Category Archives: Uncategorized

Private, Public and Censorship

A recent Open Society Foundations discussion about a decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union asked a challenging question: “Does a right to privacy necessarily lead to censorship on the web?” (

The court decision would require Google Search to delete links as part of the EU’s



“Right to Be Forgotten.” It is troubling enough on its own merits. But the growth of the Internet raises another question about this fraught relationship: “Does a right to a public necessarily lead to censorship on the web?”

The concern about privacy and censorship has always dominated thinking in the U.S. It reflects a profound and well-founded distrust of secrets. Clearly, politicians, businesses, and even private individuals have shown a propensity to use privacy to hide exploitation or wrong doing in the “public” sphere.

Nobody wants censorship but everyone wants their own privacy.

But the proliferation of media technologies has raised the new problem about “public.” Media growth has flooded the public sphere and civil discourse with “information” little related to the common good. Much of what dominates legacy media and new media alike is manipulative, self-serving, or related to private interests with little relevance to the common good.

The issue was reflected in a comment made by President Barack Obama in his final appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart ribbed Obama about his relationship with “the media.” Obama replied:

“The media is a bunch of different medias. There are some who get on my nerve more than others. I think it gets distracted by shiny objects and doesn’t always focus on the big tough choices and decisions that have to be made,” he said.

New forms of media have empowered new voices—a very good thing. But those voices often speak only to private concerns.

Some are corporate voices advocating their business interests. Some are political voices campaigning for funding or elections. Some are individual voices discussing personal interests. Much of the conversation is about matters of little relevance to the general welfare.

It is all perfectly valid conversation. Private matters reflect individual concerns.

The difficulty is that media structures that once supported public dialog about the general welfare have been overwhelmed by such private concerns.

It is reflected in everything from the explosion of celebrity news and sports coverage in legacy media to explosions of moral outrage on the Internet about very real problems that evaporate as quickly as they emerge with little lasting impact on public policy.

The issue is how to protect mediated forms of civil discourse and meaningful policy conversations among citizens and between citizens and government. It is a question of carving out a “space” for a “public” sphere in a mediated communication system paid for and increasingly dominated by those concerned by matters relevant to the “private” sphere.

Certainly, no one wants to return to a media system controlled by gatekeepers who would decide for everyone what is relevant to the public sphere and what was not. Yet, democracy requires a protected public sphere within the prolific and diversified media environment that has emerged over the last 50 years.

I believe the solution lies in the emerging media architecture we now mix for private and public discourse. It requires a business model for the public sphere that is different from the model used for the private sphere.

That is also the answer to the questions raised by Open Society’s discussion. As long as we mix the public and private into one undifferentiated sphere, censorship is inevitable. However, emerging digital media forms offer the architecture to protect both from censorship.

I will explore some possibilities in my next blog.

New Media Development Possibilities with International Universities

My report on international journalism education was published last week by the Center for International Media Assistance ( …) .

It is based on interviews with leading international journalism education scholars and on my own international work over many years.

The findings are straightforward: the rapid growth of journalism education around the world has produced real successes at top university journalism programs. But media development organizations can achieve even more if they will begin to help support journalism education through partnerships with the best of these programs.

The report notes the growth of journalism education at universities worldwide. My team attempted the first ever census of university based journalism education under sponsorship of the Knight Foundation for the World Journalism Education Council ( WJEC is an international body with representatives from more than 30 journalism educator organizations in all parts of the globe. We verified almost 2,500 programs and know there are many more we could not verify.

In China alone, some studies show growth from 18 programs in 1982 to more than 600 by 2006. Growth has been significant in India, the Middle East, and Latin America. It is happening in other places, too.

The most encouraging thing is that journalism education in these programs is improving, too. Arguably, a new international standard is emerging that is changing the kind of journalism education young students get in many countires.

Improvements have come with more hands-on journalism experience, better faculty who have traveled more widely, and much better media technology , particularly digital and mobile journalism technologies.

The opportunities for further improvements lie in helping universities teach stronger professional standards such as independence, verification, skepticism, persistence, and ethics.

The result is an emerging model that can further transform journalism education and media systems. It is grounded in better technology, better faculty, critical skills, and entrepreneurship. It can produce new networks of skilled young journalists to be independent entrepreneurs developing alternative, online media systems and improving existing media in countries with weak media systems.

