W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Social media’

Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez in DC, plans digital newspaper back home

In Newspapers on March 20, 2013 at 6:13 am
Sanchez_Cato

Yoani Sanchez in DC

Yoani Sanchez, Cuba’s most prominent and outspoken dissident blogger, took her international tour to Washington yesterday, vowing to promote “responsible, objective journalism” on an island that has known anything but since Fidel Castro seized power in 1959.

Sanchez, in remarks at the libertarian Cato Institute, said she plans to establish an independent digital newspaper upon her return to Cuba, one of the world’s most inhospitable places for searching journalism.

Sanchez, 37, has won international fame as a blogger who has stood up to the regime’s hostility while posting pithy ruminations and slice-of-life essays at her Generación Y (“Generation Y”) site, which has attracted a wide following outside of Cuba.

She is on an 80-day world tour, accepting honors and honors that she has won over the years but has not been allowed to collect. Sanchez told the audience at the Cato Institute that Cuban authorities denied her applications to travel abroad no fewer than 20 times over the past five years.

She was granted a passport in January, after the communist regime of Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother and successor as president, eased travel restrictions.

She speculated that in permitting her to travel abroad, the regime may have hoped that she would not return to Cuba.

But, she declared, “I’m not going to stay in another country,  and I’m not going to be afraid” of what the regime may have in store upon her return.

She said she likely will be the target of surveillance and harassment back in Cuba, but added that her prominence and outspokenness serve as “a protective shield,” making it less likely that Cuban authorities will treat her harshly.

Sanchez is dark-eyed, petite, and strikingly poised. She seems to wear the mantle of international fame comfortably, without evident haughtiness. Swaggering she is not.

She spoke through an interpreter, Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York. Henken helped organize her visit to the United States, which included a stop in New York City to collect the Maria Moors Cabot Prize, given by Columbia University to recognize journalism that promotes inter-American understanding. She won the award in 2009.

Sanchez said yesterday that she never expected to gain international prominence through her blogging, and characterized her fame as “a joke of fate” and “a cross” that she bears.

Her travels outside Cuba — she visited Brazil and the Czech Republic before arriving last week in the United States — certainly have heightened her international profile. And her intention to start an non-governmental newspaper in Cuba could place her on a collision course with the Castro regime.

Sanchez said the newspaper she envisions will be digital-only, at least at first. That’s because the regime would outlaw an independent print newspaper as anti-government propaganda, she said.

Cuba’s media landscape is among the most repressive in the world. The non-governmental organization Freedom House ranks Cuba 190th among 197 countries and territories it assesses in its annual press-freedom report. North Korea is last in the Freedom House rankings; Finland, Norway, and Sweden are first.

Sanchez said social media platforms such as blogs and Twitter “have helped us create small cracks in the wall of censorship” in Cuba. But she said she’s under no illusion that social media will seriously threaten the regime. (Sanchez’s Twitter account has more than 450,000 followers.)

“By themselves,” she said, “these aren’t the instruments that will bring democracy to Cuba.”

Even so, she said, “you can’t imagine the speed with which information is circulating in Cuba.” It often moves hand-to-hand, in that someone uses a thumb drive to download information from the Internet — access to which is severely restricted — and passes the thumb drive from person to person, in what Sanchez called a “black market of information.”

Sanchez, who spoke without notes, also traced the recent trajectory of dissidence in Cuba. It was 10 years ago, she noted, when the Castro regime imposed a sweeping crackdown, rounding up dissidents and journalists and sentencing them to lengthy prison terms.

What is often called Cuba’s “Black Spring” crackdown took place when the world’s attention was trained on the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

WJC

Many thanks to Ed Driscoll, subbing at Instapundit,
for linking to this post.

More from Media Myth Alert:

Bill Clinton: Overstating social media influence in regime change

In Debunking, Media myths on January 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Bill Clinton went to the American University campus last night to accept an award for wonkiness. In remarks accepting the award, Clinton made the outsize assertion that “whole governments have now been brought down by social media sites.”

It’s a tempting claim of new media triumphalism that begs a one-word question: Where?

Where have social media taken down repressive governments?

