Monthly Archives: April 2012

How neutral is your net? It may not stay that way for long…

Last year Verizon filed an appeal against the FCC after it adopted net neutrality rules. The rules would prohibit phone and  cable companies from discriminating against certain content. On principle, net neutrality is the concept of equal access to all content and services on the internet. Many of those phone and cable companies against net neutrality feel threatened because content providers like Netflix or software like Skype take away from their own similar services. Comcast was caught the year before that (2010) by the FCC for discriminating against large file-serving sites and prioritizing others.

While the current FCC rules protect phone lines- DSL and cable – there are still fewer protections for wireless broadband internet content. As member Chris Calabrese of the ACLU Legislative Council said last year when the measures were passes, “Network neutrality principles are essential to protecting the First Amendment rights of Americans who rely on the Internet as a forum for free speech.”

If equal protections aren’t provided for broadband internet access, that’s an abridgment of free speech. It’s a slipper slope from there until the few most popular sites run the fastest and the lesser known but still important websites will be extremely slow and difficult to access.

Just recently, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings suggested Netflix receive a cut of revenue for how much business they bring to broadband internet. Netflix is the largest providers for internet video, providing nearly 30% of internet traffic during peak periods in the United States.

In another example of net neutrality in the news causing a stir and raising moral dilemmas concerning internet access is about a week ago when Comcast said they would not count their Xfinity content under Open Internet rules. They said net neutrality would not apply there because they owned complete control of the content distribution.(Because being an integrated monopoly is much better.) Comcast changed its mind a few days later saying Xfinity was simply another cable TV alternative. There’s also the issue of a content cap for Xfinity users, who think the bandwidth cap may be a way to keep away cable competitors.

    In the age where internet access is starting to get traction as another vital human right, content users and creators, as well as the FCC need to keep a sharp eye on companies elbowing their way to faster, better access on the internet. Because if some companies are getting preference that means the majority are getting screwed. Those minority sites in turn hurt users, and in cases of independent news sources this effect could be devastating. Without the principles of net neutrality enforced, the internet will no longer be the ultimate equalizer; the open space for discourse and free speech that it has become.
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Youtube partners find unexpected profits

Brian Stetler wrote about Michael Buckley and his now famous Youtube videos “What the Buck?” in a piece for The New York Times back in 2008 . Buckley was one of the first to monetize his videos on Youtube by becoming a “partner” and now he made enough money off his videos on entertainment news and celebrity gossip to quit his day job at a public access station. As Buckley learned, making popular Youtube videos once you’re popular (that’s the hard part) is a full-time job.

Just ask EpicMealTime, now famous (all their videos have at least 1 million views) for creating monstrous gastronomical feats like the Breakfast Eggroll, Tex Mex Lasagna and Meatzza.

Did someone say bacon strips?

The group of friends started off simply with a video of stacking all their favorite fast food on top of a pizza. More ridiculously hilarious than healthy (or even edible?), the video became extremely popular and viewers even started to send in suggestions for the group. Now their videos have ads and they even have a merchandise site for fans who want to buy a t-shirt with their famous motto “BACON STRIPS AND BACON STRIPS AND BACON STRIPS”. If you haven’t heard of them before, check out their videos featuring the hand-crafted bacon weaves and the Jack Daniel’s they work in to various recipes.

Hannah Hart: "Butter? I barely know her!"

Another accidental Youtube star I’m a fan of is Jenna Marbles, who’s first video that went viral was “How to trick people into thinking you’re good looking.” Jenna Marbles (real name Jenna Mourey) is a former go-go dancer and blogger at defunct stoollala (a sister site of Barstool sports) who now has over 2.7 million subscribers on her main channel and about half a million subscribers to her personal vlog channel. Although she just moved to California for a new job, she continues to put out new, humorous videos every Wednesday with the help of her dogs Kermit and Mr. Marbles. She now takes requests from fans, stays updated with a twitter, and has even featured on other Youtubers videos, like My Drunk Kitchen (run by Hannah Hart, another accidental Youtube star who now makes regular videos). Both Jenna Marbles and My Drunk Kitchen, where Hannah Hart literally just films herself cooking while intoxicated (with hilarious results) also now have ads for revenue from their videos and merchandise. Who needs a “real” job when you’ve got millions of adoring fans on the internet who will watch anything you make and buy anything with your jokes on it?