The potential for improving civic discourse through stronger media is enormous. Too often, in the past, international media development organizations have focused primarily on established media organizatations and industries. Those institutions are enfolded within social and political systems that resist change. While training journalists working within those systems is a good idea, it is difficult to produce lasting change.

Young people who want to do journalism but are still learning in top universities can create pressure to improve media systems. Today, they have access to the technologies, the ideas, and the skills training required. Successful international partnerships at universities can help them develop a vision of verification, ethics, independence, and entrepreneurship that can transform existing media systems and develop new digital and mobile journalism networks in many countries with weak media systems.

I am excited about the potential such partnerships hold. Many of my colleagues who work internationally in academic media education also are excited about these possibilities. I hope my colleagues in the media development community will find this prospect exciting, as well, and begin investing in these partnerships.

That investment could be truly transformative.

National News Engagement Day Leaves Lots of Work For Tomorrow

Today (October 7) has been designated as “National News Engagement Day” (NNED)



by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

Many journalists and journalism organizations have joined AEJMC in promoting NNED. NBC’s Brian Williams offered commentary on why it’s important ( The Society of Professional Journalists (@SPJ_tweets) called for participation. The E. W. Scripps company asked Twitter followers how they would participate. The New York Times even announced a week of free access to NYT Now in honor of the day.

Then there were hundreds of students in journalism schools across the country participating in rallies, seminars, and “events” to show their engagements with news (@newsengagement).

Last week I wrote a blog post exploring the meaning of “engagement” from the point of view of media organizations and governments ( National News Engagement Day offers a change to look at “engagement” from the other end.

What does it mean for readers, viewers and users to be “engaged” with news?

Many of the activities happening today around the country focus on getting people to read, watch, or listen to news. Others encourage people to link to news sites online. These are wonderful efforts to connect people—particularly young people—with news. They lend themselves to ready metrics that give us a measure of “engagement.”

The spark plug for National News Engagement Day has been Dr. Paula Poindexter, journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and last year’s president of AEJMC. She has said she is concerned that young people are not engaging in news. She cites metrics that show low levels of use by young people for news—especially among legacy media. NNED is designed give us a chance to get young people “engaged” by generating some excitement and buzz about news.

This “engagement” is great. It is designed to make people aware of news outlets and to get people to use those outlets.

The deeper issue about “engagement” is more troubling. Activities, promotions, and contact on News Engagement Day are wonderful for getting the numbers of users up. But getting them to come back the day after NNED and the day after that and the day after that requires something more than the excitement of a promoted awareness.

Engagement means making news a part of the basic “equipment” we use to construct meaning in our world every day. It means connecting “news” to our everyday activities as part of our way of defining and understanding those activities and our lives.

Heidegger has called the articulation of our understanding of the world “discourse.” He has demonstrated that discourse reflects our existential engagement with the world of meaning that defines our lives.

Engagement with news will happen when news is connected with the network of entities that define our lives. Too often “news” has become separated from our understanding of the fabric that defines our lives.

Even more importantly, understanding reflects the connections that define the authentic “possibilities” that we see for our lives. If the discourse and engagement we have with news no longer confronts us with our own possibilities—or if we not longer understand how “news” makes such possibilities open to us—we lose the connection that makes news relevant and meaningful for us.

So, this is National News Engagement Day and I am proud to be a participant in this day.

But the urgent need for “engagement” and “understanding” and “discourse” will still be there tomorrow when the balloons have come down. The work ahead is to offer a meaningful connection between the young reader or viewer and “news” too often seen as ritualized and severed from real engagement.

“Engagement” means more than “feedback” or “posts”

Next week, Harvard University professors Susan Crawford and Stephen Goldsmith



will present their new book, The Responsive City, Engaging Communities through Data-Smart Governance (New York: Jossey-Bass, 2014) at a New American Foundation (@newamerica) book event here in Washington, D.C.

I am looking forward to this event because “engagement” seems to have become a popular word among all sorts of people.

The New York Times in its “innovation report” said it wanted to become more “engaged with its readers.”

