Citizen Journalists: Why An Open Internet Matters


When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Al Jazeera provides real news and U.S. media are providing uninformative commentary between commercial breaks, she put in sharp relief the current state of the U.S. media.
It’s a complex, interrelated web of issues, and in this post I’ll limit myself to the Internet and access to news and information.

To do that, however, we have to accede to Secretary Clinton’s critique of U.S. journalism and its sorry state of global coverage.
If you want global news, or information that’s truly important, you have to hunt for it on U.S. cable or broadcast media. You’re more likely to find it in print or online, and frequently from a non-U.S. source.

Even as Clinton decried the lack of competent coverage of Middle East news, U.S. cable channels were telling us of Justin Beiber’s hair clippings being auctioned off on eBay, Charlie Sheen’s tragic meltdown, and the NFL owners’ lockout threat against the players. The latter was even raised at a White House press conference held by President Obama and Mexican President Calderone about border security.

U.S. electronic journalism reflects the corporatization of the electronic media, and we have no reason to expect that these media will ever be guided by anything but profit-making and entertainment.

Years ago, the FCC abdicated its responsibility for holding broadcast licensees responsible for serving the community, and in the recent Comcast/NBC decision, some media activists say it began the same giveaway of the Internet in the U.S.  The Internet is our tool for access to the public sphere today. The legacy media are on the wane, captured by corporate business models that provide us the fare Secretary Clinton decries.

An open Internet is an alternative to the old line media, and that’s why we must defend it against totalitarian governments on one hand and corporate capture on the other.

If the open Internet is not defended, we can expect to see online media become less participatory, less interactive and less accessible to those with limited ability to pay for premium service.  Clay Shirky offers insight on the dangers to the Internet from corporate control.

This defense of an open Internet requires us to learn the skills of citizen reporting, become conversant in social policy about net neutrality and an open Internet, become advocates for open access, and become participants in various online conversations with direct action in our communities.

My starting place for equipping people to engage this issue is Mediactive by Dan Gillmor. I also encourage people to become familiar with Seth Godin’s writings on leadership in the digital world. Clay Shirky is a thought leader in how we use the Internet and its effects on the social fabric.

The challenge to the open Internet is unfolding before our eyes in the uprisings in the Middle East. The Internet doesn’t make for revolution, but it enables people to organize and mobilize for change. The Internet is more than the wires, cables and servers that make up the technology. It’s also the means for communities to have a conversation with themselves, and for people around the globe to learn from, share with and support each other. It’s the way we participate in local and global conversations.

This makes it more like a public utility than a profit-making venture for private investors. This is why preserving an open Internet is important — because our ability to shape the world we live in and to have a voice is intimately connected to the World Wide Web.

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