Thursday, September 29, 2016

Does Democracy depend on Journalism?

CBS News journalist Scott Pelley has been quoted as saying, “There is no democracy without journalism... If we lose good journalism, America will lose its vitality in the world.” The sentiment of this statement is as topical now as when our founding fathers bound the freedoms of speech and of the press into The Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution. We are living in a world were those who would control your way of life are also trying to control the information that you have access to. This is evident in not only the corporate controlled media prevalent in the United States, but extends to the outright slaughter of journalists that is happening around the world.  

In 2015, sixty-one journalist were killed for providing you information about those who would oppress your freedoms. Despite dangers to themselves, journalists continue to report about those committing acts contrary to the common good. Be these acts of violence and terror or the secret intrigues of corporations and governments. To report on those who seek to remove your rights to self-actualization and self-determination, journalist provided us, the public, with information that we may act upon. That we may use to defend our rights and to try and secure the rights of those being oppressed. Without journalists exposing these activities and informing you of the atrocities being committed, the perpetrators would be able to take you unawares. Without good information, Americans lose the ability to effectively react to what is happening in the world.

In the connected age of the Internet and social media, it is more important than ever to have strong journalism. Extremist organizations are now not only using social media, but are also becoming experts at it. They are using its power and portability to aggrandize their acts of terror and spread them beyond regional borders. This is clearly demonstrated in the online celebrations by the Islamic State after the terror attacks in Paris in November 2015. By having a strong journalism and reporters willing to find and report about what is really happening and place it in a wider context, we have a counter to the propaganda that is being spread by those seeking to oppress freedom.

Reinforcing his sentiments, Scott Pelley also said, “The quality of life in America is dependent on the quality of the journalism. Most people don't realize that, but if you think about it, journalism is one of the pillars on which our society is perched.” If we fail to protect and nurture this pillar of our society, we will lose what it is supporting. We lose one of the checks and balances against those who would undermine our society.  We lose the voice of those interested in the common good advising us about what we need to know. Whether this is about unethical quests for bigger profits or the terrorist pursuits of those holding extremist beliefs, we as a society need to know.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Tuition Costs at Glendale Community College

One of the most important issues for students at Glendale Community College (GCC) is the cost of tuition. GCC is one of ten community colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD). For the 2016-17 school year, the cost of tuition to the students was increased $2.00 per credit hour. While this seems to be a small amount, it adds up to a 2.4 percent increase for full-time students with 30 credit hours of classes per year. In addition to the tuition increase, there have also been increases in many of the course fees paid by the students.  

To understand these increases, a request for a statement was sent to Mr. Alfredo Gutierrez, the president of the MCCCD Governing Board. Unfortunately, no reply was received from President Gutierrez.

Researching these issues through the MCCCD website and the local community college news has provided an overview of the situation. Because the annual budget of MCCCD is in excess of $1.4 billion, only the broadest outline can be provided. The funds for MCCCD are provided through a combination of tax revenues, tuition and course fee payments, state aid and other sources. However, the annual budget was reduced by $68 million when Arizona pulled all state funding for the 2016-17 school year. This combined with reduced enrollment has increased the tuition cost. Fortunately for the students, the increase is the smallest in several years.

To provide a student’s perspective on the increase in tuition costs and course fees, I spoke with Shannon Crosby. He is studying Digital Media Arts at GCC. Shannon said that he thinks that the tuition costs he is paying are reasonable when compared to the costs of attending one of the state universities in Arizona. I asked what he thought his tuition dollars paid for and he assumed that they went to cover expenses directly associated with classes. I asked what he thought of the course fees; he thought that some of them are ridiculous high and don’t make any sense. Shannon feels that he doesn’t understand what the fees are used for.  

I also asked these questions of Dawn Creighton, a GCC alumnus. She attended GCC between 2004 and 2006. She felt that the tuition costs at GCC were reasonable, especially when compared to the tuition costs she paid after she transferred to Arizona State University. I asked Dawn what she thought of the course fees. Like Shannon, she felt that some were either too high or even completely unnecessary.

After speaking to Shannon and Dawn, I did some additional research to find out what tuition costs and course fees pay for. According the MCCCD website, tuition and fees total approximately $288 million annually. However, they make up a relatively small part of the overall budget at only 18 percent. It appears that the students of Glendale Community College and the other Maricopa Community Colleges are receiving great value for the tuition costs they pay.


Activist or Aggregator?

When looking at the world of information and how it has changed in the digital age of the internet, we have to ask the question: Activist or Aggregator? Is the person providing the information acting as an activist, or are they accumulating information for others to act on. This question especially comes into play when looking at Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Both have been involved in disseminating classified information through the organization WikiLeaks. Looking at their backgrounds helps answer the question.

Edward Snowden was working for as a U.S. government contractor in 2013 when he copied and then revealed to journalists as many as 200,000 classified documents. Snowden claims that his motivation for revealing the documents was so that Americans would be aware of the magnitude of domestic surveillance being done by the government. Edward Snowden is facing many repercussions for his actions and is currently living in political asylum in Russia. It seems that considering this, Mr. Snowden could certainly be thought of as an activist for the revelation of surveillance to the American public.   

On the other hand, Julian Assange, a founder and the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, seems to fall mainly into the role of an aggregator despite starting out as a journalist and activist. Assange has provided a platform where documents can be made available to the public. While the revelation of this information can have significant consequences for those involved, the information is not being reported in a journalistic way. WikiLeaks announces that they have published a document and the situation surrounding it and why that is important. Then WikiLeaks, without talking to those involved in any given situation, makes broad pronouncements about what is happening.

It can be seen that while roles of Activist and Aggregator are clearly separate things, they are certainly not mutually exclusive.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Should All Bloggers be Considered Journalist? What is Reporter's Privilege?

Over the past few years there has been increased access to online media content. This access provides not only the ability to read news content, but also the ability to produce it. One area where this is clearly evident is in the realm of blogging. Not only can blogs be read on any internet capable device, they can be created and uploaded to the internet on most of them. The explosion in the numbers of people exercising this modern ability to post content on the internet makes it imperative that we ask the question should all of those blogging be considered journalists? This is a question not only for those working in the news field, but a question for everyone accessing online media for information about the events that impact their lives.

According to the website for the American Press Institute, anyone can produce journalism; that is the gathering, assessing, creating and presenting of news content. However, merely participating in journalistic-like activities does not make someone a journalist. Journalists must follow a set of principles that have been self-identified by those working in the field. A summation of these is that the journalist places the public welfare above all other concerns and does this based on a foundation of rigorous verification. The journalist gathers the information, assesses its veracity and disseminates it. However, this is not done in a vacuum; it is done with the needs of the journalist's community in mind. Be that community local, national or international in scope.

Why should a community be worried about who is calling themselves a journalist? Because there are certain protections that go along with being a journalist or reporter. One of these is the idea of Reporters' Privilege. The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes Reporters' Privilege as a qualified privilege to keep confidential sources anonymous. The courts have found that this is provided for in federal and state constitutions. This brings the question, as an anonymous news source, would a person be protected if the blogger that they talked to is not considered a bona fide journalist?

Maybe another question that should be asked is whether Reporters' Privilege still applies in the age of online media. One thing to remember is that Reporters' Privilege applies not only to the journalist, but ultimately to the community new sources that it protects. Until the question of who can legitimately claim the title of journalist is better resolved, Reporters' Privilege should be painted with a wide brush. Personally, I feel that it is one of the cornerstones of the news remaining democratic and truly informative.