According to Columbia Journalism Review, a group of Alabama newspapers tried to get “reader engagement” in a series of investigative stories about prisons last summer (

The Knight Foundation has partnered with Mozilla Festival using almost $4 million to engage “developers, technologists, civic hackers, and data crunchers” with paid 10-month fellowships to develop open-source projects for newsrooms (

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching even has a Community Engagement Classification for universities. It requiresevidence-based documentation of institutional practice to be used in a process of self-assessment and quality improvement” (

Engagement seems to mean everything from pay-for-product contracts to metrics for assessing audience attitudes to attention-getting techniques for work being produced and much, much more.

It begs the question of what “engagement” really means, what it means to be “engaged” with an audience or a citizen.

The emerging usage seems to imply that engagement involves doing something or deciding something, then assessing how it’s received through some kind of feedback loop.

I was reminded of this last week when I attended a meeting of our local school board. The board had reached a series of controversial decisions. These decisions seemed to have been reached by administrators, their supporters and the school board. The decisions were then announced to the public. When the school board got pushback, they announced a series of meetings, which they called “engagement.” At these meetings representatives made clear that the decisions would not be changed, but might be “tweaked.”

Like so many forms of “engagement” in the early 21st century, particularly civic engagement, the dynamic seems to be: “we decide, we announce our decision, we take feedback (usually structured through polls we conduct through specific questions we ask), then we modify our decision just enough to reduce resistance to our decision.

In other words, “engagement” has become a form of strategic manipulation.

This is not my idea of civic engagement.

The American philosopher John Dewey long ago argued that democracy consists of citizens talking with each other about shared problems, working out ways they might solve those problems, creating civic structures to solve those problems, then examining together whether those solutions worked. Civil structures and civic structures result from that process. They are useful as long as they respond to that process.

Civic engagement is about citizens sharing their understanding of the separate worlds they live in because of their individual experiences. This sharing unveils separate ways of seeing things and reveals new understandings about the problems we face and the things we see. This requires conversations and discourse.

This sort of discourse does still happen. It usually happens in churches, in political discussions, in grassroots advocacy organizations.

The best of journalism and the best of politics happens when editors or politicians sit down and talk with people about their problems. The worst of it happens when decisions are made in isolation then put out there for “comment,” particularly comment in the form of multiple-choice surveys.

“Engagement” and “discourse” will be stronger when it stops being “feedback” and returns to authentic conversation and discussion.

Hyperlocal: A History of Success Already

Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram drew some ire last week when he posted a story callinghyperlocal experiments online “a history of dismal failures.” (



He even named names, including former Washington Post digital executive Jim Brady, who is developing a new hyperlocal initiative called Brady responded suggesting that the term “hyperlocal” has become so misunderstood and misused as to become meaningless (@jimbradysp).

“Failure” is a term thrown about quickly when online initiatives don’t make the kind of money legacy media organizations came to expect in the late 20th century. Annual profit margins and the return on investment then reached ridiculously high proportions compared with other businesses.

A look back at earlier forms of community journalism tell a different story about what journalism can be and what it can mean for journalists and communities.

Journalism can be measured more for its role in healthly civic discourse than for its super-profit business model. For most of its history journalism provided a decent living for journalists and owners by serving local community didcourse. Some owners did very well indeed. But others just made a good living and were leaders in their communities.

What made that model work journalism and community was shared history and shared projects. Community newspapers were integrated into their communities over many years. Journalists knew the feel of the community and what drove the community. They shared the community’s history and perspective.

But newspapers also were leaders because they shared goals of improving that history, building a better community. The best newspapers led discourse about how to solve community problems. They were change agents, but change agents with common values and aspirations for those communities. They were essential to both stability and community growth and change.

Twenty-first century, online versions of this idea have been called “hyperlocal” because the 20th century business model for journalism tended to drift from the local connection to history and growth as it sought bigger and bigger profits. The result was a steady erosion of the community connection, a steady decline in news credibility, and a steady alienation of journalists from readers and viewers.

Now comes this assessment of “hyperlocal”as failure. The metric and measure too often begins with profit and the business model rather than with the community connection. Community engagement is not achieved quickly and profits don’t show right away. Community is about building shared trust, shared understanding, a shared history, and a shared sense of aspiration. When those things come from outside the community and are imposed based first on a business plan to profitability, they miss the point of “hyperlocal.”

That does not mean that hyperlocal cannot be profitable. The community online model can support a good living. It can even be scaled up, as hyperlocal initiatives in several communities already have demonstrated.

