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Experts Ponder if Internet Makes Us Dumber

By Ethan Klapper

The Internet is a tool, not a “god-like source of knowledge,” according to bestselling author Susan Jacoby, who is on a campaign against American anti-intellectualism.

At an American Forum March 31 on the question: “Are media making us dumber?” Jacoby repeatedly questioned the value of the Internet.

“[The Internet] does not tell us how the information we get fits into a larger body of knowledge,” she said.

Andy Carvin, senior strategist for online communities at National Public Radio, frequently disagreed with Jacoby.

“I think it’s fair to say that the Internet doesn’t necessarily make us smarter,” he said. “But, by the same token, I’d have to say it doesn’t necessarily make us dumber, either. It’s a platform, it’s a technology, it’s pathways for people to interact with each other, and share content, and access content and so it’s very much what you make of it.”

Josh Hatch, a multimedia producer for USA Today, called the Internet an “agnostic tool,” which prompted a quick response from Jacoby in what at times became a heated exchange.

“There is no such thing as an agnostic tool,” Jacoby said. “One of the things we are ignoring is that the experience of reading on the Internet has nothing in common with the experience of reading as it has traditionally been experienced.”

But perhaps the most contentious moment of the one-hour discussion, which was broadcast April 1 on WAMU 88.5 FM, was on the question of whether online interactions count as real relationships.

Jacoby said the Internet was “displacing face-to-face conversation,” and warned, “Don’t tell me about all the wonderful conversations that are taking place on e-mail.”

Andy Carvin jumped in to recount that as a new parent, he “had no social life whatsoever” but was able to maintain friendships online.

Kathryn Montgomery, a professor at American University’s School of Communication, supported the value of using social media to enhance interpersonal relationships.

“There’s no question texting, for example, is an extension of social relationships, and in many ways I think it enhances social relationships,” she said. “It’s a terrific tool, I think particularly for adolescents who are learning how to develop social relationships.”

But Jacoby begged to differ.

“Certainly, friendship is not Twittering with somebody once in a while, and e-mailing somebody,” she said. “Friendship is, if they’re sick, going over and helping them. Friendship is occasionally spending a few hours with somebody whose partner of 30 years has died.”

Montgomery then rebutted by raising the point of whether a phone call counted as friendship.

Jacoby, whose comments sometimes elicited laughter from a predominantly college-age crowed, later summed up what she thought of the Internet: overhyped.

“One of my objections is not to the Internet per se, but to the fact that it is often touted as something that teaches you how to learn,” she said.

She agreed with Carvin that an NPR project using crowd-sourcing helped the broadcaster accomplish a lot during the campaign season.

As Carvin explained, NPR had users of the popular microblogging service Twitter include the word “factcheck” in their tweets if they heard something questionable during the debates. Then, a team of NPR staff investigated these allegations by Twitter users and their work helped drive the public radio network’s coverage.

“While we had maybe half a dozen or so reporters who were focused all that night and into the morning on fact checking, it was like they had hundreds of interns working for them all over the world trying to help out,” Carvin said.

“I thought your Twitter project was brilliant, too, about the debates,” Jacoby said.

In response to a student, Montgomery said that Facebook and other social networking tools have very beneficial effects.

“These new tools new tools create all kinds of possibilities we didn’t have before,” Montgomery said. “That’s fabulous.”

In February, Twitter traffic grew by about 700 percent over last year, according numbers released April 7 by Internet analytics firm comScore.

Facebook just crossed the 200 million-user mark in the past few weeks, according to their Web site. This exceeds the population of many countries.

“I wonder sometimes about whether these things replace ways to connect with friends,” Montgomery said.

Providing Local News to Rural Americans Faces Legal Hurdles

By Ethan Klapper

It's been a difficult task for rural satellite television subscribers to receive local news that's actually local, but there's hope, since a law that governs the satellite television industry is up for reauthorization this year.

Charlie Ergen, founder and CEO of DISH Network, and Martin Franks, executive vice president of policy, planning and government relations for CBS Corporation, disagreed at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month over whether current law prevents local stations from expanding local news coverage for satellite providers.

“The local station controls that copyright so there is no reason right now that your constituents couldn’t be delivered the in-state local news product that you want,” Franks said, addressing Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “There is no impediment in the law or regulation to doing that now.”

Ergen disagreed with Franks’ assessment. “I don’t believe that’s true,” he said, arguing that local news stations don’t control the copyright to all the programming they air, since it comes from multiple sources. “I’ve met with Gannett Broadcasting and I’ve tried to bring in the local news and talked about doing regional concepts,” he added. “Ultimately … they said we own the copyright to our local news but we don’t own the copyright to the national news and our local news feeds are interlaced with national stories so when President Obama is talking last night that’s a national story and national NBC owned the copyright.”

The hearing was held as part of this year’s reauthorization of the Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1988 (SHVA), which governs the satellite television industry and is reviewed every five years. The Judiciary Committee has oversight of any copyright issues that emerge from the law.

