tv The Future of News PBS July 16, 2010 8:30pm-9:00pm PST
>> this program is brought to you by a grant from... >> in the future, who will control the news and information you have access to? is it a choice between big brother and big business? is the internet a right or a luxury? >> these days, if you're not digital you're a second-class citizen, you're second-class politically, you're second-class socially, you're certainly second-class economically. >> the digital divide, net neutrality, transparency, privacy, and your pocket book. "digital democracy: who decides what's next?" that's our topic today on "the future of news."
>> a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts is not an option for the united states of america. >> the most fundamental purpose of this initiative is to listen more to the voices of the american people. >> i think what we're gonna see is a change in the cultural perception, that public means online. >> from the newseum in washington, d.c., this is "the future of news." welcome to the knight studio and our conversation about media and news in the digital age. i'm frank sesno. our guests today are both experts in technology and the information needs of a democracy. aneesh chopra, appointed by president obama, is this country's first chief technology officer. he's charged with bringing innovation to the government and the economy. ellen miller is the co-founder of the sunlight foundation, a group committed to using the power of the internet to increase political transparency and accountability and to helping citizens and journalists be their own best watchdogs.
welcome to you both. let me start by asking you, aneesh chopra, what's at stake here? >> well, ia sense, there are 3 key elements. first, this is a key pillar of how we have a government that works. second, our society is transformed incredibly by these emerging digital technologies, so how we communicate with one another is at stake, and third, the foundation of our economy, the economic prospects going forward, rest heavily on our ability to get this right. >> ellen miller? >> well, i would actually put it in a slightly different way. from our perspective, what's at stake here is trust in government, the notion of using the new technologies to create greater transparency across the board in how government works. from state and local all the way up through congress and the federal government, we believe that transparency through the technology can inform citizens, engage citizens, and enable citizens and their government to actually have a conversation. >> you know, it used to be that
getting information out from government, holding government accountable was the domain of the traditional journalist. technology changes all of that because we've created citizen journalists, we've created direct conits to this information for citizens. the question is are they using it, is it real, or is it window dressing? >> oh, no. i think very much what we're seeing is that technology is actually pushing the power to ask questions, indeed political power to the edges. it's no longer concentrated among the media itself, and we're seeing-- >> the edges--you mean-- >> well, we're seeing the edges, that is to say beyond washington, beyond the major cities directly into the hands, creating a kind of direct democracy, if you will, in the sense of citizens understanding what's going on. so we created numerous web sites where we have, let's call them, average online citizens who are coming to receive information. for example, our open congress site that in the month of august received a million visitors, unique visitors, who were interested in the health care debate that was happening at
that time. >> is the intent, aneesh chopra, to go around traditional journalism, traditional media, and get right to people? >> well, i would say there's actually a third leg of the stool that we didn't discuss, which is the creation of new, call them, information analyst brokers. that could be journalists of the future, and it could be others. i have downloaded onto my mobile device an application on nutrition updates. it's powered by information from the united states department of agriculture. so now when i have a coffee in the morning, i take two clicks, it inputs what that coffee is, and it tells me what my sugar intake is relative to my needs. is that the role of a journalist, is that the role of an information aggregative service? but it's powered by this transparency movement to make our lives better. >> so we're talking about sunlight foundation, and we're talking about the government and government information. sonya gavankar is gonna show us some of these related web sites now. sonya? >> frank, let's take a look at whitehouse.gov. it's becoming a leader in open, transparent government. the president's vision can be tracked here at
open government initiative. it highlights a number of government data sites in 3 categories--transparency, participation, and collaboration. one of my favorites is "open for questions," short videos where officials and the president himself often answer questions posed on social networking sites. most of the videos are serious and cover the economy and health care with secretary of health and human services kathleen sebelius doing many of the videos, but there are some fun ones, to like questions for astronaut sally ride. you can post these on your blog because they're all public domain. there are some critics who complain that this is just not enough. with all this information that the government is making available, who is actually reviewing it? well, one site is ellen miller's sunlight foundation and its sunlight labs, founded in 2006 with the mission of using the revolutionary power of the internet to make government information more meaningful and accessible to citizens like revealing the connections between lawmakers and health care organizations. instead of writing an article about the
chummy relationship, they actually create an easy-to-understand graphic map that connects all these players together. it's a great way to visualize the senate-lobbying complex. click on sunlight labs to get their labs. in their apps for america contest, it harnessed the community to create tools using government data. one of the winners was datamasher. here, they help you find the meaning in the numbers. one of the most popular is overpopulation, which tracks population relative to land area. roll over any of the states to find out where they rank like the state of hawaii ranking 14, or you can create your own mash-up using data like obesity and cancer. these sites are trying to help us be government watchdogs and users of the information that we pay for. frank. >> sonya, thanks. back to aneesh chopra and ellen miller then. as far as this information is concerned, you know, journalists are trained to always be skeptical. anything you tell me, hmm, i'm gonna look at 3 different ways,