Certainly not in Iran, where anti-regime protests sparked by a rigged presidential election in June 2009 gave rise to the misnomer, “Twitter Revolution.”

Twitter surely helped in organizing the demonstrations in Tehran. But social media proved no match for the Islamic government’s brutal crackdown that snuffed out the protests and shut down the threat to the regime.

Besides, Twitter became a channel for erroneous information — and disinformation — during the Iranian protests. Media critic Jack Shafer wrote at the time that Twitter was “more noise than signal in understanding the Iranian upheaval.”

So where else?

Egypt? A somewhat stronger case can be made there, that new media platforms contributed to the downfall nearly a year ago of Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt, 29-year authoritarian regime.

But even there, social media cannot be seen as decisive. They acted more as propellants in Egypt than as causal or precipitating agents.

Evgeny Morozov, writing last year in the Wall Street Journal, observed that the “Egyptian experience suggests that social media can greatly accelerate the death of already dying authoritarian regimes.”

Morozov, author of the insightful book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, also noted that the anti-regime protesters in Egypt “were blessed with a government that didn’t know a tweet from a poke.”

In other words, the regime was mostly clueless about online countermeasures, how to turn social media to perverse use as instruments for identifying, spying on, and sidelining malcontents and regime foes.

Morozov wrote that “dictators learn fast and are perfectly capable of mastering the Internet” in countering populist threats to their regimes. He also noted that some authoritarian governments “have turned mostly to Western companies and consultants for advice about the technology of repression.”

A recent, searching study about social media and political upheaval across the Middle East notes:

“There can be no doubt that online activism is a significant phenomenon that has had a major impact on the Arab Spring.

“Yet, we would be wise not to exaggerate its influence.”

Mubarak’s fall, the study adds, wasn’t “the result of online activism alone. This would ignore the major roles played by those [in Egypt] who had likely not even heard of Facebook or Twitter.”

The study, written by Tim Eaton and posted online this month at New Diplomacy Platform, says social media helped mobilize opposition to Mubarak’s unpopular regime.

But Eaton adds that “events in Tunisia … appear to have been the game-changer. The success of Tunisian activists in ousting President [Zine el-Abidine] Ben Ali motivated many Egyptians to seek to replicate their feat.”

That phenomenon is known as a demonstration effect, in which tactics and events in one context serve as a model or inspiration elsewhere.

Mubarak’s regime did shut down the Internet in Egypt last year, from January 28 to February 1, in a bungled attempt to cut off the flow of online information to anti-regime activists. But the move backfired.

“It wasn’t the Internet that destroyed Mr. Mubarak,” Morozov wrote, ” it was Mr. Mubarak’s ignorance of the Internet that destroyed Mr. Mubarak.”

To assert, as Clinton did last night, that social media can take down repressive governments is to offer a simplistic message of media triumphalism, one thinly supported by empirical evidence.

It is, moreover, an explanation that shortchanges understanding of the complex mechanics of regime change.

And embracing simplistic explanations is an important way in which media-driven myths — those false, dubious, improbable stories about the news media that masquerade as factual — can take hold.

As I write in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, more than a few media-driven myths have emerged “from an impulse to offer easy answers to complex issues, to abridge and simplify topics that are thorny and intricate.”

Social media are not inherently democratic. Nor have they proved decisive in bringing down authoritarian regimes.

WJC

Recent and related:

24/7 news cycle no new phenomenon

In Debunking, Media myths, Newspapers, Spanish-American War on January 25, 2011 at 8:31 am

A recent commentary in the Wall Street Journal about the 24/7 news cycle offered a telling point that the Internet “has made real-time reporting more prevalent, but it certainly didn’t invent it.”

The commentary’s author, Peter Funt, also noted that “the notion that nonstop news coverage is something new, some recent innovation developed as a product of the Internet and utilities such as Twitter, is bogus.”

Bogus, indeed.

The 24/7 news cycle is no phenomenon exclusive to the digital century. It is hardly novel, and it’s tiresome to hear journalists cite the nonstop news cycle as if it were — and as if it were a cause and excuse for error and superficial reporting.