Jenna Marbles: "Chili-face noodle-punch!"

Not only do these few examples give me hope for Youtube stars that want to produce great, original content just as someone who has a Youtube channel like myself, but they also give me hope as a comedian. The world of comedy is different than even 10 years ago. Some of the best talent on TV, movies, an on-stage these days comes from the internet and sites like Youtube. Youtube is the new resume for funny and talented people trying to sell their work to agents. There’s not much room to hide with simple camera equipment, a microphone, and usually minimal editing. The old rules of comedy no longer apply. On the internet, where the democracy votes who is the best with its “likes” and subscriptions, funny and original content is key. Luckily, these people and channels I subscribe to are making some money now and don’t have to sacrifice the quality of their videos. Youtube, Vimeo and sites like it need to adapt to suit content creators like these because not every actor or comedian will plan on being popular- but when the internet speaks, the entertainment industry should listen.

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the modern day citizen journalist

Mayhill Fowler was in right place (no press allowed) at the right time (when Obama had his guard down). She is just one example of the many citizen journalists that came out of the woodwork for Huffington Post’s project OfftheBus for the 2008 elections. She was also responsible for the infamous quote that would later be referred to as Bitter-gate. The citizen journalism project Offthebus was successful in covering events leading up to President Obama’s victory in a way unlike mainstream media and large publications. Huffington Post gave passionate citizens who were interested in politics the chance to become involved along the campaign trail to report honestly and without the same type of bias of on the bus reporters.

Interestingly enough, upon searching for Mayhill Fowler’s latest work one can find her blog and a popular post about leaving the Huffington Post after Fowler grew tired of producing content for free. In her email to Arianna and Roy Sekoff, Fowler writes, “I’m not only an opinionator; I have this last year gone out and done actual reportage. I’m no longer going to do that for free. I’ve paid my dues in the citizen journalism department; I’m a journalist now.”

this is what a journalist looks like

This last statement is debatable to some professional journalists who still don’t consider the two times Fowler got lucky as “journalism.” But as she states, she’s a journalist now. Whatever “paying my dues” involves…

There’s a certain extent to which writers, especially citizen journalists, can call themselves Journalists. Yes, they are doing original reporting. Yes, they are constantly updating their blog or pro-am content aggregator site. But it is also true they might not have the same ethics, teachings or editing standards as traditional or professional journalists doing the same honest reporting. Despite this, I personally believe given the current state of censorship and laws recently created to prevent news from getting out, the more journalists the better. (Massachusetts is currently voting on the Free Flow of Information Act, a journalist shield bill that would bar government from forcing journalists to disclose sources.) Trying to draw a line between citizen journalists and professional journalists is just another way to keep out press at important events and punish reporters like Fowler who may not exactly have the same credentials as professional press. It’s a slippery slope that can only lead to fewer sources for news and the role of reporting relegated solely to mainstream media.

Another reason we need to keep citizen journalism protected is that journalism is changing. With new technology, globalization of information and more mobility than ever, everyone has the ability to create and report news. It may not always be ideal. It may be a camera taken on an iPhone or an unedited, blurry video clip. But now is not the time to sort out who is and who isn’t a journalist. We are at the cusp of even newer technology every day that will change the way we read, share and interact with the news. If we start drawing lines we will be inevitably drawing lines between old media and new, and that kind of discord is not the kind of thing that wins a war against censorship.

this is also what a journalist looks like

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Give Me Transparency or Give Me Death

David Weinberger once declared on his blog Joho that “Transparency is the new objectivity.”

While this is something many journalism professors and professionals in the field would balk at, it’s practically a fact of life for our generation. We don’t even need to be told. We grew up on the internet (though I can still wax nostalgic that the kids these days don’t know what it was like to dial-up to AOL and wait 10 minutes to even get email). We demanded accuracy first and foremost, despite anyone’s opinion. Along with being the great equalizer, the internet is the perfect fact-checking tool and therefore lies and rumors don’t get very far these days. Like Weinberger says, “Transparency prospers in a linked medium, for you can literally see the connections between the final draft’s claims and the ideas that informed it.”

ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism startup, is taking advantage of this linked media with its new feature “Explore Sources”. Readers will now be able to turn on the feature and see sources as uploaded to Document Cloud. Sources will appear as highlighted, embedded annotations in articles, as the first test of the feature in Marshall Allen’s article “Why can’t Linda Carswell get her husband’s heart back?”. It’s a huge step for transparency in new media and may even set the bar for other internet publications in the future. If ProPublica can do it, other publications will just appear lazy by not using this tool. This feature allows readers to see every step of the journalistic process and trace every fact back to its origin.

an example of "Explore Sources" from ProPublica

I first heard about ProPublica’s new feature on the blog the Future Journalism Project, a great tumblr I found for new media news. The article goes on to explain how the reporter would use an app to add in sources as he/she wrote the piece.

 This is an interesting contrast to a movie we just watched in News Editing class, Shattered Glass, based on the Stephen Glass story. Stephen Glass was caught cooking dozens of articles over the span of his young career. We watched it with our jaws on the floor. A tech beat employee at Forbes was the first to notice the flaws in Glass’ articles and used the internet to bring him down. It was also an interesting case because Glass had a working knowledge of the internet too, and even created a fake website to look like one of his falsified sources. Nowadays, Glass wouldn’t be able to fake even ONE source in an article with modern fact checking. Even rags like The Ithacan and Buzzsaw have higher standards 😉

With tools like “Explore Sources” cropping up, I wonder if other publications will follow suit or create their own methods. It seems especially necessary for investigative pieces and articles that take months to write. I wonder how long it will be until we are learning how to manage similar interactive bibliographies for our own pieces.

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We’ve read about censorship before- in books like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984– and it was based partially on experiences. Now we see the same issue cropping up in the internet. It would be very convenient for many people, for governments, for dictators, and for corporations to only show us what they want us to see on the internet. This happened recently in 2010 when Google agreed to censor certain sites in China that the Chinese Industry and Information Technology’s Telecoms Development Department  didn’t approve of. Essentially, China’s “Information Department” is acting here as a ministry of propaganda. There’s no way to sugarcoat good old fashion censorship of information from the masses. Omission of information is just as bad as falsified information. There are hackers and people who are able to find ways around such internet restrictions, but not every Chinese citizen can be expected to do this. And while this agreement with Google may have started to prevent the dissemination of  pornographic or “subversive” material, who is to say where the line is drawn? Who decides at that point what is considered “subversive” or threatening to national security? The scary part is that citizens might not even know what is being kept from them. Who is to say that opinionated articles on the censorship of free speech won’t be censored next?

This isn’t just happening on search engines in communist countries, either. It’s happening here in the US and even on our cell phones. In 2008 Common Dreams reported on instances of Verizon blocking subscription text messages from the pro-choice group NARAL. Verizon cited reasons of censorship of texts that, in their opinion, “promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.” Not only did this block the free exchange of information between an organization to people, but prevented those supporters from being able to organize amongst each other and efficiently rally support. Verizon was basically suppressing information that they didn’t like that could POSSIBLY stir up change.

The Common Dreams piece also cited the example from 2007 of Comcast blocking peer-to-peer file sharing sites. Are some of these sites pushing copyright laws? Yes. But that’s not all they’re used for. And the act of slowing down certain sites like this is data discrimination. While these sites may take up more bandwidth, it’s crucial to maintain equal treatment of internet traffic- net neutrality– if we want to keep the internet an open and egalitarian place for intelligent discussion and growth. Net neutrality is essential for independent media sources to be heard in a sea of mainstream media (who can afford the more expensive bandwidth for heavy traffic). If we lose this, we’re truly spiral into a nation of state-approved media, with the power of the media in the hands of the few and the rich.

R.I.P. Megavideo, you were dearly loved.


In this video, internet veterans Hank and John Green (of Vlogbrothers fame) explain the importance of free speech and expression on the internet through preserving net neutrality. They also get some help from other famous Youtubers. Hank and John Green have been spreading stimulating and educational content for years now on Youtube, as of lately through their educational project ‘Crash Course’. John Green will use his channel to explain to his subscribers everything from the economic futility of pennies to the current Syrian crisis. They are successful because they are funny and dedicated to their fans, but also because they are capable of explaining things as complex as net neutrality to their young viewers.

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