and that's appropriate because we found in the past we can't always trust government information, but now we're talking about more government information going directly to people without journalists perhaps in the middle to contextualize it. so where does information leave off and spin or even propaganda take up? ellen? >> well, i'm less worried about the spin and propaganda and citizens understanding the data than i am about the availability of the data frankly. we just haven't seen--when data.gov, for example, was created and 3,000 feeds of information were there--we haven't seen a misuse of that data or a massive misunderstanding of the data. i think there is always the need for professional filters. i mean, to suggest that the world of media is gonna go away, whether they're professional journalists or citizen journalists or the hundreds of thousands of bloggers out there, these become the intermediaries for the news. >> aneesh, do you find that
people know how to navigate this and contextualize it, to separate the spin from the real? >> i actually see this as a business opportunity for entrepreneurs and corporations to enter an opportunity to make this iormation more relevant for me. we have publhed the federal register, which is the equivalent of the newspaper of the federal government--we've now published that in a format that is accessible by technology companies' entrepreneurs so that if i'm a storekeeper in arlington, virginia, and i happen to sell coffee beans, i would like as part of my information aggregation, news or what have you, for someone to tell me what happened in the federal register today that's relevant in my life. i don't know if that's the role of a journalist or a third-party company that provides that contextual information for me. at the end of the day, i'm informed and i'm better for it. >> aneesh chopra, you are not a journalist, so i want to ask you a question about journalism. >> yes. >> because what you are is you're an information provider, you're a technologist. if you imagine all this information out there and you imagine what
you from your perch would like to see or could imagine seeing in the world of journalism, whether it's citizen journalism or it's the professional journalism, some variation on that that we have grown up to see, how do you imagine changes coming to bear? >> the most fundamental purpose of this initiative is to listen more to the voices of the american people in the functioning of our democracy. we will have better public policy if more individuals are engaged. how do we create that engagement? well, we make it frictionless. the more we make available online, the more we hope third parties and others will help inform their constituencies, and if we make it as easy as possible for their voices to then be heard in washington, we believe we'll inform with better public policy. >> all this talk about accessibility and greater engagement with your government is moot if you don't have digital access. we spoke to alberto ibarguen. he's the head of the knight foundation, one of the most influential organizations funding journalism programs for the digital age. >> during the eisenhower
administration, the decision was made to create the interstate highway system. eisenhower didn't really care whether you drove a cadillac or a ford or whether you drove for a commercial reason or for a personal reason. the idea was to connect the nation. today, it's digital. is there that kind of a will in this administration to connect the nation? is there the kind of will that says, "what we want is a grid that connects amica without regard to who uses it or what they use it for"? >> aneesh chopra, can you answer that question? you're the president's chief technology officer. >> well, in this example, the president has been absolutely clear. we need access to broadband across all of america. the private sector has been the engine of the investment here. we're talking anywhere between $50 billion and $60 billion a year in private capital to build the connection points for us to connect on the internet. the federal government in the economic stimulus package is
making a modest contribution to this effort, roughly $7 billion in capital. >> what specifically are you doing with that capital? >> our intention is to focus on the unserved and underserved parts of the country. they're areas where the private capital markets say the cost of getting that individual home connected is more difficult relative to the payback. >> so you're gonna be taking the eisenhower analogy, you're gonna be taking the interstate of broadband into these communities? is that what the government is paying for? >> it's mostly private networks that we are supporting, but with our modest public resources, we're encouraging open access to those pipes where our dollars are engaged, and we see tremendous interest in the private sector to leverage those dollars to build out their programs. >> ellen miller, we heard earlier alberto ibarguen say, "if you're not digitally connected"--and now that means broadband--"you're a second-class citizen." is that what it's come to? >> oh, i think he's absolutely right. i mean, i think the internet has become and is becoming--fast becoming the medium of democracy, of
democratic participation just as it has become the opportunity to buy books or to make plane reservations or to study wh's going in local communities. >> so what should be the role of government then in making sure that we don't have second-class citizens who are not connected? >> well, i think the administration has made a tremendous commitment to expand the ability to participate online to average citizens, and i think there's no question about that commitment. >> ellen, the program is called "the future of news," and that's what we've spent week after week looking at, and everywhere, the conversation comes back to technology--how will this change the future of news? if america is connected in the way that we're discussing here, how does that change the future of news? >> oh, i think the future of news really will thrive based on the internet because there will be tens of millions of citizens who are engaged in the production of news, who are collaborating with news sources. i think broadband will
