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Media Bits and Bytes - Free Access Edition

Father of Media Reform Turns 100; Aaron Schwartz case; New York Times dismantles environment desk; Google Wires NYC neighborhood - for free; free Internet in Tel Aviv; North Carolina bill bans community-owned cable networks; Is Broadband Internet Access a Public Utility?; Smartphone now has remote control of your life; Smartphone Users Demand More Data than Tablets; CNET Scandal - Can They be Trusted in the Future; The Atlantic's Scientology Problem; and more...

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The Movement Dr. Parker Made: Father of Media Reform Turns 100
By John Nichols
January 17, 2013
America has always had media critics, but the media reform movement that steps from complaining about irresponsible and malicious broadcasters to actually holding them to account is a more recent phenomenon. Dr. Everett C. Parker, the amazing activist who successfully challenged media complicity with the Southern segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s, wrote a new chapter in American history with the fight he led, as founding director of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ. Dr. Parker turned 100 on January 17.
It was a request from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that set Parker on the course that would make him "the conscience of the broadcast industry and the Federal Communications Commission." Southern media outlets literally refused to cover the civil rights movement - going so far as to blur television screens and announce they were having "technical difficulties" when images of King and other civil rights campaigners appeared on the national news.
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On humanity, a big failure in Aaron Swartz case
By Kevin Cullen
January 15, 2013
If it was beyond scandalous that Aaron Swartz was facing 35 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines for downloading a bunch of obscure academic treatises without a subscription, it is beyond tragic that he is now dead. Swartz, 26, a computer prodigy and open Internet activist, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment last Friday. While we will never know for sure why, many who love him and know him best believe that prosecutors bullied him to the grave.
The argument about whether Swartz should have been facing criminal charges in the first place is largely academic. Swartz and his lawyers had offered to accept a deferred prosecution or probation. The argument about whether prosecutors should have been insisting that Swartz, who had written openly and movingly about his struggle with depression, serve at least six months in prison is not an academic question. It is a question about proportionality and humanity, and on both fronts the office of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and the prosecutors who handled this case, Steve Heymann and Scott Garland, failed miserably. It was driven by a desire to turn this into a significant case, so that some prosecutor could put it in his portfolio.
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New York Times dismantles environment desk
By Katherine Bagley
January 11, 2013
The New York Times will close its environment desk in the next few weeks and assign its seven reporters and two editors to other departments. The positions of environment editor and deputy environment editor are being eliminated. No decision has been made about the fate of the Green Blog, which is edited from the environment desk.
According to Dean Baquet, the paper's managing editor for news operations "We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter" prompted by the shifting interdisciplinary landscape of news reporting. When the desk was created in early 2009, the environmental beat was largely seen as "singular and isolated," pre-fracking and pre-economic collapse. But today, environmental stories are "partly business, economic, national or local, among other subjects," Baquet said. The news comes just a week after The Daily Climate reported that worldwide coverage of climate change continued a three-year slide in 2012- and that among the five largest U.S. dailies, the Times published the most stories and had the biggest increase in coverage.
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Google Wiring New York City's Chelsea for Free Wi-Fi
By Nick Kolakowski
January 8, 2013
On the heels of rolling out successful high-speed broadband to Kansas City, Google is bringing more connectivity to another American municipality: New York City's Chelsea neighborhood, which will receive Wi-Fi in outdoor areas courtesy of the search-engine giant. Alex Abelin, community affairs manager for Google, said "People don't know that 15 percent of Chelsea lives below the poverty line. This can help that."
The free Internet zone will encompass an area between 8th Avenue and the West Side Highway on the East-West access, and 19th Street and Gansevoort Street on the North-South. It will cost $115,000 to build and $45,000 a year to maintain, with costs split between Google and a nonprofit neighborhood development group. Internet access will come free of advertising, aside from a provider message from Google, and not require any sort of password:
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Tel Aviv Gets Free Ride on Internet
By Tamar Dressler
December 28, 2012
 Al-Monitor (The Pulse of the Middle East)
 Translated from Maariv (Israel)
Tel Aviv residents, many of whom like to work in coffee shops throughout the city, will certainly be happy to hear that a free Internet network will be established in the city over the coming months. The project's goal is to provide free Internet services to the city's residents and its visitors at 80 sites throughout the city.
True, Tel Aviv will not be the first metropolis to operate a free urban network; Jerusalem has had such a network in specific areas since 2004, and Haifa since 2008. The Ashkelon municipality also submitted a tender a few months ago for the installation of a free network, but Tel Aviv will be the first city with large-scale deployment. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai declared "Free access to the Internet in the public space is an additional milestone in our mission of continuing to march the city forward in innovation and technology."
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Telcos lobby North Carolina to make community Internet illegal, then abandon the state to second-worst Internet in the country
By Cory Doctorow
January 3, 2013
A lot of people were frustrated in 2011 when the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill written by Time Warner Cable to revoke local authority to build community-owned networks. A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Common Cause explains how Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink bought their bill.
In the two years since, the big companies have refused to invest in better networks and AT&T just announced layoffs for some call center workers. Meanwhile, the state is tied with Mississippi for last place in the US in the number of households subscribing to at least a "basic broadband connection" according to the FCC. Perhaps these decisions should be made locally and not by corporate lobbyists?
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Is Broadband Internet Access a Public Utility?
By Sam Gustin
January 09, 2013
Should broadband Internet service be treated as a basic utility in the United States, like electricity, water, and traditional telephone service? That's the question at the heart of an important and provocative new book by Susan Crawford, a tech policy expert and professor at Cardozo Law School. In Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly in the New Guilded Age, released Tuesday by Yale University Press, Crawford argues that the Internet has replaced traditional phone service as the most essential communications utility in the country, and is now as important as electricity was 100 years ago.