When the SHVA was amended in 1999, it included a provision, known as "local into local," allowing satellite providers to provide local broadcast channels to subscribers. However, the providers are not required to provide the service, and they may charge a fee for it, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The big issue facing consumers in rural areas comes from a discrepancy between designated market areas (DMA) drawn by the Nielsen Company and actual state lines. For example, residents of Bennington, Vt., are physically located in the state of Vermont but are in the Albany, N.Y. DMA and receive news from Albany.

However, both men agreed that if a subscriber has access to two feeds of the same network, there would be a copyright issue that would have to be properly negotiated.

“I do think, and we don't have a representative from sports leagues here or other copyright holders, and I don't want to speak for them -- I think that they would have to renegotiate their contracts around what I call, expanded local which is to expand the definition of local to include your current local and an adjacent DMA,” Ergen said.

The issue was personal for the committee’s chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who said he uses a satellite dish when he’s home in the Green Mountain State.

“I live in a rural area in Vermont,” he said. “Nearest neighbors are half a mile away. I have what is sometimes referred to as the state flower in Vermont, the satellite dish on my roof.”

Senators complained that their constituents are unable to receive in-state programming because they live in a DMA where the major city is located in a different state.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said the issue is prevalent one for constituents living in the northwestern corner of his state.

“My constituents want to know why they can only get news about what’s happening in Minnesota’s government rather than the laws and budget of Wisconsin,” he said.

Ergen urged the committee to expand the "local into loca"l definition to include the adjacent DMA.

“It's really people in Vermont want to see Vermont,” he said. “And it's simple as that. It's not complicated.”


Photo Courtesy of the National Association of Broadcasters

VO/SOT: NCAA Selection Show

Eisman Discovers Journalism By Accident, Becomes Industry Leader

By Ethan Klapper

Amy Eisman discovered journalism by accident.

As a senior urban planning major at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1974, Eisman, now an authority on new media, took an internship at Philadelphia Magazine “to learn about how a city operates.”

“I got the bug because in working at the magazine I found out it was so much more fun to write about things than it was to be an urban planner,” she said.

The director of writing programs at American University’s School of Communication since 2005, Eisman jokes that her career “has pretty much reflected mainstream mass media.” She started out in traditional print journalism but has become known for her expertise on new forms of media, including online journalism, citizen journalism and the convergence of print, broadcast and digital media on the Internet.

Eisman is an AU School of Communication alumnus, having graduated with a master’s degree in communication in 1976. Her career afterward is a reflection of a volatile news industry history.

She was a writer, columnist and features editor for the Montgomery County Sentinel in Maryland. Later, she became a reporter and assistant city editor for the Baltimore News American and a general assignment editor for the Dallas Times Herald, both of which have gone out of business.

Eisman was looking for a new job after working in Texas, so she called a former colleague of hers. She signed onto the launch of USA Today and called the experience of working for “the nation’s newspaper” at its launch “spectacular.” Eisman said that everyone should work on a launch project if given the opportunity.

Eisman worked for USA Today as a cover story editor. She also worked on the paper's sports desk.

After four years at USA Today, Eisman transferred within Gannett to work for USA Weekend, a magazine that now has a circulation of 23 million. The weekly magazine is distributed inside the Sunday paper. In 1996, Eisman became the magazine’s executive editor, a position that she held until she left Gannet in 1999 after 17 years with the company.

Eisman then did consulting work with a New York Web site and The Arizona Republic. She saw that news was going online – and wanted to move quickly into the Web world, so she went to work for a dot-com, the dot-com of the era – America Online. She was there on Sept. 11, 2001, serving as managing editor of the welcome screen, where she worked on keeping the information updated and the headlines fresh.

“That’s when I learned about the power of the Web,” she said, sitting in her tiny office on the third floor of Mary Graydon Center, with its huge window overlooking the McKinley building. “Because everyone went to the welcome screen on Sept. 11.”

Still, Eisman considers herself a latecomer to Web journalism. She says she was one of the last people hired in the industry who did not have any previous Web background.

“My timing was fabulous,” she said. “I’ve been lucky my whole career.”

Some would say it was more than luck.

SOC Associate Dean Rose Ann Robertson said Eisman is an industry leader.

“She absolutely loves it,” said Robertson. “She loves the citizen journalism. She loves the blogging. She loves the openness and she’s become a leader not only for SOC but for the industry.”

“She keeps up with all the technological changes that have occurred in journalism,” said Christine Lawrence, an adjunct SOC journalism professor. “She’s an expert in online journalism and writing for the Web. She’s very good in keeping up with all the changes that have been going on.”

Eisman is a self-trained expert in Web journalism, teaching innovative online courses such as Media @ the Millennium and developing training modules for Gannett’s own journalists and editors.

Eisman joined the SOC faculty in the fall of 2002 and became the director of writing programs in September 2005, overseeing all nine of the Writing for Mass Communication sections this semester, which includes a total of 177 beginning students who are mostly in SOC.

“Teaching is the culmination of all of my professional experiences,” she said. “I couldn't have done it earlier because I hadn't had the newspaper, magazine, management and Web background all together.