change it in the sense that traditional news sources will continue to be challenged to do more, to engage more with technology and change how they view their news-making and how they produce their news-making. >>o as we talk more about connecting the country, this term net neutrality comes to mind, and it's not a neutral term. first, define it for us. >> well, the president has declared that the nation's economic prosperity over the last decade in large part was built on the foundation of an open internet, and that principle has been at the heart of how we've conducted operations today. the federal communications commission has taken that vision of an open internet and has begun its expert due diligence analysis for what that translates into rule-making, and the question is very simple. when i have an idea to build an application, perhaps one that's supported by the sunlight foundation's network of capabilities, i should have equal access to
those pipes that connect into your home as a large corporation with billions of dollars in capital, that our ideas are traded equally on this core infrastructure, and that's a very simple proposition. there are some technical- and management-oriented issues. that's why we have an expert agency grappling with how does one translate into policy, but the basic idea is the same. we should basically have an nondiscrimination policy for content on the internet with some provisions. >> ellen, there is something of a raging debate behind this because the question is should government intervene to regulate and keep the internet open, or should there be the marketplace doing that, and should there be some kind of profit motive behind it, which many say, to spur innovation? where are you on it? >> you bet there's a raging debate. in the last two years through june of 2009, 244 members of congress have received $9.4 million from telecom companies and their
lobbyists. >> and what do they want to do? >> they want--they do not want a free and open internet. they want this two-tier system that aneesh has described, so it is a raging debate, and the question is whether the public will be able to weigh in on this and have the same kind of impact that we've seen from the telecom lobbyists. >> net neutrality is one of those phrases that actually doesn't immediately tell you which group is on which side, so sonyaas a couple of web sites that can give you more information about this very important topic. sonya. >> frank, let's take a look at some of those sites and starting with freepress.net. it's an national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working, as they say, to reform media and transform democracy through education and organizing to promote, as they say, a strong public media and universal access to communication. they want to keep the internet for citizens to control by having the government setting the rules. their save the internet campaign hopes to energize citizens to really rally for net neutrality by activating a
grassroots effort. click on spread the word to find loads of useful information on net neutrality. you can use this embeddable code to share information. just cut it, paste it, and use it on your own site. on the other side is nextgenweb, working to keep the government from regulating the internet. they think business is the best group to ensure progress and innovation on the web. this site is funded by ustelecom, a leading broadband trade association. they believe that companies investing billions of dollars in digital infrastructure are in the best position to oversee its growth. in tir state and local resources section, you can find how broadband is going to change your hometown. they have videos, blogs, and podcasts, as well as webinars--that's web seminar. these are just two of the sides of net neutrality and its debate. frank. >> sonya, thanks. is this a fight between old media and sort of corporate interests, telephone, cable companies for
example, that are trying to control this pipeline? >> my hope is that the process laid out by the federal communications commission, the expert agency, will help us to balance these important principles, that we have sufficient capability to modernize and improve upon the pipes, if you will, the network management capability while preserving the openness of the internet. while these are described as a political fight with one side or the other, i tend to look for opportunities for common ground and confident that the federal communications commission's process will lead us to a positive answer. >> behind all this, it's the clash of the titans, though. >> indeed, the clash of the titans, and i think what's really at stake is as the internet is providing opportunities for more democratic participation and collaboration and engagement between members of congress and other elected officials, the concern is anything that disturbs that openness of the internet is something to be considered very seriously. >> what then does the future hold with all this information
that's running around out there with respect to hackers, bad information, misuse, privacy? >> well, let's separate out several of these questions. one is if the information is valid and accurate how it is broadly consumed and used by an individual, actually, i think the market's gonna help us understand. is that a role of a journalist or a third-party organization to help me? the separate question is what do we do in environments where there's information that is not public or is not meant for certain audiences because of the sensitive nature of it? how safe are we in today's digital world to protect that information? that's why the president's made cybersecurity a national priority, and it's an area of great interest to us in the administration. >> you see dangers in here? >> i think there are some dangers, but i think the opportunities outweigh them in enormous ways. >> wt are the dangers first? >> i think the danger is putting out information or information slipping out that should not be in the public sphere. >> such as? >> such as national s--certain kinds of national security information, but i think there
