Thursday, May 08, 2008

Day 2: Assembling a List of Goals

This is a rough list of the goals I would like to accomplish (just from the top of my head). I think this is a great place to start, and I'll do my best to regularly evaluate my progress, revise as is necessary and even add new goals as I progress on this journey to do more for myself and become a better person.

-Hold myself accountable with my finances. Stop borrowing money from parents all the time, and pay them back when you say you are going to.

Design a budget worksheet. Include consideration for bills, entertainment, transportation, etc,. Keep in mind that it would be in my best interest to include some sort of way to keep track of whether or not I spent my money like I planned I would.

File your taxes already. The money is waiting for me. I just have to make sure I don’t get it and immediately go blow it on shoes or an HDTV.

Repair your credit. Continue to make payments on time to Macy’s. Keep in mind that, eventually, I'll have to start paying off the rest of my debt, too.

[Oh, and for anyone who wants a great resource for managing your credit, checking your credit score and whatnot, check out It's been very helpful for me so far, and I doubt there are many for whom it wouldn't help out. -Cam]

-Get more involved in music. Look up the cost of lessons at Ethos and learn to play the piano. Find studio recording classes at PCC Cascade.

-Apply for the radio job at K-HITS 106.7

-Go see an advisor at PCC. Get an Associate of Arts in Web Development and work towards fulfilling AAOTD (Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree) requirements in order to transfer and pursue a Bachelor’s degree in something more general and less technical.

-Achieve balance at all costs. I don’t feel like a very balanced person at the moment. I feel like I put to much effort into the girlfriend aspect of my life and not enough for myself, my friends and my family.

-Read more. I don’t read much, but I enjoy books a lot. What’s stopping me?

It might be easier to read more often if I didn’t owe the library $85. Just a thought.

Authors to keep in mind: Hunter S. Thompson, Chuck Palahniuk [Any other suggestions?]

-Write more. I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere if I don’t take the time to write down my thoughts, evaluate my goal progress, etc,.

Going good so far.

Plans for Today:
-Stop by Ethos for music lesson pamphlet.
-Talk to an adviser at PCC concerning the direction I wish to take for my studies.
-Compose initial draft of e-mail seeking job at K-HITS 106.7.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Paradigm Shift - Part One

Currently, I am struggling. I have many areas in my personal life that I wish to improve upon. I hope to be a successful and productive person; I hope I am able to use this blog and potentially the support of others who wish to be successful themselves in order to set and reach reasonable goals that will--over time--help me reach a point where I can say I've given it my all.

I'd also like to recognize that I have the potential to do great things. I have a lot of interests, but I haven't found a way to maximize that potential in order to accomplish things that are important to me. I have so many passions, yet I haven't been able to find a set of behaviors to follow that aids me in reaching my goals.

In a sense, this blog is an experiment. I continue to tell myself that this isn't just a desperate attempt at getting attention--a question that could be asked for almost all blogs--but that instead I can use this environment (with which I am very comfortable) as a way of keeping myself accountable, perhaps get some advice from complete strangers who have similar struggles, or whatever else I can get out of it that can be deemed useful, really.

I will make revisions to posts. My writing process is still developing, and the laziness in me never seems to want to do more than one draft before posting to the internet. Maybe I'd be able to illustrate my ideas with more clarity and focus if I'd actually take the time to do so... but I believe my "write it and post it"-strategy will be sufficient for now. If I decide a post warrants a revision, I will do so.

I understand that, at the moment, my purpose for this blog may not be entirely clear. This is fine. Once I get more of an idea of exactly what I want to use this for, I will take proper action. I could easily apply a vague label like "I want to be more productive" to the blog, but the impersonal feelings generated by recycled ideas just isn't going to cut it. Another one of the themes of this blog is original thought; something I'd like to encourage to everyone out there.

More later.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Downfall of Mainstream Media

I spend a lot of my time on Digg, a website in which you submit news and other online articles and then vote them to the front page by “digging” them if you feel they are worthy of it, or conversely “burying” them if you feel like they are a complete waste of electronic space. It’s an interesting, democratic style of viewing online articles. If a story makes it to the front page, it will be because a lot of people found it to be interesting.

