Which brings up why I rediscovered these audio files today. We're creating a digital archive of everything we've ever done that's still recoverable. We might even get the Library of Congress to help fund this, and rope some other smart people into designing the technology to do it right. Here's hoping we can pull it off. And here's the reason. Local public radio and TV stations like WILL have been covering issues and people in local communities with the purpose promoting citizenship, community, and the entire set of good things we associate with civilization. If you put the best things we ever produced together in one pile, you could find some pretty great stuff. If you could effectively search and hyperlink it, you might even gain things like insight and historical understanding. If you could compile all the work from all the public TV and radio stations, put it in one online space, and make it findable down to the last jpeg, you'd have a mighty powerful tool for thought, as Howard Rheingold might put it. Can we help ourselves become better balanced in our perspective as a species, possibly more intelligent and humane? What could we do with these tools? We'd dearly like to find out.
May 25, 2004
President Bush looked the War College crowd in the eye last night, and laid out five steps to solve the Iraq puzzle. Beyond mispronouncing Abu Ghraib three different ways, it seemed a steady performance. If you missed it, you can get the archive of the speech on the NPR site. The question remains if the reality will follow the five-step design. No matter how they are voting in this year's election, Americans better hope that it does.
May 24, 2004
"IEDs are the weapons of choice of the opposition. IEDS are hard to see. Insurgents place them in dead animals, in cement blocks under trash. A patrol can run upon one anywhere anytime. Then they detonate them when the army drives over them. Within one hour there may be as many as six in one area." Sherrlyn Borkgren is a freelance photojournalist for Aurora. Her website is borkgren.com. She's reporting from Iraq along with many other writers/photographers/online journalists you never see in the big mainstream news media. The above is from one of her dispatches published by The Digital Journalist, "A Multimedia Magazine for Photojournalism in the Digital Age." BTW, if you didn't figure it out, IEDs are Improvised Explosive Devices. Correspondents in Iraq have developed a certain familiarity with the unique acronyms of this war. But you probably won't learn them yourself, or really know what's going on, unless you go beyond the big broadcast picture and dig deep into the online news. So here's one great source. What are some of yours?
May 19, 2004
Mixed media commentary on testimony by Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, top U.S. military commander in Iraq, in the Senate Arms Services Committee today, as covered by NPR. The two top military commanders in Iraq didn't know about the abuse of prisoners in Iraq, didn't authorize it, and didn't know if the Pentagon authorized it. Pundits differed on whether this represents a failure of leadership, or the fog of war. What do you think?
May 16, 2004
Yes I'm actually blogging a page on Amazon.com. It's the quickest link I can grab to a place where you can buy a copy of Ben Bagdikian's newest edition of his classic, The Media Monopoly. Alright, it's already out in paperback. Everything's going too fast...that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it. I just became slightly less lazy. Here's a URL at Beacon Press for the non-profit inclined reader. When The Media Monopoly was first published in 1983, 50 corporations owned most of the media: newspapers, TV and radio networks, cable systems, movie studios, music labels, magazines, and major book publishers. Today the number is five, and let's throw in satellites and the Internet. Not to say five private companies own all our web sites, but they're probably working on it. The title is The New Media Monopoly, and since Ben Bagdikian is an 80-something author we may not get another edition. Here's a guy who personally handled the Pentagon Papers, and made sure they got published by The Washington Post. I'd like to think there are a lot of aspiring young Ben Bagdikians out there waiting for their moment to stand up, but a dwindling number of media bosses are looking for that kind of journalist. Ben Bagdikian will be our guest on Focus 580 from 11 am to noon on Monday, May 17th. You can tune in, listen online, or catch the archive. But please read the book.
