Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What would I bring to an "establishment press" media company? My "karmic journalism"!


I have worked solo on my books, sites and blogs since the mid 1990s, and I have indeed thought about forming an “alliance” of some sort so that my work can be more sustainable, and maybe become financially self-supporting.

I’ve said that I would not want to become a huckster for someone else’s business’s agenda (like insurance, tax avoidance, or even telecommunications deals).   I would be interested in working with other media entities however. For example, Vox Media has an approach to the news that is concentric or didactic and very much similar to mine in spirit (with several orders of magnitude more of resources).  I have always enjoyed CNN.  And back in the 1970s I was actually employed by NBC in New York City as a mainframe programmer analyst.  My career path, up to retirement, was old school IT, not news or media as such.  I do have some social media contacts with media persons in local televisions stations. 

What do I bring to a news organization?  I think there are two major areas to talk about.  I believe that I can help a media company (or plural) deal with these. 
  
One is that the “more established media” (including newer web-based companies) should focus more on some critical issues that, to put it simply, have the potential to have major impacts on whether we can, as individuals or families, live our own lives (with some self-expression) the way we choose to, of course within the law as a classical liberal or even libertarian would see the law.  There are some problems that can mount an existential threat to Western way of life, beyond the obvious 9/11-style spectacle, and beyond issues that seem to be very long term, like climate change.
  
One of these issues is the stability of the power grid.  The threat most often mentioned in the mainstream press is cyberterror, and that matters.  But much graver threats come from the clumsy manufacturing and replacement capabilities, clearly inadequate domestically, for major pieces of power grid hardware (like large transformers).   The grid seems to be vulnerable to solar storms, and big solar storms may happen more often than we had thought, as well as to possible electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks by terrorists, which could be mounted from the ground with conventional devices and have a local (a few blocks or square miles) and have extremely disruptive impacts.   Media companies should investigate the capacity of electric utilities to parry threats like these much more thoroughly than they have. They should also interview manufacturers of grid equipment, at least two of whom are located I the Virginia Piedmont or Shenandoah Valley.
  
Another issue is filial responsibility laws.  I covered these on my “retirement blog” in July 2007, gaining some attention.  I’ve posted an article on it on Wikipedia.  AARP used to cover it and took down a by-state map, as if keeping it up might lead to more enforcement.  The issue flared up in May 2012 with a bizarre lawsuit in Pennsylvania.  The topic certainly bears on eldercare, “family values”, lower birthrates, and changing demographics.
  
There are other issues that I encounter, with some personal bearing, that deserve more cover.  One might be the issue of mandatory paid family leave (especially paternity and maternity).  How does it work in Euorpe?  Do the childless wind up subsidizing other people’s children in the workplace? If so, is that a good and necessary thing?
  
One other big issue, that bears on the modern model for free speech and unmoderated self-broadcast (without gatekeepers) keeps coming back:  downstream liability for Internet companies for user content.  That plays out differently for various areas:  the DMCA for copyright (and the battle over SOPA), and Section 230 for libel and for cyberbullying. 
  
On many areas, the current media companies do a very objective and thorough job.  One of these is the network neutrality debate, which tends to become duplicitous.  Another is copyright and patent trolling.  (Trademark for me is trickier;  I’ll come back to that.)  In the social liberty issues, it would be difficult for me to add anything to establishment coverage of same-sex marriage.   “Gays in the military” – the issue that started me out in blogger journalism – might not be as dead or settled as we think, however.
  
What would I bring to the table of a media company?  Not the conventional 40 years in legacy news business, and I didn’t even “pay my dues” by tramping in “parts unknown”.   My own life story is filled with moral ironies that generated my stake in many of these issues.   It is indeed “A Different Life” (as if that could become an indie movie title).  I worked largely as an individual contributor in I.T., and didn’t have to become skilled at manipulating people to buy things or to submit to authority.  I could afford to remain personally somewhat aloof, even schizoid.  But it's important to understand why, in past generations at least, people made "my 'private' life" their business.  Sexual orientation, as an issue, became a proxy for something much bigger and hard to qualify -- something having to do with social capital and perhaps power.  
   
But over almost 20 years I amassed a huge library of content, revolving around some of these core issues the way air rotates around low-pressure centers on a weather map – as the storms move.  I deployed the content myself, through very simple technologies.  It is true that I have multiple sites and blogs, set up in different formats at different times with different technologies and circumstances.   It isn’t practical for me to integrate them all quickly, and with search engines working the way they do, it there is not a lot of incentive to clean out the older content.
  
I would call my setup “karmaic journalism” (more precise than “karmic journalism”), having several characteristics:  It is simple and maintained at low cost by few people with no bureaucracy; it thoroughly airs opposing viewpoints on sensitive issues;  it centers around topics that bear on the tension between “individual sovereignty” and social stability and sustainability.   And it stays up, all the time.  Politicians gradually they can’t get away with one-sided tribalism if they know that “I” am always there, to be found easily on search engines, social media or even by word-of-mouth   It doesn’t need large numbers and it doesn’t have to make money on its own. Or does it, eventually?

I could call my process "journalistic auditing", as if I were borrowing a buzzword from Scientology. 
  

Of course, that becomes a novel ethical rub, to have a disproportionate, asymmetric influence on policy outcomes without having “my own skin” in the game in a personal way (like by having or taking responsibility for children).   That has led to people approaching me, to play ball in their games, in ways that in the past would have been unthinkable, as I have covered in previous postings.  You don’t always enjoy home field advantage, that last at-bat, that chance to walk off. 

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