More often than not, a video from Fox News Channel – or as Digg members refer to it, “Faux News Channel” – shows up. Countless other members, myself included, often treat anything coming from Fox News as an “entertainment” piece, because we all commonly accept that Fox News Channel offers little to no journalistic integrity in the “news” that they report despite their laughable “Fair and Balanced” moniker. This shared (dis)interest in Fox News Channel is part of the demographic that makes up Digg.

And that’s absolutely fine with me. I enjoy reading news from a website whose user base reflects my interests. However, at the same time I am conscious of the fact that what I read may include a stance or bias of some sort. Being a regular visitor of Digg, I can tell you exactly what kind of political leanings the overall user base holds dearest: anti-Fox News, pro-Ron Paul, anti-Hilary Clinton, pro-marijuana legalization – I could go on and on with these examples.

The important part is to realize that for any given organization that delivers news, the possibility of a bias or stance governing their delivery of news to the public is very real. With the mainstream media controlled by only a handful of large media conglomerates, who’s to say that they aren’t applying their own subtle, political leanings in the news that they report?

As a result, I’ve come to accept this not-so-simple fact: “As a news platform, media conglomerates do not uphold the values of journalistic integrity for the benefit of the public nearly as well as the internet as a news platform does.” Comprehending this in its entirety may be quite overwhelming, especially if you aren’t familiar with the subject. For this reason, I’d like to start with a little thing called…

Journalistic Integrity, or What News Should Be

News is the single most powerful factor in everyone’s life, bar none. For one, news gives you something to talk about. And let’s be honest, if you didn’t have those little tidbits of information regarding current affairs or the status on Paris Hilton’s latest temper tantrum, you wouldn’t have a damn thing to talk about (Editor’s note: Before going any further, the author, Cameron Hermens, would like to let everyone know that he doesn’t actually consider Paris Hilton newsworthy).

Secondly and hopefully more importantly, news keeps us up-to-date on politics. Here’s a fun analogy: if news is the means in which the public is kept knowledgeable on political affairs, and politics quite literally governs the way in which we live, then news is our primary means of keeping ourselves informed and being capable of having an impact on how we live. If that isn’t considered to be a significant factor in everyone’s life, then I must have my priorities out of wack.

So now we’ve gotten to a point where we can all agree that news is indeed important. In effect, it allows us to make choices that govern how we live. As a result of this phenomenal importance, there should be clear guidelines as to how journalists should go about giving us this information. This is called journalistic integrity: the notion that those in the position to deliver news will do so in a way that is both free of political influence or bias and verifiably so.

You wouldn’t want someone who you think hates you to perform open-heart surgery on you, so why would you entrust someone with the responsibility of maintaining a neutral position when you suspect otherwise? Well, you wouldn’t. Unfortunately in keeping ourselves informed, we have to entrust someone with that responsibility.

But wait, I have an idea! Let us assume that at least some of what is presented in the news reflects the truth. Even if a news outlet decides to cast a negative light on a particular story in order to complement its own political agenda, they still have to report the main issue. Now if you were to read about the same issue from multiple sources – and presumably multiple perspectives – one could come to a better, more informed position on their own. VoilĂ !

The funny thing is that I must not have been the only one who realized this. Believe it or not, every writing class I’ve taken has stressed the importance of gathering information from multiple viewpoints in order to form a more informed opinion. If this practice encourages good composing in Writing 122, I'd sure as hell bet it'd be the same in writing for journalism purposes.

The second piece of this grandiose notion of better writing is the practice of citing your sources. Any intelligible and well thought-out piece of writing usually borrows and expands upon the writing of others and this practice allows you to credit those sources. There are situations in which some random writer will come out with some “you-just-blew-my-mind” philosophical writing that redefines how we think, but for the most part what you write has been written before and will be written again. In addition, citing your sources discourages plagiarism, which is good for everybody (except those who desire to fail Writing 122).

These two components - journalistic impartiality and citing your sources - are the foundation for not only journalism and journalistic integrity, but writing as a whole. With the regular implementation of these components and practices in the news that we view, we can ensure that news remains what it is supposed to be: information free of political influence or bias and verifiably so. Unfortunately, the media as a whole has undergone serious and dramatic changes over the last twenty-five years, which I fear discourages the ability of the public to ensure that these values of journalistic integrity are being protected.