May 14, 2004
Last year when we began discussion how to produce something useful to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board, someone said why not get today's students to ask people who were students 50 years ago about their experiences? What was public education like in Champaign-Urbana before the Supreme Court's prescription for racial integration? What happened when schools were desegregated? Were they ever actually desegregated? And other little questions like, have we lived up to the promise of Brown, that all students regardless of color or background, would get equal access to a quality education? So after months of work, we present Our Journey: Stories of School Desegregation and Community in Champaign-Urbana, produced by WILL and seven young African-American women who are students at Franklin Middle School in Champaign. These students did the research, the interviews, and the writing, and we all learned much in the process. The Our Journey web site provides links to the documentary in RealAudio and MP3 format, plus individual interviews and interview excerpts, transcripts, photos, and gobs of detail. Someone should do another documentary on how these girls tackled this project. It changed their lives. Education is supposed to do that, so we pat ourselves on the back, and invite you to join us in congratulating them on an amazing documentary. Here's hoping it helps us learn more than we did in the past 50 years.
May 11, 2004
Anyone who isn't a genius can understand that war brings out the worst in human beings. Maybe that's why the geniuses leading the American-led war in Iraq didn't expect that American soldiers would engage in acts of gratuitous violence and humilation. We've all seen the pictures. Now it's time for Americans to do what we do best in such circumstances. Let the hearings begin.
May 06, 2004
So Health Alliance rated No. 1 on quality of service, says Paul Solitto, deputy director of benefits for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, which awards contracts to health insurance providers for state employees after a bidding process. He says factors other than quality went into the agency's decision to terminate its contract with Health Alliance. But the News-Gazette reports quality was 75 percent of the total score, with cost supposedly accounting for 25 percent. How do we compare costs among bidders? Turns out it's a formula based on "per employee per month estimated costs provided by each bidder," each of whom uses different assumptions in making their case for a state contract. Sounds like throwing darts, apples vs oranges, or pick your own metaphor. One might feel sorry for any state administrator who has to explain denying a contract renewal to the provider with the highest quality of service. But let's save some empathy for thousands of families who would no longer have access to their family doctors, nurse practitioners, and other health care specialists with whom they've developed strong relationships. It's only quality of service. The state has to save some dollars, or at least look like it is.
May 04, 2004
It was standing room only at Stratton Elementary School last night as educators, activists, parents, and community members discussed the achievement gap in our schools, where it comes from, how to deal with it. WILL's David Inge moderated this town hall-style meeting, broadcast live on WILL-AM 580, and videotaped for broadcast on WILL-TV this Friday, May 7th at 9 pm Central. We have it archived in RealAudio and MP3 on the WILL site. Streaming video will follow, soon as I can get it done. What's hopeful about this event is that so many dedicated, articulate, and dare I say brilliant people from all walks of life cared enough to come out on a Tuesday night to engage in community dialogue about it. It's also pretty great that WILL and the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette produced this event as partners, trying to address one of this community's most difficult and important challenges. The News-Gazette deserves a lot of credit for the effort they put into not only this event, but their week-long series of features...and lots of superb reporting on education over the years. I took about 200 shots with the modest little WILLblog newscam, while N-G photographers plied their craft with real cameras. Photo Editor Darrel Hoemann promised to send me a disc containing all their shots, and we'll share them with you here and elsewhere on our site. When a town's major newspaper and public Radio/TV station get together to cover major issues, great things can happen. But...you knew there had to be a but, right? Our friend Tracy Parsons, head of the Champaign County Urban League, points out this is not a show, and the dialogue can't end with a 90-minute broadcast. All we did was get something started, and we ended the meeting too soon. This flurry of activity must be sustained until the problem is solved, i.e. until every child finds success in their community schools. 50 years after the Brown v. Board decision, we still have a long way to go.
May 03, 2004
Well not really farewell since it's not like he died or anything. But Bob Edwards' absence from NPR's Morning Edition seemed more jarring than ever upon hearing ME without him this morning. Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep are fine radio journalists, but they are no Bob. Some people think that's a good thing, whatever. I'll miss him on ME...big time. But he's not going away mad, and NPR seems (belatedly) to understand what Bob Edwards means to so many people. So here's a fine NPR tribute to 30 years of Bob Edwards on the NPR site. Look, they even gave it a unique graphic treatment. Kinda dark, but that's one of the things we love about Bob himself. If you're fan enough to drop $15 for the gesture, you can help elect Bob to the Radio Hall of Fame. Voting is for members only so you have to join. Geez I hate this members-only stuff.