But the media model should be driven by community discourse, community engagement, shared perspectives, and shared goals. The result will be shared understanding among those in the community and with those participating in the shared understanding of the community through the (hyper) local media for community discourse.

Community discourse, community engagement, and shared understanding should be the first measure of success for “hyperlocal.” When that is achieved, a comfortable living for journalists will follow.

Unity and Diversity in Civic Discourse



I’ve joined a local civic action group. We’ve formed to oppose a county decision to convert public parklands to construct a public school. The Arlington (VA) County Board has said the schools can “consider” the site under a “public land for public use” policy recently adopted.

Our group of citizens argues that parks already are a public good and that the county should buy new land for the school. It should not give up one public good in order to create a different public good. In a rapidly growing County like ours it should pay for essential services from the growing economy rather than trade one good for another in order to build cheap.

So our supporters of parks have organized. We have messages we want to send the School Board and the County Board. But grass root civic action is a lesson in the tension between the individual and the community and who decides the winners and losers.

A grass roots group brings lots of individuals with different opinions together around a common cause. The challenge is the tension between unity for the cause and diversity about defining the cause and effective ways to persuading the County to embrace it.

Some say “not one inch of parkland” should be sacrificed. Others are more willing to compromise on marginal parts of the park. Others simply want to be part of the process of shaping the site. And our supporters have lots of ways of explaining it all.

Of course, the County works at a higher level of diverse demands. The policy tries to respond to booming enrollments in schools and public resistance to paying to do something about them. It tries to find land for affordable public housing. It needs land for growing public services. All are public “goods.” But if money is tight, the “goods” are thrown into competition among those most concerned for each.

So our group needs to speak with one well-supported public voice to assert our common demand to recognize the essential public good of parks that serve everyone with better health, environment, fitness, leisure space, and recreation benefits.

The question is how to construct effective unity in civic discourse and keep those with divergent ideas from breaking away. It’s one of the oldest tensions in society and quickly devolves into issues of power and manipulation. Hegel talked about it as a “dialetic” of will and adaptation, mind and spirit, individual and community. Habermas talks about it in terms of understanding and strategic manipulation. Heidegger and Gademer talks about it in terms of what is and what might be.

Civic discourse, like democracy itself, is the essential and uncomfortable business of opening one’s settled knowledge to the views and beliefs of others. It requires those participating to confront the fact that other people see facts and ideas in different ways. It requires that we confront our own facts with the real possibility that others may have found another way of seeing those same facts. The heart of civic discourse is to open ourselves up to a new way of understanding the facts and beliefs we have built throughout our experience.

Of course, for those trying to organize action, this flow and shifting of facts and ideas creates difficulties in creating a “strategic communication and action plan” to speak with one voice.

Civic action happens at the grass roots level. At the county level (not to mention the state level or national level), arguments scale up. The most unified voices are the ones most easily heard. They seem most urgent because they are unified with a large following regardless of how they have suppressed dissenters within their ranks.

This is the heart of the dilemma for community organizers and politicians alike. It is also the heart of the dilemma for civic discourse and, ultimately, civil discourse. Grass roots discourse may be hardest because it organizes individuals working to understand each other into strategic teams, whose job becomes persuading public opinion and pubic policy to conform to the kind of unity they create. They quickly move beyond discourse for understanding into strategic discourse for results.

The struggle is to keep civic discourse authentic.

Start with Discourse, Not Metrics

Arikia Millikan, the founder of @LadyBits and an (now) ex-Collection Editor with the online site Medium resigned from the site this week. She wrote a powerful parting account of some of the challenges she faced, including an unpredictable payment system based on “clicks.”



Eris Biba, a former Wired magazine editor, also posted her frustration as a correspondent for the online tech magazine Medium Paid through a “clicks-for-pay” system. She described an experiment she had run. She appealed to readers to click more so she would be paid more. It worked. She got a lot of clicks. But it was not satisfying.

Medium Editor Evan Hansen has responded with a post of his own in Medium ( “It’s arguable whether the fault here is in how people were paid, how attention gets divvied up online, the proclivities of the Medium audience at this moment in time or a question of editorial judgment. It’s probably a mix of all four, and other more subtle things to boot,” he wrote and said Medium was shifting toward pay based on a new “total time reading” model (TTR). He suggests this new “metric” experiment “sets the stage for us to build durable business models, for writers as well as ourselves.”