I grow impatient with claims such as this:

“There was a time that the people we watched on T.V. for informative news were trustworthy and generally provided a pretty good snapshot of the days’ activities, breaking in when there truly was ‘breaking news.’ … With the advent of  cable T.V.  and the eventual cable-based ‘News’ networks, and then the Internet, we have become a nation addicted to a 24 hour news cycle.”

Not only does such a claim smack of indulgence in the “golden age” fallacy, it offers no evidence of a national addiction to nonstop news.

Adult Americans on average spent 70 minutes a day, getting the news, according a study last year by the Pew Research Center. While that figure is up from an average of 67 minutes in 2008, it is down from an average of 74 minutes in 1994–before the emergence of social media, and even before the popular advent of the Internet’s World Wide Web.

Pew also reported last year that 17 percent of adult Americans go “newsless” on a typical day. That is, they avoid getting the news despite the variety of options and platforms offered by media technologies.

That a significant percentage of the populates chooses to go newsless is, I write in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, among the reasons to question whether the news media exert broad influence in American life.

“Large numbers of Americans are beyond media influence,” I note in Getting It Wrong, which addresses and debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths.

Choosing to go newsless may signal that a segment of the adult population has little trust or faith in the U.S. news media and their content. It’s also an effective response, too, to nonstop news: They ignore it. Turn it off.

In any event, it’s quite clear the 24/7 news cycle goes back decades.

As I’ve noted from time to time at Media Myth Alert, large-city newspapers of the late 19th century were known would produce many “extra” editions to report fresh elements of important, breaking news.

Extras not uncommon in 1898

During the Spanish-American War in 1898, for example, William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal published as many as 40 extra editions a day. On such occasions, deadline pressures had to have been intense.

Wire service journalism long has been acquainted with immediate deadlines. Indeed, beating the competition and being first with the news are priorities that define — and have defined — news agencies such as the Associated Press and Reuters.

Deadlines arrive every second in the fast-paced wire service world. And so it was, long before the Internet’s emergence.

(As Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor of the Associated Press, noted in a letter to the Wall Street Journal about Funt’s piece, a book published in 1957 about the old United Press news agency was titled A Deadline Every Minute.)

There are plenty of other examples of news outlets built around speed and immediacy.

CNN launched a headline news channel in 1982. As Funt noted, “All-news radio began in the early 1960s at stations like WAVA in Washington, D.C., and WINS in New York, where it was refined to become the nonstop reporting format that remains popular today.”

I remember listening as a kid to Philadelphia’s KYW news radio in the mid-1960s. KYW’s history says that it was “the second all-news station in the country.”

Then as now, KYW emphasizes news all the time, even though content does become repetitive.

So, no, the 24-hour-a-day news cycle is not new. Speed and time pressures are traditional elements of daily journalism.

They are, as Funt correctly noted, “integral to the very definition of news.”

WJC

Recent and related:

Likening Jon Stewart to Murrow: ‘Ignorant garbage’

In Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Media myths, Murrow-McCarthy myth, New York Times on December 28, 2010 at 12:04 am

Murrow

The New York Times piece that extravagantly compared TV comedian Jon Stewart to Edward R. Murrow stirred considerable discussion yesterday in the blogosphere and beyond.

The most incisive and inspired characterization I encountered was that of Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. He was quoted by ABC News as saying that likening Stewart to Murrow or legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite “is childish, it is garbage, it is ignorant garbage.”

Ignorant garbage: Scathing but accurate, indeed.

Gitlin, whom I do not know, also was quoted as saying, quite correctly, that Stewart “is not a news person. He’s a satirist and when he chooses to be blunt, he has the luxury of being blunt.” Stewart is host of Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Embedded in the Times article were two prominent media-driven myths, both of which I address and debunk in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

One was the notion that Murrow’s half-hour television report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy in 1954 turned public opinion against the senator and his communists-in-government witch-hunt. In fact, however, McCarthy’s favorable ratings had been falling for a few months before Murrow’s program, which aired March 9, 1954.

The other embedded myth was the allusion to the “Cronkite Moment” of February 1968. That was when Cronkite declared on-air that the U.S. military was “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam. Supposedly, Cronkite’s analysis was an epiphany for President Lyndon Johnson, who suddenly realized his war policy was a shambles.