needs to be--that needs to be thought out very carefully, what information is there and what's not there, the entire policy about what should be disclosed. there's a lot of information that corporations file at various regulatory agencies, not to mention the irs, that a lot of people think should be in the public sector because of the nature of government subsidies and the way the government actually treats corporations. a lot of that information should be in the public sector, but again, i am less worried about the dangers. because there's a natural proclivity for government to hold this information, what i think we are gonna see is a change in the cultural perception that public means online, that if it's public information it means it's online, and once we achieve that, then--or at the same time, we want to see this information in real time. >> let's turn to the audience now for some questions. hi, sir. gahd. >> could you please expand upon and expound with respect to security and privacy and how we
can feel comfortable that our private information doesn't become news on the internet? >> i would love to take this question because it's one of the most important topics that my office is grappling with. we have to understand that there must be greater technical encryption standards and other tools that would give us more control not necessarily of protecting the information as it flows but to simply even informing me who has what and where and how it's being used about me. >> ellen, what, from your perspective, is the key concern and key consideration and safeguard for all the information the united states government and layers of government have on we the people, preventing that from going public when it should stay private? >> i think the answer to your question, frank, is that government has this responsibility to figure this out, to provide the kinds of safeguards and securities that we as citizens need and demand from government. >> go ahead with your question, please. >> one of the purposes of
urnalism is to give people information that they might not otherwise hear. my concern with the way the net is developing is that people will have the opportunity to pick out information that they're interested in and not hear about the other side of the story. >> perhaps i'll take that question. the first challenge is there will be an increasing marketplace for individuals and organizations and journalists, who will try to provide for me the information that i want and need to address the lives for my wife and my children. because we do not know how and in what form i will consume that information, we want to make sure that there is roughly speaking equal treatment, if you will, for those services and capabilities to have access to my home. >> those who will aggregate this information will have all the information, and it will make it less easy or make it more difficult to really just look at one side of the information. so if it's all
there and the people you rely on to aggregate it have done so in a fair fashion, i think again, sorting the good, the bad from the ugly when it comes to the spin on information is always gonna be the responsibility of the journalists and of the citizen who is evaluating that news. >> there's much more responsibility on the individual news consumer now. i become my own executive editor, my own executive producer, but if i don't have any help in that, what don't i know? >> well, there's one question we haven't really answered on this subject, and that is what will the impact of all of this mean to the quality of the news that's produced by journalists, and my hypothesis is there should be a richer, more deep analytical work that is produced because the time it takes a journalist to consume basic information, which now takes up a lot of their time chasing down the data, trying to find the answer to the simple question, now they can--basically if it's easier to access the basic information, they can spend more of their professional time analyzing the information.
>> if there's anybody left to do it. >> but i believe the market is a powerful lever because we want that broad view, we want it to be in a format that's relevant for me. i want that easy interface that tells me what's happening in my neighborhood all the way to what's happening in the world. >> we'd like to show you now, courtesy of the newseum archives, one of the earliest television reports we've found on what would grow into this very thing we're talking about here today, the worldwide web. >> nbc news has learned that the government has built a secret electronic intelligence network that gives the white house, the cia, and the defense department instant access to computer files on millions of americans. setting up a computer network involving virtually any computer, government or private, is almost as easy as making a telephone call. while it is not illegal, it's the technologyf george orwell's "1984." this is exactly what congress tried to prevent. >> oh, my goodness. george orwell's "1984." it's almost quaint now, isn't it, but that's where it started.
>> look. we as a nation want to understand both the benefits and protect against the concerns. i appreciate the sentiment behind that news story. we must work hard on making sure that our privacy and our security is protected in the digital environment. that's why the president's made this a top priority, but as we all know today, that vision that the gentleman outlined is not the way we see it today. we've benefited tremendously from these investments. >> so the question to you both, we know all the caveats, the worries about privacy and abuse of information and hacking and all of that, but what--to both of you--are your most hopeful scenarios for this new technology as it progresses and the future of news? >> i think the new technology becomes the instrument of democratic participation. it redefines what citizen participation looks like. we have the capacity. we need the information, we need the data, we need the intermediaries to help interpret, and we need ways to engage citizens in a process. there's no question in
my mind that we're moving in that direction and that our democracy will be much healthier because of it. >> aneesh chopra. >> frank, this is much more simple in my view. the time it takes for important information relevant to my and my family's life coming to me will continue to shrink dramatically, and that is the vision of where we're heading. if something happens in this world that's relevant to me and important for my wife and my two children, i will learn about it, understand it, and react to it much more rapid in the future than we are today. >> aneesh chopra, president obama's chief technology officer, ellen miller, the sunlight foundation, thanks to you both very much. >> thanks for having us. >> and that's all for today. for "the future of news," join us next time. from the knight studio at the newseum in washington, d.c., i'm frank sesno.