Sunday, July 03, 2016

Media Rants: Media Criticism Brain Drain


Media Criticism Brain Drain

From the July 2016 edition of the SCENE 

The Walker Era in Wisconsin has witnessed an unprecedented brain drain as UW faculty and staff actively seek opportunities to work in states where government leaders value teaching excellence and the search for truth.

The brain drain recently hit media studies as Dr. Christopher Terry, a former student of mine who has been teaching and doing research at UW Milwaukee’s Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies announced that he had taken a position as an assistant professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Chris is an outstanding teacher who also does cutting edge research in media law and other areas. He’s exactly the kind of young teacher/scholar that Wisconsin should be trying to keep.

I asked Chris to respond to some questions. 

Media Rants: What will you miss most about the UW Milwaukee Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies? 

Chris Terry: I will miss the relationship I had with my students. I feel that one of my strengths as an instructor is that I can speak to students on their level, and as a result, I can convey the complicated concepts of media law and policy to them in a practical way that makes it useful to them. 
Media Rants: Describe your new position at the University of Minnesota. 
Chris Terry: I will be an assistant professor of media ethics and law in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

In addition to teaching media and advertising law, this position is a research appointment. My appointment at UWM was primarily a teaching position.

Media Rants:  Back in June of 2014, Alec MacGillis of the New Republic wrote an article called "The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker." Your quotes in the piece on how Milwaukee area right-wing radio operates ended up getting you trashed in the wingnut echo chamber. What has it been like to be the target of the animus of people like Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling? If you had to do it over again, would you still talk to MacGillis?

Chris Terry: I would do the article/interview again. Although I was heavily criticized for the things I said, I certainly think that time has proven my prediction about Walker correct. Although the talk radio hosts (and others beyond Belling and Sykes) suggested the article and my comments were an attack focused on them, they missed my larger point. Talk radio in this town has supported Walker most of his career, and although he is an experienced politician, he hasn't had to regularly deal with a hostile press. I suggested that because Walker had done such a great job using the friendly outlets that when the scrutiny of the national press was focused on him, it would be a difficult challenge for him. By the way, that's exactly what happened.

The hardest part of the whole experience was having people I worked with for more than a decade pretend they didn't know who I was on the air. It was a bit surreal, and at one point I actually was texting back and forth with one of my old co-workers during commercial breaks in an hour where he was in full outrage mode about the things I was quoted as saying in the piece.
Media Rants: Many people enjoy your Facebook posts that start off with, "I know journalism is hard work, but . . ." before you launch into a scathing critique of media sloppiness, under reporting, etc. Why do you think modern mainstream journalism has so much trouble doing the hard work? 
Chris Terry: I don't believe there's an easy answer to this question. Having been a member of that media for some time, I can tell you there are always gaps in the items that will get coverage due to resources or space, but my point in the "I know journalism is hard work" posts are to point out that journalism isn't really hard at all. The questions the press should be asking are very easy to identify, but I think our current class of pundits fears asking them.

Journalists have a social responsibility to act as a check and balance on our elected officials. The best way to do that is ask tough questions of those officials, and not accept the answers when those answers are obviously spin or worse. Our current media seems to have forgotten this basic principle.
The questions the press should be asking are very easy to identify, but I think our current class of pundits fears asking them.
Media Rants: Donald Trump is openly contemptuous of the media, and is the first presidential candidate in my memory to suggest he might push for limits on the First Amendment. What in your judgement would a Trump or Clinton presidency mean for media and the First Amendment? 
Chris Terry: Both of the major party candidates give me substantial pause when it comes to free speech issues. Trump has been very forthcoming with his opinions that libel protections are too strong. When he said that a few months ago, my response was that I wasn't laughing anymore.

Clinton gives me a different concern. Her husband signed the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which fundamentally restructured our media system by allowing for massive consolidation of broadcast ownership. In doing so, their was a substantial loss in the availability and diversity of viewpoints, and the voices of minorities and women were also heavily reduced. Our society is best when we, as citizens, have access to the widest range of the diversity of viewpoints, and a healthy marketplace of ideas can flourish. I'm concerned that Clinton, like her husband would choose media economics over public service, and in today's day and age, logically that would mean a reduction in viewpoints on the internet.
Media Rants: Your main areas of expertise are media policy and regulation of new media. What's happening on those fronts that the average media consumer should be aware of? 

Chris Terry: There are three. The first is very wonky, but the spectrum auction that the FCC is executing is going to restructure our media system over the next 3-5 years.

The second is the decision about two weeks ago in Prometheus Radio Project vFCC. This case, which is the third round in court, could have the potential to shake the foundations of the broadcast licensing system to its core, essentially resetting the last 90 or so years of media regulation. The Third Circuit warned the FCC that there was a short timeline to develop a new policy to increase ownership of stations by women and minority groups. The FCC has been dragging its feet for a decade on this policy, and there's little chance they can wrap up the proceeding and repair 20 years of regulatory negligence in a few months. The Circuit suggested that if the agency can't meet the deadline (essentially the end of this year) the panel would consider throwing out all media ownership rules, relying on Section 202(h) of the Telecommunication's Act.

But the most important will be the DC's Circuit recently released net neutrality decision. Every Tuesday and Friday, the collective telecom nerds gathered waiting for the decision. The FCC's move to reclassify broadband under Title II was a major move, and the court's upholding of the policy will dictate, probably more than any other single factor, what the internet will be moving forward. Because the rules were upheld, citizen access to the internet content will not be controlled by non-state actors. That's a huge deal. You have no first amendment protection against a private company limiting your speech or your access to speech. This regulation, which is not without its problems, will provide a social democratic approach to regulating the relationship between you and your ISP, and make it hard for them to keep you away from legal content.

Media Rants wishes Chris Terry the best of luck in his new position!