The Monopolization of Information

In 1983, there were about fifty major media companies in control of mainstream media. Thirteen years later, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was poised to become "the first major overhaul of United States telecommunications law in nearly 62 years" (Wikipedia). Many critics were concerned that the Act would further increase the trend of media consolidation that had begun during the Reagan era, but I doubt they suspected the enormous impact it would have in less than 10 years after being enacted.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law on February 8, 1996 by President Bill Clinton. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) later examined the impacts of the Telecom Act on commercial radio stations across the entire United States from March 1996 - right after the Act was passed - to March 2003. The study showed that although the number of commercial radio stations increased by 5.9 percent, "the number of radio [station] owners 35 percent." Additionally, in 1996 the largest holders of radio stations "consisted of fewer than 65 radio stations each." By March 2003, Clear Channel held on to more than 1,200 radio stations.

The Act was initially claimed to "foster competition," but the result was quite the opposite: it continued a trend of media consolidation and in 1996, the number of major media companies had dwindled by 500% from 1983, leaving only 10 companies in control of the vast majority of our media. In 2005, only six major media companies remained. Today, we refer to these large companies that quite literally control all media in the public eye as media conglomerates.

Most people I know would consider competition a good thing - it often fosters innovation and leads to a better end product for the consumer. But what role does diminished competition play in the acquisition of information? When there are only six major companies - Disney, News Corp, Time Warner, Viacom, GE, and Bertelsmann of Germany - that control the vast majority of media - television and radio, newspapers, magazines, books, music and movies - the potential for a media bias is very real.

Furthermore, I believe the existence of such a system promotes a false sense of diversity. Going back to those values of journalistic integrity, I would like to propose this question: what good is deriving news from a variety of sources when in the end, they are all part of the same company?

Of course, the possibility of a media bias is certainly leagues different from the actual practice of a media bias. And I'll be completely honest, I don't have the means to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these conglomerates are enforcing an agenda, but I do believe the simple fact that they have the ability to do so should be enough to get the public to at least reconsider where they are getting their media from. Furthermore, I believe many recent political events involving some of the television networks that are apart of these media conglomerates suggest that a hidden agenda may not be such a radical suggestion after all - but I'll let you decide that for yourself.

Suspicion of Contemporary News Outlets

The first example of what I see as a clear indication of media bias involves the unfair treatment of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. On December 27, 2007, Fox News Channel made a decision to exclude Paul from the January 6, 2008 Republican presidential debate in Milford, New Hampshire. Phil Maymin provides interesting insight regarding the subsequent fall of Fox parent company News Corporation's stock prices, in which they "fell every day, losing a cumulative 10 percent, or about $6 billion."

It is entirely possible that the decline in stock price could be attributed to something other than the rumblings of online boycotts of News Corp across online forums and social news websites. However, when Fox News Channel decided to invite Ron Paul to the South Carolina debates on January 8, 2008, News Corp. stock prices rose back up "nearly 4 percent in just two days" to where they were before the initial announcement.

As debatably significant as an online presence may be in reflecting a potential public backlash, those on the internet weren't the only ones who responded. Fergus Cullen - who is a Republican chair for the New Hampshire GOP - acknowledges the importance of New Hampshire's "first-in-the nation" primary in announcing the decision by the New Hampshire GOP to drop its affiliation with the Fox News debate. Republic presidential candidate Ron Paul was polling higher than Fred Thompson - who was invited - at the time of his exclusion.

The second example involves similar action by a media outlet in choosing which candidates are exposed to the masses. Initially MSNBC revealed publicly that the criteria for taking part in the Las Vegas debate being held on January 18, 2008, would be limited to the top four Democratic candidates based on national polls. When Bill Richardson dropped out of the race, Rep. Dennis Kucinich was bumped up to the number four spot. MSNBC proceeded to change the criteria to the top three Democratic candidates after they had already invited Kucinich to participate.

In response to the news that he was no longer welcome, Kucinich responded with: "When 'big media' exert their unbridled control over what Americans can see, hear, and read, then the Constitutional power and right of the citizens to vote is being vetoed by multi-billion corporations that want the votes to go their way."

Apparently Dennis feels about the same as I do, in that the media conglomerates level of control is especially concerning in the realm of politics. But even if you can't accept that the media is enforcing their own agenda based on simply having the capability to influence millions of people supplemented by clear examples of limiting multiple candidate's exposure, you can at least take a look at how they conduct their own writing practices with values of journalistic integrity in mind.