But as I note in Getting It Wrong, Cronkite’s “mired in stalemate” assessment was scarcely novel or stunning at the time. And Johnson didn’t even see the Cronkite report when it aired. He was in Austin, Texas, attending a birthday party for a longtime political ally, Governor John Connally (see photo).

LBJ didn't see Cronkite show

As such, it is very difficult to believe the president was much moved by a program that he hadn’t watched.

Left largely unaddressed in the discussion of the Times claim about Stewart, Murrow, and Cronkite is why–what accounts for the appeal of such extravagant characterizations?

In part, they are driven by an understandable urge to distill and simplify history–to be able to grasp the essence of important historical events while sidestepping their inherent complexity, messiness, and nuance.

Characterizations such as those in the Times yesterday also seek to ratify the importance of contemporary television personalities, to locate in them the virtues and values that supposedly animated the likes of Murrow and Cronkite.

Such an impulse skirts, if not indulges in, the “golden age” fallacy.

But it should be noted that Murrow, in particular, was no white knight, no paragon of journalistic virtue.

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, Murrow’s biographers have acknowledged that the broadcasting legend added to his employment application at CBS five years to his age and claimed to have majored in college in international relations and political science.

He had been a speech major at Washington State University.

Murrow also passed himself off as the holder of a master’s degree from Stanford University–a degree he never earned.

And Cronkite for years pooh-poohed the notion that his 1968 program on Vietnam had much effect on Johnson and U.S. war policy. Cronkite said in his memoir, A Reporter’s Life, that his  “mired in stalemate” assessment represented for Johnson “just one more straw in the increasing burden of Vietnam.”

Cronkite later told the CNBC cable network that he doubted the program “had a huge significance.

“I think it was a very small straw on a very heavy load [Johnson] was already carrying.”

Only late in his life, as the so-called “Cronkite Moment” gained legendary dimension, did Cronkite begin to embrace the anecdote’s purported power.

“It never occurred to me,” Cronkite said in 2004, that the 1968 program “was going to have the effect it had.”

But Cronkite’s initial interpretation was most accurate: The show had little to no effect on policy or public opinion.

WJC

Recent and related:

On Hearst, yellow journalism, and war

In Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Newspapers, Spanish-American War, Yellow Journalism on June 5, 2010 at 10:04 am

The dubious linkage of William Randolph Hearst, late 19th century yellow journalism,  and the Spanish-American War was invoked yesterday in a post at the Breaking Media online site.

The item discussed the latest deal by Hearst Corp., noting the reported acquisition was “not a newspaper, a magazine or even a website, but [iCrossing Inc.,] a company specializing in buying search keywords and performing social media“—and suggested that William Randolph, the company’s founder who died in 1951, would have approved.

Hearst before the war

Inevitably, perhaps, the Breaking Media item offered an historically flabby slice of context, asserting that “the Hearst name will forever be associated with yellow journalism techniques that led to a war and mainstream acceptance of all kinds of crazy pseudoscience.”

I don’t know about the last bit, the “acceptance of all kinds of crazy pseudoscience.”

But the claim about Hearst, yellow journalism, and war is an exaggeration, a media-driven myth.

The reference to “war” is, of course, to the Spanish-American War of 1898, the 114-day conflict in which the United States routed Spanish forces in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. The myth is that Hearst and his flamboyant yellow journalism whipped American public opinion to such an extent that war with Spain (over its harsh colonial rule of Cuba) became inevitable.

The myth is addressed, and debunked, in my 2001 book, Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies. A slice of the myth–that notion that Hearst vowed to “furnish the war” with Spain–is discussed in a chapter my new book, Getting It Wrong.

In Yellow Journalism, I noted that the argument that Hearst fomented the war with Spain over Cuba rests on a decidedly narrow, media-centric interpretation of the conflict’s causes.

That interpretation ignores, I noted, the “more relevant and immediate factors that give rise to armed conflict.