This fascination with metrics to measure “engagement” reflects a similar emphasis found in the New York Times “innovation report” ( and in much of the preoccupation of the media industry as a whole with how to sustain a business model through strategic manipulation of audience interests.

For me, the approach to measuring audience interests (grounded in the search for successful business models) misses a deeper underlying demand from media users: the demand for a voice—for discourse.

Much has been written about engagement, discourse, connection, interaction, and audience participation. But such terms usually are couched in how to harness these principles for business purposes—the media business model.

Of course, there is every reason to want a successful business model that can sustain the activity of providing what readers want and need. The difficult is the starting point. Experiments like Medium and research like the NYT innovation report start from the wrong end. They start with business demands and try to figure out how to engage the audience/reader/user in order to meet those demands.

Human beings use media to get what they need and want. Writers from Heidegger to Gadamer, from Dewey to Rorty, from Hegel to Habermas have described how human beings use language, communication, and media. They describe how discourse changes understanding by confronting what we think we know with surprises—things we did not know. The result is a new way of understanding.

This is the kind of discourse that drives readers, users, and audiences to mediated communication. This is the “new” in “news.”

Finding articles, programs, and posts that can do that should be the goal. Such work is “creative.” It stars by understanding “curiosity.” It creates the successful business model from its own success with readers/users/audiences. This is the kind of “quality writing” that Eris Biba said should be rewarded. It is the kind “news story” that newspapers and magazines once paid handsomely to print. It’s the kind of creative programming that broadcasters and filmmakers hunt.

Begin with “discourse” rather than “metrics” if you want to create a successful media business model.

Journalism “Innovation” Will Require More Than Technology

The New York Times’ “innovation report” leaked earlier this month has caused quite a stir. After all, it recommends a “digital first” strategy, breaking down the “wall of separation” between the newsroom and the business office, and proposals for “audience engagement.” Just the thing to stir up journalists threatened by digital change to the legacy media business model.



The report was well received by many (; ), condemned by some ( ; and tolerated as a good prescription for the inevitable by most (

Columbia University’s Emily Bell argued in Columbia Journalism Review ( that the report underemphasized the requirements to change newsroom journalists’ thinking. The report, she says, “is an earnest and laudable attempt to square the circle of introducing a rapid and lasting culture of change whilst remaining, at core, the same. How can it be more like BuzzFeed but not actually BuzzFeed?

“Swapping story thinking for platform thinking is a critical challenge for the best journalists,” she says. It creates “explanation fatigue…. you have to explain the original wheel’s reinvention every day, in different ways, to every person who is not ‘up to speed.’”

I think she is right. But, to me, the entire discussion, by admirers and critics alike, misses a deeper, more urgent story at the heart of the change journalism faces:

Digital is the symptom, not the problem.

Reader dissatisfaction with journalism has grown since the 1970s. Newspaper readers have been fleeing to television, cable, specialized magazines, and even the trade press for decades. Digital provides only the last, best alternative for readers searching for connection, while newspapers steadily aligned themselves more and more closely to their sources, their sponsors, and their economic interests.

The story of 20th century journalism was to improve quality reporting at the expense of reader connections. The result was a steep decline at the end of the century in credibility, relevance, and trust among readers.

The New York Times Innovation Report hints at the problem, audience engagement, while missing the underlying demand, interactive discourse. “A more reader-centric approach to packaging and surfacing our journalism offers a huge opportunity to extend our reach,” the report asserts. “Exploiting better web and mobile tools will also help us get each story to every reader who might want to see it.”

The thrust of the report’s recommendations to “grow the audience” focuses on getting what the Times produces to that audience more efficiently, not on reexamining what the Times produces or how it decides what to produce. This misses the digital lesson. The audience has fled newspapers for other media forms, including digital, because it wants to participate in the conversation about what news is and how it is covered.

Discourse is a two-way conversation, even when it is mediated. The tremendous resources and talent at The New York Times could engage readers in that conversation better than any other medium. But it would need to open itself to real discourse is its readers. Digital platforms can power that discourse. But that means far more than “reaching” the audience. It must be more about “listening” and “hearing” the audience–engaging in discourse with the audience.

The “explanation” the Innovation Report needs to offer newsroom journalists is not just an education in digital tools, it is a fundamental reorientation to substantive engagement in discourse and shared decision making with the Times’ most important partners: its readers.