By design and implementation, media conglomerates don't really go out of their way to reinforce good journalism practices. For one, sources are hardly ever cited in television and newspapers - arguably the two most popular sources of news. The rare instances in which these two mediums do provide sources are usually when citing a statistic or showing where a graph originated from.

This practice that has been established across writing as a whole isn't being integrated, for whatever reason, in the news that they provide for us day in and day out. It almost makes it seem like they're intentionally being vague and skimp on the finer details of their reporting in order to prevent us from being truly informed. And that, my friends, is where the internet comes into play.

Freedom of Knowledge

Something undeniably interesting has started to occur to me. If you were to draw up a graph showing the amount of time I've spent watching television versus the amount of time I've spent on the internet over the last several years, you would see a sharp decrease in television viewing trumped by a large increase in time spent on the internet. This may be the result of the natural inclination of a generation to embrace new technology, but perhaps there is a more interesting explanation behind this supposed phenomenon.

I take a look at what I spend most of my time doing on the internet: reading news articles from a variety of sources, occasionally watching a video or two on YouTube and sometimes losing hours upon end looking up whatever I don't know about on Wikipedia. It's quite evident that the internet is an informational behemoth, but the same thing could be said for conventional media. The difference between the two lies in the inherent ability of the internet to be dynamic.

The internet is yours to manipulate as you see fit. The nice thing about this is that it becomes incredibly useful when you apply it to news, research, or if you're just trying to learn something new. Google's own "Google News" searching utility allows you to search by keyword or subject - say, a particular political rally or event - and get stories from dozens of different sources compiled into a single page. Never before has the acquisition of information been so simple. The power of searching allows you to more easily evaluate multiple perspectives in order to form a more informed opinion.

If you were to compare the process of searching for an issue - whether you want it delivered to you via video, audio, or text - between searching for it over the internet and resorting to conventional means - watching a news report on the issue, reading a magazine article, checking out a blurb in the newspaper - there would simply be no contest. The internet is revolutionizing our ability to form objective opinions on the issues we're concerned with, without having to rely on mainstream media to do so.

One of the things I've gathered from assertions the media has made concerning the internet is that they aren't too fond of this proliferation of free information themselves. They are almost forced to embrace the technology because of its suddenly integral use in popular society - and they do so in companion sites for their newspapers and television networks, often covering the same stories - but they have also made insinuations regarding the relative ease in being able to create an internet website. They seek to attack the credibility of the internet as a whole by saying that any old Joe can take five minutes and create themselves a web page.

Naturally, this potential problem has already been attended to. Search engines like Google contain highly-specialized algorithms that place priorities upon websites that are most commonly viewed in response to the input of millions of searches done by millions of people since Google has been a website. This allows Google to suggest websites that are more prominent in the public's eye and therefore more likely to be authoritative sources rather than a website that was created five minutes ago.

Regardless of how the media conglomerates attempt to portray the internet, the actions of the public are surely the most authoritative indicators of where the people are getting their news. Perhaps we should take a look at something that could be considered important in the public's mind: politics, perhaps?

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press recently unveiled findings suggesting that the internet has a far greater role in where the public is getting news related to the presidential campaign. During the 2000 presidential election, 9 percent of the public reported regularly using the internet as a source for news. This year a reported 24 percent relied on the internet as a source for news.

Also significant is the diminished role of TV news networks - both local and cable. Local TV news programs have fallen from 48 percent in 2000 to 40 percent currently. Cable news programs haven't moved at all since 2004, still with 38 percent of the public relying on it for news.

I'd like to think that the public is slowly starting to become more weary of the both the influential power of media conglomerates and their continued practice of disregard towards better writing practices. I know that the internet is a new technology, which is why television and the newspapers are still the primary sources of news for the public. But I believe the internet as a news platform will only continue to pick up stream as a valuable resource from here on, no matter how anyone tries to discredit it.

I for one and truly enthralled at the prospect of a public that can form objective and more informed opinions as the result of utilizing a new, more effective system over one filled with constraints meant to limit our ability to be informed.

And the best part about it? The internet is an unstoppable machine allowing free thought without regulation - and that fact probably scares them the most.