“In the case of the Spanish-American War,” I wrote, “the policy objectives between the United States and Spain ultimately proved irreconcilable. Months of intricate diplomatic efforts ultimately failed to resolve what had become an intolerable state of affairs in Cuba, dramatized by the destruction of the [U.S. warship] Maine in a harbor under Spanish control and supervision.

“To indict the yellow press for causing the Spanish-American War is to misread the evidence and to ignore the intricacies of the diplomatic quandary that culminated in the spring of 1898 in an impasse that led to war.”

Failed diplomacy gave rise to the Spanish-American War, not the content of Hearst’s newspapers in New York and San Francisco.

I also pointed out in Yellow Journalism:

“The notion that the yellow press incited or fomented the Spanish-American War stands, moreover, as testimony to the supposedly powerful, even malevolent effects of the news media—that they can and sometimes do act in dangerous, devious, and manipulative ways.”

And that’s an important reason why the myth about Hearst, yellow journalism, and war has proved so tenacious. It offers a lesson, however misleading, about the extreme hazards of unchecked media power: Unscrupulous media moguls can take us into wars that otherwise we would not fight.

WJC

Related:

Check out new trailer for ‘Getting It Wrong’

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War, War of the Worlds, Yellow Journalism on May 8, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Here’s the book trailer for Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming book that addresses, and debunks, 10 prominent media-driven myths.

Getting It Wrong will be published this summer by University of California Press.

WJC

About the innovative social media deck, and ‘yellow blogging’

In 1897, Newspapers, Yellow Journalism on April 20, 2010 at 10:22 am

Kudos to my nephew, Rob Campbell, and the innovative social media deck he’s helped launch at the Cleveland Indians’ ballpark, Progressive Field.

The Tribe Social Deck, believed to be the first of its kind in a major professional sports venue, is described as “a press box for bloggers/social media types.”

The Deck was launched last week at the team’s home opener.

As far as is known, Rob has been quoted as saying, “the Tribe Social Deck is a one-of-a-kind endeavor.  Other professional sports teams have offered individual bloggers press credentials on occasion but to our knowledge there has never been a section exclusively catering to the internet and social media community.”

Rob heads up social media efforts for the Indians and posts frequently to the team’s Twitter site, Tribetalk.

In other developments in social media, a writer for the BetaNews blog has proposed “yellow blogging” as a latter day “reincarnation” of yellow journalism, which flared in the U.S. press more than 100 years ago.

By “yellow blogging,” he means those “gossip and rumor blogsites [that] ruthlessly compete for pageviews.”

Cool term, “yellow blogging.”  I like it.

But as heir to yellow journalism, as it was practiced in urban America at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century–unh-uh.

As I wrote in my 2001 book, Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies, “yellow journalism” has become a shorthand term–a cliché, really–for exaggerated, sensationalized, rumor-driven treatment of the news.

But that’s far from what “yellow journalism” was.

Hearst caricature, 1896

Newspapers of a century or so ago that can be classified as “yellow journals” (such as those of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer)  “were, at a minimum, typographically bold in their use of headlines and illustrations,” I wrote in Yellow Journalism, adding:

“They certainly looked different from their gray, conservative counterparts, and their use of design elements was more conspicuous and imaginative. They were, moreover, inclined to campaign against powerful interests and municipal abuses, ostensibly on behalf of ‘the people.’ And they usually were not shy about doing so.”

More specifically, yellow journalism–a term that emerged in 1897–was defined by these features and characteristics:

  • the frequent use of multicolumn headlines that sometimes stretched across the front page.
  • a variety of topics reported on the front page, including news of politics, war, international diplomacy, sports, and society.
  • the generous and imaginative use of illustrations, including photographs and other graphic representations such as locator maps.
  • bold and experimental layouts, including those in which one report and illustration would dominate the front page. Such layouts sometimes were enhanced by the use of color.
  • a tendency to rely on anonymous sources, particularly in dispatches of leading reporters.
  • a penchant for self-promotion, to call attention frequently to the newspaper’s accomplishments.

So the yellow press back then was certainly anything but boring, predictable, or uninspired—complaints of the sort that frequently are raised about contemporary American newspapers.

The yellow journals were hardly wretched scandal sheets, indulging in gossip and rumor.

WJC

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