Thursday, March 8, 2018

Journalism 2.0

On Tuesday evening Red Baron listened to a talk by John Nichols, a journalist from our Sister City Madison, WI.,  about "Journalism 2.0: Fake News and Democracy in the Digital News Age - Legal and Policy Challenge." Considering the lengthy title I had expected a well-filled auditorium, but it turned out that John gave his talk to invited people sitting around an oblong table richly decorated with food and drinks.

John Nichols speaking and the organizers of the Carl-Schurz-Haus listening
John started his lively talk with a provocative thesis: President Trump is not the origin but the result of the crisis haunting the United States. He then concentrated on three points that strain the political system in the States.

Actually, you may become president of the United States with only 30% of the popular votes. This hypothetical extreme is possible within the American voting system where an electoral college elects the president. During the presidential election Trump’s campaign managers where clever in concentrating their efforts on four states traditionally voting Democrat. In the end, Republicans succeeded to swing Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Was this the result of lazy Democrat voters assuming that their state would be safe anyway? I still remember when in the morning following the election day the final results for Wisconsin came in and sealed the fate of Hillary. Admittedly, the margins in those new swing states were small but in the electoral college, the winner takes it all.

I know that the electoral college is a historical relic but my remark in the discussion that it could be reformed did not go down particularly well. Ironically it was Donald Trump who had criticized in 2012, “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” Then in 2016, the college helped him to become president without the majority of the popular vote. This fact and the “alternative news” about the size of the attending crowd during his inauguration are two permanent thorns in Trump’s flesh. John prefers the French system where the president is directly elected by the people.

In the States the president chooses the members of his cabinet to be confirmed by the Senate. Donald Trump, an apprentice in governmental affairs himself, recruited mostly friends into key positions who came from finance and industry, i.e., with no or little experience in government administration either. Red Baron was shocked when he listened to the confirmation hearing in the Senate of incompetent Kathleen Hartnett White, nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She stammered through her hearing arguing like a pupil not having done the homework. Have a look at the video on YouTube. Are these Trump’s apprentices? As on his former TV Show The Apprentice, many who were initially hired are already fired or left in anger. I get the impression that the Trump administration is running out of people. By the way, the White House eventually withdrew Kathleen Hartnett White’s candidature.

As a former host on TV Donald Trump knows the show business well. While classical media like newspapers, radio, and even TV are on the decline the young generation gets its bits of information in small bites on the Internet. The classical media are obsessed by Trump’s outrageous remarks and aggressive tweets. John rightly said, “Trump’s tweets are the headlines of tomorrow’s press“ and I may add, „By that time it‘s already old stuff.“

The influence of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media on politics and election results has not been fully understood but will be growing in the future.

While lively discussions on the subject continued around the oblong table I tried to come to grips with the Internet policy of the German government. Since 2005 the demand for a fast Internet in my country was part of various governmental programs but very little with respect to broadband expansion has happened. At the end of 2017 industrialized Germany ranked only 32 among its European neighbors. Note the Silver Medal for Norway! POTUS will love it.

My conspiracy theory goes like this: The decision makers in Berlin being afraid of showing their incompetence with regard to the Internet are trying to keep the German voters - hanging on their slow telephone lines waiting for their e-mails to be sent - dumb as well.

P.S.: Yesterday, March 9, Daniel Dettling, author of an article in the Badische Zeitung about digital awakening attested anxious Germans an angst 4.0. That angst is driven by automization going in parallel with millions of jobs lost to machines and by algorithms deciding over life and death, e.g., atonomous driving. In the meantime in Japan artificial intelligence is guiding the people into society 5.0.

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