“Now I would not do anything else. It is such a great job — you get to learn as much as you get to teach.”

Eisman’s colleagues have nothing but praise for her work.

“She is extraordinarily energetic,” Robertson said. “She is the ideal employee. She’s always ready to lend a hand.”

“She’s very clever in the way she teaches,” Lawrence said, citing Eisman’s sense of humor. “Students really respond to that.”

“She is one of those people who has one foot firmly affixed in what’s happening in the professional world,” said John Watson, associate professor of journalism at SOC. “She’s particularly up to date in the technical machinery and devices that are becoming more and more popular among professionals.”

Watson said his students have praise for Eisman.

“I’ve never heard a student say anything bad about her,” he said. “The worst thing I’ve heard someone say is that ‘she wants us to know too much.’ To some students, that’s a criticism. To me, that’s praise.”

This semester, Eisman is teaching Journalism Ethics and Writing for Convergent Media, according to the University Registrar’s Web site.

Elena Isella, a 2008 SOC graduate, took Writing for Convergent Media with Eisman in the spring of 2008.

“That writing class is recommended,” she said. “[Convergence] is definitely the wave of the future. It was [mostly] about being aware of the trends and what we needed to know, and new ways of telling the story.”

Eisman brought in speakers from USA Today, Gannett and the Poynter Institute, Isella said.

“She’s caring as a professor and as a person,” Isella said of Eisman. “She really wants students to succeed and to do their very best.”

Eisman has an optimistic outlook for the future of journalism.

“So the Web has changed journalism forever,” she said. “It will shake out. It will come back. The good things that have come out of it are more people have more access to information than ever before globally. The good things are more people are taking part in the process.”


Video: Amy Eisman on her career

Inauguration Day from the Digital Newsroom

If there was any emotion in the newsroom last Tuesday, it went without expression. When Barack Obama took the oath of office, there wasn’t a cheer or a cry.

Staffers at the Web site followed journalistic protocol and kept a professional attitude despite the loud cheers and claps that erupted via television feeds from the Washington Mall.

It may have been easier for reporters to set aside personal views because they had so much work to do. It was, after all, a story of historic proportions.

Behind the news desk, a live webcast went on for over nine hours featuring well-known journalists Dana Priest, Pulitzer Prize winner, Lois Romano and Chris Cillizza. The analysis was live and audible to everyone in the newsroom.

“It worked like clockwork,” said Sarah Lovenheim, a producer for the Web site’s politics section.

For the politics team, the day was going just as planned until an Associated Press NewsAlert came over the wire: “Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has been wheeled out of the Capitol on a stretcher.”

As fast as that news flashed over the wire, the newsroom kicked into high gear.

Paul Volpe,’s deputy politics editor, said that the first thing he worried about when the Kennedy news came was presentation. He said that the special homepage used for the inauguration took months to design and posting breaking news would require producers to deviate from the design.

“We had to ask if the homepage was equipped to handle breaking news,” he said.

Kennedy’s collapse was non life-threatening and attributed to fatigue, according to later news reports.

Welcome the world of continuous news. While the coverage plan for both The Washington Post and had been in planning since shortly after Election Day, as any news person knows, anything can happen when hundreds of thousands of people gather in one place on a day of high expectations.

Volpe said that’s why he enjoyed working on inauguration day. He was in charge of brining all of the Post’s politics coverage to the Web – and displaying it in appealing ways for readers.

“Today was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was a fun mixture of a lot of things going on at once. Today was a day that reminded me why I like this business.”

AU Senior Jeremy Diamond, 21, worked as a runner for ABC News and noted the differences in Web and television coverage.

“Producers serving major TV networks are mostly contributing to a presentation larger than themselves,” he said, referring to the large amount of logistics that go into a television broadcast, compared to running a Web site. “Producers for the Web bring a much more direct, on-the-ground perspective to their reporting.”

AU Senior Mike Lock, 21, attended the inauguration but looked through’s coverage afterwards.

“I liked Dr. Gridlock’s live transit reports,” he said, referring to the site’s traffic and road conditions blogger.

Lock called his inauguration experience “chaotic” but said he would rather go to the inauguration than sit in an office all day.

In contrast, Volpe said that if he were on the mall, he would be working hard conducting interviews and writing a story in the cold. He said he was happy to be in the newsroom.

Justin Hall, 21, an AU senior, called his experience witnessing Barack Obama’s swearing in amongst millions of people “unbelievable.” He had similar praise for’s coverage.

“I was very impressed they got all angles,” he said. “I think they [covered] [Ted Kennedy] respectfully.”

Chris Cillizza, a blogger and White House correspondent for the Post, dropped by the newsroom after covering the inauguration from a perch near the platform where Obama was sworn in. He called the experience “cold.”

For Lovenheim, Inauguration Day marked the end of a story that she has followed for most of her two-year tenure at

“The major story line now is the first 100 days of the presidency,” she said.


Video: My Trip to Work on Inauguration Day

My Trip to Work on Inauguration Day