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Tom - The New York Times is reporting that according to a new study, almost two-thirds of American newspapers publish less foreign news than they did just three years ago. The study also finds that nearly as many print less national news, and despite new demands on newsrooms like blogs and video, most of them have smaller news staffs. The study, by the Pew Research Center and Tyler Marshall, a former foreign correspondent for The Los Angeles Times, is based on a written survey of the top editors at 259 newspapers of all sizes and interviews with a sampling of those editors. According to the article, the findings may come as no surprise to anyone following the travails of the newspaper industry, racked every few days by new reports of layoffs, falling revenue, credit downgrades, shrinking page counts and declining circulation. But the Pew study appears to be the broadest attempt yet to measure how widespread the changes have been. Sixty-four percent of the newspapers reported cutting the space given to foreign news over three years, making that the area that has suffered at the most papers as the business contracts. Only 10 percent of the editors said they considered foreign news “very essential” to their papers.
Linda - The only area cut nearly as often as foreign news was national news, which declined at 57 percent of the papers. Business coverage ranked next, reduced by one-third of the papers. Large-circulation papers have been far more likely to reduce the space given to business, the arts, features and opinions — areas that historically have not been central to small papers. Half of all papers said they had increased the amount of state and local news they published, especially “hyper-local” community news. At 59 percent of the newspapers, editors said news staffing had declined over the previous three years, and that was true at 85 percent of the large papers. In the months since the survey was taken, the nation’s major newspaper chains have made some of the deepest newsroom cuts on record. Yet the shrunken newsrooms have taken on added duties in feeding their Web sites, like producing subsites covering specific towns or neighborhoods, or posting articles in the morning and updating them throughout the day. And most papers report that their reporters’ blog posts are not edited before going online. A majority of the editors who took part in the study said they worry about a loss of institutional memory and journalistic standards, as experienced people leave the business and a younger crew of reporters publishes more news quickly online. But almost half the editors said they were more excited than fearful about the possibilities of the Internet.
Tom - According to the Washington Post, President Bush's single largest request for funds and "most important initiative" in the fiscal 2009 intelligence budget is for the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, a little publicized but massive program whose details, according to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence" remain vague and thus open to question." A highly classified, multiyear, multibillion-dollar project, CNCI -- or "Cyber Initiative" -- is designed to develop a plan to secure government computer systems against foreign and domestic intruders and prepare for future threats.
Linda - During debate on the intelligence authorization bill last week, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), a member of the House intelligence committee and chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on emerging threats, described cybersecurity as "a real and growing threat that the federal government has been slow in addressing." Without specifying funding figures, which are classified, Langevin said the panel approved 90 percent of the funds requested for CNCI but warned that the committee "does not intend to write the administration a blank check." The committee's report recognized that as the initiative develops, "it will be imperative that the government also take into account the interests and concerns of private citizens, the U.S. information technology industry, and other elements of the private sector." Such a public-private partnership will be "unlike any model that currently exists," said the committee, which recommended a White House study leading toward establishment of an oversight panel of lawmakers, executive branch officials and private-sector representatives. The panel would review the intelligence community's development of the initiative.
Tom - In international news, television and radio is again under threat in Egypt and the Middle East. The Egyptian government is currently reviewing a new draft law from the ministry of information that would make it even more difficult for the transmission of audio and visual materials from Egypt. The law, currently under consideration by government oversight bodies, would give Cairo the authority to restrict and monitor transmissions that originate in Egypt. Foreign reporters are worried that the new law seems also to include them and is intended to restrict the information they can broadcast home. This law mirrors a joint Egyptian/Saudi proposal made earlier in the year at an Arab League meeting of foreign ministers calling for more broadcast regulations.The controversial charter, titled Principles for Regulating Satellite Broadcast and Television Transmission and Reception in the Arab Region, was condemned widely by media watchdogs for curtailing free speech.
Linda - The proposed charter adds that broadcasts must not “defame leaders, or national and religious symbols.” An oversight authority, or committee, would be established to “protect the welfare of the public and the producers, providers and distributors of these services [audio and visual transmission]” and monitor the material transmitted to ensure the retention of traditions and peace in society. Consisting of 44 articles, the charter includes all visual and audio mediums for monitoring, and for the first time incorporates “computer networks,” read as the Internet. Worries abound over the addition of “computer networks” into the charter. Many analysts feel the proposal is an attempt to quiet Internet bloggers and journalists from reporting on events deemed inappropriate by Arab governments. Gamal Eid, executive director at the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), commented that these laws, if enacted, could throw the Arabic speaking region into complete darkness in terms of information available. Noted Eid, “The Internet is important to create a generation unafraid of speaking out, but if people are arrested and their Web sites shut down it may mean the end for freedom in this region.”
Tom - Reuters News Service is reporting that human rights and journalists’ groups lashed out at the United States on Sunday for holding an Afghan journalist without charge and pushed for his immediate release. The 22-year-old Jawed Ahmad, who worked for four years for Canadian network CTV, was detained last October by U.S. forces outside a U.S. military base in the southern province of Kandahar, his brother Seddiq Ahmad told a news conference. Ahmad said prior to joining the network, Jawed served as a translator for U.S. Special Forces in Kandahar, a hotbed of Taliban insurgents. Barbara Olshansky, litigation and advocacy director for the U.S.-based International Justice Network, said her mission was not only to condemn Jawed’s detention, but “the entire United States’ policy surrounding the seizure, detention and killing of journalists around the world”. Olshansky, who is the lead counsel on Jawed’s case, commented at a news conference that “The United States claims to be sowing the seeds of democracy … and at the same time undermining those very nascent efforts by putting journalists in jail,” Tina Monshipour Foster, executive director for International Justice Network, said there were no charges against Jawed, who was wounded while serving with U.S. Special Forces. “He has not been accused of any crime either under U.S. law, Afghan law or international law,” she said, adding that Jawed, like other detainees held by U.S., was regarded by Washington as an “enemy combatant”.
Tom - And our last news on the media story for this week comes from the Washington Post, who published an article taking cable and internet giant Comcast to task for poor customer service. The article notes that Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, has enjoyed explosive growth in recent years, with revenues increasing 24 percent just in the last year to 30.9 billion dollars coming from 24.7 million cable subscribers. However public interest groups say that growth has come at a price for customers. As the company races to add subscribers, many of whom pay more than $100 a month to use phone, Internet, wireless and video services, Comcast has been criticized for not focusing on fixing problems with its customer service. In a recent national survey on customer satisfaction conducted by the University of Michigan, Comcast was tied for last among cable, satellite and television providers and was last in fixed-line telephone service. Public advocacy groups such as Free Press have argued in filings with the Federal Communications Commission that Comcast should spend more money to upgrade its technology by expanding its neighborhood shared capacity -- the part of its networks used by more than one household. On the shared network, too much use at a given time can slow or degrade service. Comcast officials acknowledge that the company is struggling to keep up with its own growth. Said Rick Germano, senior vice president of customer operations: "We are a victim of our own success, to a degree." The article notes that despite the problems with customer service, the growth in subscribers has been lucrative: Chief Comcast executive Brian L. Roberts took home $20.8 million last year, and the company is putting the finishing touches on a $435 million office skyscraper in downtown Philadelphia.