Bill posted earlier about the exciting new journalism project that Jay Rosen, associate prof at the journalism school of my alma mater NYU, is undertaking. There are many perspectives out there in the blogs and in the traditional media about Rosen’s efforts to bridge the gap between citizen journalism and professional journalism and about the role of blogs versus the traditional newspaper. Daniel Schorr recently told a USA Today reporter that he finds bloggers “scary” because “there is no publisher, no editor, no anything. It's just you and a little machine and you can make history.” To some that may be scary, for others it’s the future.
There are some exciting new experiments being launched to improve the quality of journalism, and not a moment too soon. As many others have noted, the economics of the traditional news businesses aren't especially good. Producing high quality enterprise and investigative journalism--real, in-depth, original reporting--is a fairly labor intensive undertaking, and that in many ways isn't financially rewarding: If I spend two years unearthing something and publish it, the news itself can be picked up by the Associated Press and other wire services, published in other newspapers, broadcast on television and radio, and linked by and excerpted onto multiple blogs. If the Philadelphia Inquirer (where I once worked) devotes countless man hours, salary and expenses to breaking a story, readers don't have to buy that paper (let alone subscribe to it) to get the news -- the economic awards, such as they are, are as often as not realized elsewhere. It's a great system for the public, but the for-profit media companies that pay the salaries of reporters, editors and photographers who do the grunt work digging out the story have shown themselves to be less and less willing to foot the bill.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an Op-Ed this weekend about the prospects of using the Internet for more deliberative public reasoning, discussing one of the projects we are considering for a minigrant -- MorePerfect.org. More Perfect is a new wiki-forum for collaborative law and policy development:
Will a Web-based, wiki-democracy work? I don't know. I'm skeptical of the open platform because it can be manipulated by a special interest.
Every two years the same political phenomenon repeats itself, like a rerun of Groundhog’s Day. A new crop of congressional candidates with stars in their eyes – and money in their pockets – take aim at a coveted seat in the U.S. Congress by plugging their personal fortunes into the campaign.
If the past is any indication, come sunshine or clouds on Election Day, nearly all these self-funded candidates will lose.
The latest fillings with the Federal Election Commission show that so far this election cycle, 16 candidates have anted up $1 million or more of their personal fortunes. (You can find the list on Open Secrets.) Some 53 have given $250,000 or more.
We are so pleased with the results and process of our first online polling that we are now thinking about our next steps. We'd love to dig a little deeper and ask a series of questions about specific ways to make members of Congress and their business more transparent.
We might ask some of the questions that we asked in our launch poll, like requiring disclosure of all money raised for a campaign by registered lobbyists (this idea has been picked up by Public Campaign Action Fund and Common Cause in their recentlly launched national pledge campaign), requiring specific disclosure of earmarks, or requiring lawmakers to file reports on legislation they have introduced that would benefit a campaign contributor.
We've gotten a few dozen fascinating applications for mini-grants, including one for Metavid, a project to archive, make shareable and make reusable federal legislative hearings. Sounds like a good project, sounds like something C-SPAN would try to shut down immediately, no? Here's Metavid's explanation of how to get around the C-SPAN blockade on the public debate. In brief, they argue that "the use of artificial scarcity should not be applicable to public domain source content. These restrictions and licensing agreements transform public assets into consumable objects. These consumable objects cannot be reworked, reused and mediated."
Ethan Zuckerman has an important post about the growing global governmental blocking of online content, discussing recent blog-blocking by India:
That India is blocking any sites is disappointing. I’d like to see all governments - my own included - block only as an absolute last resort, and as a way to prevent access to content that’s clearly illegal, like child pornography. And I think it’s critical that governments who do block the Internet do so in a way that’s transparent, posting a page that makes it clear that a site has been blocked, offering an appeals process and makng it clear that the page isn’t inaccessible due to technical errors.... blocking blogs is a slippery slope. Blocking opaquely makes it even more slippery.
Kudos to ThinkProgress for this analysis and presentation of the scandal that is the hallmark of this Congress. Following all the strands of the current Congressional scandal has even defied the best of us. I don't know how many hours it took ThinkProgress' staff to put this together: it's taken a couple of years to unravel the information. If there was real time, online disclosure of trips, gifts, spousal employment, personal financial information, campaign contributions and expenditures, meetings between lawmakers and lobbyists, connections to charities, we'd be a lot better off.
We've been promising to introduce our Sunlight Labs more formally and today we're doing that, along with the announcement of a really neat widget that we're calling "Popup Politicians." Before you imagine the worst, like, Representative J. Dennis Hastert or Sen. John McCain or Representative John Boehner popping out of cake, take a look at what Greg Elin and Duncan Werner have developed -- a web page plug-in that links the reader to information about who's financing the lawmaker's campaign, the lawmaker's voting record, and their profile on Congresspedia. The widget appears as a small popup window when you mouse-over the little sun icon that appears at the end of the name.
Is there any website that collects FOIA requests made by agencies and individuals? Could the Government make public the FOIA requests made on its website? Public and searchable?
I'm fumbling for the right question, but there's a large sense in which it seems that much of FOIA should not be necessary in an internet age, as so much of what is sought should be findable by default - online, searchable - and in the meantime I'd love to see a catalog of what is requested.