It’s a lesson the “innovation report” would do well to offer the field.

Social Media Discourse: Policy Solutions or Moral Panic?

Here is the issue: can Internet and Twitter campaigns produce the urge for good public policy or do they encourage moral panic?



The last several weeks have offered lots of evidence that social networking sites can command the attention of the public and institutional leadership.

The outrage on social media about racist remarks by Clippers owner Donald Sterling dominated the Internet and traditional news and brought decisive action by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

The outrange on Twitter over the abductions by the terrorist organization Boko Haram of almost 300 girls from a school in Nigeria grew more slowly but ultimately commanded a response by the United States and other governments and produced belated pledges from the country’s President Goodluck Jonathan to rescue the girls.

Clearly the effects of social media can dominate the public agenda. It is less clear that these effects produce real policy changes or grass roots discourse to find viable solutions to important social problems revealed in such crises.

Discussions of social media “effects” are hauntingly familiar. Legacy media “effects” also centered on the public agenda. They went by names like agenda-setting, CNN effect, priming, conditioning, socialization and dozens of other variants. They claimed that media shaped public issues and individual behavior.

But changing policy is complex. Some policy makers claim media agendas siphon resources from long-term planning to solve problems. They say resources are diverted to create an appearance of responding to crises. That leaves longer-term efforts to control crises were under funded.

The Lede’s Robert Mackey ( has examined whether “hashtag activism” can work. His sources, particularly Teju Cole (@tejucole), point out difficulties glossed over by “the fervor of our hashtags.”

The latest examples have created action. The deeper question is whether they have produced policies to prevent future cases of such crises. Does banning Donald Sterling improve racial understanding? Does sending a team of experts to Nigeria stop religious violence?

American philosopher John Dewey has argued that informed public discourse among the people affected by problems generates the best solutions to social problems. It is not yet clear that social media produce that kind of discourse. It seems that in many cases social media generate something more akin to “moral panic.” It’s the same kind of problem typified by the “effects” of legacy media.

Renewal, Explainer Sites, and Civic Discourse



May 2, 2014

It’s May. A time for renewal in nature. A great time for renewal in journalism.

The New York Times did its part last week. It launched its latest digital innovation, “The Upshot.” The new site sets out to explain the news by offering data based reviews of news. It joins other “explainer sites,” such as Vox and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.

I think it’s a great addition to digital journalism, although its niche is a bit hazy. As digital guru Jay Rosen said, journalism gets better when more people do it (

The move to explain news on the Internet certainly is not new. Depth and investigative sites such as the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Public Integrity, ProPublica, Truthout, and also set out to probe beyond the headlines.

Partnerships like California Watch, Oklahoma Watch, the Rocky Mountain PBS I-News Network, and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism also dig deeper at more local levels.

Many online columnists, editors and bloggers say they are doing something similar. In fact, Jim Romenesko ( linked to a Twitter thread by Heidi N. Moore of The Guardian that made just that point.

<blockquote data-conversation=”none” data-cards=”hidden” lang=”en”><p><a href=””>@helpareporter</a> Open Forum Judge Moskowitz &amp; Maine&#39;s Corrupt Courts. <a href=””></a>  Pls RT. Thxs!</p>&mdash; Lori Handrahan (@LoriHandrahan2) <a href=”″>April 29, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Of course, lots of us say we want context and depth and investigation.  We don’t like to think we are manipulated by news sources and paid information advocates. We want honest, impartial facts. We want to think news isn’t being manipulated by money and influence.

Still, I think the jury is out on the new explainer sites. Will they succumb to cheap data provided by advocates? Real discourse is hard to produce. It is not yet clear that the stories on these sites have created the kind of grass root conversations that yield change.

So far, the sites have explored mostly stories vaulted to the top of the news agenda by advocates and government action. Few stories have emerged on these sites that focus on previously unheralded problems faced by ordinary readers and emerging off the news grid.

Today’s media ecology offers lots of information, if you have the time fortitude to dig for it. For the last 70 years, journalism has been more about information than about civic discourse. So far, the “explainer” sites fit right in by offering a top-quality menu of information.

What’s harder for journalism today is to create honest, informed discourse not cultivated by well paid strategic planners.

The new explainer sites are well worth watching.