How to render America’s crumbling master narrative as journalism?

Convener/Reporter: Jan Schaffer

Dan Gillmor
Matt Shepherd
Ken Sands
Peggy Holman
Steve Silha
Eric Nelson
Eric Nelson

Discussion Master Narratives p 21

Jan//Overall recap: Are we so busy covering the “news” that we are missing the big story of what is really happening in America? I’m concerned that we are on the verge of becoming the next Great Britain or worse. China is the emergent superpower. And China is not a democracy –which has ramifications for journalism. No one is covering this.

What does a journalism look like that examines how the U.S. is faring from a 50,000 foot view? How do you do journalism that covers the values that Americans pay lip service to [but don’t live by]? Is journalism complicit in failing to cover the issues that really speak to the future of our democracy?

Ken: One of the current turnoffs is journalism’s current practice only covering What Happened Yesterday. No one is covering the bigger news.

Matt: What Happened Yesterday has a very agreed-upon framework. The questions are very anticipated [at press conferences] everyone knew what questions journalists were going to ask.

Peggy: Coverage of APME — They were covering the sessions, but no one was really covering the experience of being in that room.
NGO’s are doing important work.. stories that could be told could make an incredible difference. People could tap into that and say, “I could do that.”

Jan: What is it like to be in America today? What are citizens really fearful of…? What are the things that are broadly known, but never spoken of – or you don’t see in journalism. What would a journalism that covers these silent issues look like?

Matt: I’d like to get all the press releases that were circulated to all groups every day… [have citizens, interest groups] compare them… so we could compare that layer of Meta data with the stories that we were being presented with every day.
Really get at the story behind the story.

Follow the money… I get knowledge of what happened… but that info. is completely peripheral to what companies were behind each news story… I want that information to be more transparent.

Sarah: There is an assumed cynicism… we rarely have that cynicism challenged.

Jan: Why is there not more rage/outrage at the way things are going in US?

Jarah: I think people are exhausted

Sarah: Or scared. We would not just be talking about how journalism do their jobs… we’d be talking about the whole country.

Jarah: Citizen journalism leading to civic action is one way…

Jan: Is journalism complicit in covering up or failing to cover the story?

Dan: Complicity doesn’t mean conspiracy.

Sarah: There are huge things that are happening… Id we changed the way we covered the war on terror that could change the world.
Most of our [US] relationships with the world are vastly under treated.

Matt: We don’t know what the metrics or characteristics are of empire, of fascism, of cold war…

Dan: The first time you hear about something is after the vote is taken, which is much too late. …. We’re not engaging people when they could do something about it.

Florangelo: It’s too easy to keep to the routines, use the same muscles. The Arab community was not on our radars till post 9-11. They were invisible.

Dan: That’s one more reason to encourage citizens media.

Matt: People don’t know at all what the true consequences are of a particular bill [in Congress] because we don’t know the broad financial and practical realities involved…
The NYT magazine went looking back over many years at a series of completely innocuous, arcane energy bills.. This takes time, energy and money. These laws were the product [and goal] of billions of dollars of lobbying… in this case from energy companies.

Bills are passed without notice or remarks.
This is the sort of parsing of data that ordinary people would be willing to do.
Dan: There are conversations going about about covering the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast after Katrina. This is something too big for a single news organization… Get a coalition of citizens and news organizations together.

This is perfect concept for breaking a story … FOIA the contracts… compile data… collaborate… NYT has 70 people on this story.

Dan: Every tax bill is filled with things… What if you passed it out to thousands of lawyers who could deconstruct pieces of the legislation… add their expertise… before Congress takes a final vote… This is another category of breaking stories into little pieces.

Matt: Get bloggers (indy media) involved in the data… we need all of those capabilities

Get people to tape every public appearance… post it…
Matt: I don’t think the press should be going from junket to junket…. Get other people to examine the transcripts.

Dan: Catalogue the tape so that over time you have everything a candidate has said… about health care… or defense…
Can search presidential speeches.

Jarah: Daily Kos did it with contracts…

Dan: The ACLU is turning into a journalistic organization… the Red Cross…the Heritage Foundation is getting into journalism…
Foundations are getting into areas [and reporting] that they care about.

Matt: There could be really good projects for a foundation to take on

Money is one metric for the decaying master narrative…
What about Values – American values??

Matt: Adam Cruickshank dreams of being a Thomas Friedman… being able to articulate his theory of the world… talking about practical things and events thru his lens.

Liberalism and conservatism… Primacy of society and primacy of the individual… that these things should always be in some tension.

Dan: The Radical Center… group of people who think things are going the wrong way and are just waiting for a leader.. someone to tell the truth… ask for sacrifice at some levels….who will say we’re really screwed if we don’t take this on.

Jarah: I don’t think anyone talking about the individual any more. Conservatives have moved from the free market [quadrant] to the totalitarianism box. They want to control the economy and civil liberties.

And the American left… in the context of the global left, is not very left.

Matt: Inquiry into our place in the world happens far too little.

Eric: Is there a role for journalism in this discourse, left and right is not readily…. anymore
Is there a new way of looking at reality that extremists don’t get…
New way of getting transformation … so that you can get synergy and change…

Dan: It gets down to recognizing really complex issues and embracing them
If you think Iraq is a problem, wait for bird flu…
No one is talking about this.

Matt: With near hysteria over Y2K, we got through it, avoided the problem.

Dan: Bird flu may take democracy down with it… we’ll have martial law.

What are some of the things we can do:
` You order the drug industry to make more vaccine
The US acted so slowly that now it is last in line, behind most other countries, in getting supplies.
But that would be against the free market.

[To talk about values] All these things need to be on the table:
Increase taxes
Social Security
Senior drug bills

Matt: If you put everything on the table, you’d get a different picture than you’d get in general
[Budget game]… things that were defunded were the military, manned space flight.

Florangela: Newspapers have a fear of linking… give people a choice and present it in a way that people could see history.

Chicago Trib chronicled every kid who died in a year… you could see patterns.

City Council budget… show what is changing graphically on a page… let people see how some categories are getting bigger.

Jan: What about addressing money fatigue and putting some context in stories about millions or billions of dollars… Say $8 million would buy… x. y. z…

Matt: You can’t present a false equivalency

Dan: You could also have the community think about [weigh in on] these stories that we miss. We can’t possibly do everything… but we can sure ask.

Eric: Do you think people are willing to make a decision on whether to rebuild New Orleans?
Dan: With the port, clearly there needs to be a city there.
Eric: Maybe you need to build a mass transit system… let people live 20 minutes inland and ride to their jobs.

Is the US public invited into this conversation? Do they have a role in making the choices?

Jarah: Now creationism is part of the American narrative

Dan. People around the world are agog by an America where science is being trumped by faith.
Tech industry won’t weigh in on this… People in leadership don’t want to anger anybody. Their excuse is it’s bad for business.

Matt: Another part of the master narrative: Jihad vs. McWorld.

Post conference note from Nancy Margulies:

A couple of times at the salon the topic of how we can’t conceive of a BILLION came up. Here is something that helps with that dilemma:

The next time you hear a politician use the word “billion,” casually,
think about whether you want the politician spending your tax money.

A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising
agency did a good job of putting that figure into perspective in one of its releases.

a. A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

b. A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

c. A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

d. A billion days ago no-one walked on two feet on earth.

e. A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate our government spends it.

This entry was posted in Session Notes. Bookmark the permalink.