Because the U.S. government has allowed a small group of giant, highly profitable companies to dominate the broadband market, Crawford argues, American consumers have fewer choices for broadband service, at higher prices but lower speeds, compared to dozens of other developed countries, including throughout Europe and Asia. One of the main themes in the book is the "digital divide," which refers to the fact that millions of people in the U.S., mostly in the poorest and most rural communities, don't have access to affordable broadband service, including 2.2 million people in New York City.
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Smartphones Can Now Run Consumers' Lives
By Brian X. Chen
January 11, 2013
The smartphone is no longer just a portable computer in your pocket. It has become the remote control for your life. Want to flip off the living room lights, unlock your front door or get a reading of your blood pressure? All of this can be done through mobile apps that work with accessories embedded with sensors or an Internet connection.
For several years, technology companies have promised the dream of the connected home, the connected body and the connected car. But in the last year, app-powered accessories have provided the mechanism to actually make these futuristic connections. For example, a major selling point of the popular Nest thermostat is its ability to turn up the furnace from miles away with a cellphone. That is partly because smartphones have become the device people never put down, and also because wireless sensors have become smaller, cheaper and ubiquitous. The situation resembles the time when power windows started catching on for automobiles, or when television makers started offering remote controls.
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Smartphone Users Demand More Data than Tablets
By Ben Rooney
January 14, 2013
Smartphone users consume more mobile data than tablet users, and iPhone 5 users are the biggest data consumers of all, according to an analysis of mobile data published Monday. The analysis, Smartphones Trump Tablets- Recent Trends in Extreme Data, published by network management software provider Arieso, reveals the ever increasing demands made on mobile networks by ever-more demanding smartphones.
According to the report, out of the top ten most voracious devices six were smartphones, three tablets and one a "phablet" (a combination of a phone and a tablet) - the Samsung Galaxy Note II. While iPhone 5 users are the biggest consumer of data overall, Samsung's Galaxy S III was the largest Android data consumer and the high placement of the Samsung Galaxy Note II showed users regarded it more like a smartphone than a tablet. The increasing use of iCloud, and more general cloud apps for Android phones, is probably the dominant driver of these increased data demands.
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Can We Trust CNET Again After a Scandal This Shady?
By Rebecca Greenfield
January 14, 2013
CNET, one of the Internet's first and most influential authorities on gadgets and tech news, watched its editorial integrity spiral out of control Monday, with staffers quitting and editors left to explain themselves in the wake of explosive new charges over its annual Consumer Electronics Show awards - a scandal, it would appear, that goes all the way to the top of its corporate umbrella, and could shake the entire ecosystem of online tech journalism.
CNET wanted to give Dish's Slingbox 'Hopper' device its top award at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for its capacity to record TV programs and eliminate the commercials. But that did not please CNET parent company CBS, which demanded that the device be removed from consideration. Amidst a lawsuit between CBS and Dish, the request came down directly from CBS CEO Leslie Moonves himself. Now CNET's corporate responsibilities appear to have made the long trusted site bend at will and, despite desperate pushback from some of its writers and editors, it appears CNET may have moved to cover up the series of events that led to the removal of the award.
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It's All About Trust: The Atlantic's Scientology Problem
By Josh Stearns
January 15, 2013
On Monday night, the Atlantic presented a Church of Scientology ad dressed up as a news article. The response from journalists and readers was immediate and bruising and within hours the piece had been removed and replaced with a note from the editors promising to "review their sponsored content guidelines."
The episode shines a spotlight on a longstanding trend of embedded advertising and sponsored content that has been picking up steam in recent years. As advertising dollars have migrated away from news organizations, the search for new business models has also meant pushing the boundaries between the newsroom and ad sales. While journalists need to understand the business side of things, the Atlantic episode illustrates that the business side also needs to understand the newsroom. James Rainey at the L.A. Times has called local TV a "hotbed" for advertiser-driven content. News organizations that make sponsored content part of their business strategy need to do better when it comes to disclosure and transparency.
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FOX Still Shunned at Obama Press Conferences
By Eric Ostermeier
January 16, 2013
 Smart Politics/U. Minn Humphry School of Public Affairs
During Barack Obama's news conference on Monday the president called on seven reporters, though FOX News was not one of the outlets pushing Obama's buttons on Monday. Over the course of the president's first term, he has generally maintained the tiered approach as to which outlets ask the questions (with the Big 3 and Associated Press usually getting the green light), although the president has departed from tradition on occasion - famously calling on a digital-only media outlet's reporter (Huffington Post's Sam Stein) during his first news conference in February 2009.
But as for FOX, these have been relatively lean years in terms of getting the presidential nod at news conferences, particularly in light of the news outlet's reach vis-à-vis some of the other media organizations which have received more questions.
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Google.org donates $2.1 million grant to Sunlight Foundation
By Jennifer Martinez
January 16, 2013
The Sunlight Foundation announced Wednesday that it received a $2.1 million grant from Google's philanthropic arm, Google.org. The nonprofit organization said the grant will fund the launch of a two-year project that will help city councils, school boards and other local government entities make more data publicly available online and also increase transparency around their work.
The Sunlight Foundation has promoted open government efforts that are aimed at increasing transparency in government work and making more data available online for the public. The grant from Google.org will also be used by the watchdog group to disseminate local mini-grants, which Sunlight says it will release more information about in the future. The money will also go toward helping Sunlight craft policy case studies about its open government work.
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