Local: Just One Set of Ripples on the Lake of News and Information

Clearly Ambiguous, via Flickr (CC license)
Local is just one set of ripples on the lake of news and information.

UPDATE SEPT. 15: I’ve launched a new series fleshing out this discussion. See Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

When it comes to information that helps people function better as citizens in a democracy, how important is local, really?

Geographically defined local communities are the focus of the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. Earlier this week, I posted this comment (and this one) on the Commission’s blog questioning the Commission’s assumption that community = local.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that Knight is trying to determine what kinds of information people really need to function as citizens today. I agree that’s a crucial line of inquiry these days. However, I’m concerned that by assuming those needs are inherently tied to “local,” the commission could miss a very important (perhaps the most important) part of what “community” really means to people today.

I was honored to see this very thoughtful response to my comment from Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He made several good points, including this excerpt…
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Bhutto Assassination News via Blogs, Twitter

The Teeth announcement on Twitter of Bhutto’s assassination, viewed via Snitter.

This morning as I was making tea, I learned via NPR that Pakistani opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Google News already offers a slew of mainstream news coverage of the assassination — based almost entirely on reporting done outside Pakistan, since tight restrictions on journalists remain in force in Pakistan even though President Pervez Musharraf lifted lifted six weeks of emergency rule on Dec. 15. (More on that country’s press restrictions from the International Federation of Journalists and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.)

Given the current dearth of available professional journalism from within Pakistan, the country’s lively blogosphere — much of it in English — has become a key source of original and diverse news, analysis, commentary, and context from around that troubled nation. Today especially would be a good time to start paying close attention to Pakistani blogs.

One of the easiest places to get started is a blog aggregator with the unlikely name of Teeth Maestro

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Proposed Federal Shield Law: Who Would It Really Cover?

OpenCongress
This OpenCongress widget shows what’s happening with the proposed federal shield law.

(NOTE: I’ve cross-posted this from Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

Today the U.S. Congress is slated to act on H.R. 2102, a proposed federal “shield law” which would give journalists the right to refuse to testify about (or turn over to the government) information collected through the newsgathering process, or about the sources who supplied that information.

Not surprisingly, the White House has vowed to veto it, citing a fear of increased leaks. Here’s the full statement from the White House Office of Management and Budget, which has been circulated to reporters but not yet posted on OMB’s site.

If you want to follow the action on this bill, OpenCongress is a great resource. In addition to its main page on H.R. 2102, OpenCongress also offers feeds for status updates, news coverage, and blog coverage of this bill. And, of course, you can generate a widget for your site that shows the current status (see right).

What I found striking about this bill is that the version introduced in the House on May 2 defined the people the shield law would protect as those “engaged in journalism and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person.”

This language, which is identical to the Senate version of the bill (S. 1267), would seem to cover people acting independently of news organizations — including freelancers, student journalists, citizen journalists, and bloggers who perform acts of citizen journalism.

However, something happened in committee. The version reported in the House (which I believe is what Congress is considering today) has changed that definition in a small but crucial way that I think is a dealbreaker.

Here’s what it says now…

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