Archive

Archive for the ‘News: Editorial’ Category

Plastic bag ban melts under heat

By Christina Edwards

September 7, 2010

With landfills packed and overflowing with trash, plus an additional oil rig explosion last week that contributed to the environmental turmoil in the gulf, environmental issues have become priority legislation for many jurisdictions, despite economic hard times. In October 2009, North Carolina joined several other states in passing legislation to require the recycling of plastic bottles.

California has been at the forefront of the growing trend of legislation and governmental encouragement and incentives for recycling efforts. The California Bottle Bill, which makes use of the state’s existing private and public recycling resources, places a monetary value on recyclables, which has resulted in high rates of recycling. Local jurisdictions have varying levels of additional environmental laws: San Francisco has enacted a mandatory recycling and composting ordinance. And up until last week, California was very close to being the first state to pass a ban on single-use plastic bags. California Senate struck down the bill on Tuesday, Aug. 31.

The bill was passed by the California Assembly in June and drew praise from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The state has a history of enacting similar laws at a local level: San Francisco was the first city in the country to pass a ban on plastic bags in 2007. And the idea is starting to take off and gather support in other areas: North Carolina banned single-use plastic bags in the Outer Banks, and Washington, D.C. began requiring grocery stores to charge for plastic bag use. Similar legislation to the proposed bill in California is under review in United States unincorporated territory American Samoa. Other countries, including Ireland, South Africa and Bangladesh, have similar laws.

The problem with the proposed legislation, and similar legislation in higher level jurisdictions, may not really have anything to do with plastic bags. Reactions and commentary over California’s situation suggest the law has implications that go beyond the environment and reach into concern over what can and should be regulated by the government.

Fox News Channel contributor and conservative columnist Michelle Malkin wrote on her blog after the ban failed to pass Senate: “Finally, California shows some sense. Lawmakers trashed an onerous, ill-timed, empty-gesture plastic bag ban pushed by radical greens this week.”

Readers commenting on a Huffington Post article about the ban who disagreed with the legislation expressed concern over the proposition of environmental laws over other governmental concerns. One commenter dismissed the bill as “just another special interest mandate.”

Similarly, supporters of the ban have expressed concern for legislators being swayed by the monetary effects on plastic bag manufacturers.

Much of the contention over this issue isn’t about plastic bags. I’m sure not everyone— or really, most people— opposing the ban are completely dismissive of all environmental issues. And perhaps not everyone in support of the ban remembers to place every plastic soda bottle in the recycling bin.

The controversy surrounding this legislation highlights a major problem in U.S. politics right now: there is a heavy us-versus-them divide, a need to align ourselves and distinguish what we aren’t. Sometimes, this overshadows the actual issues.

And that’s just one more thing this country can’t afford.

Originally written for Elon University’s The Pendulum

Categories: News: Editorial

Obama’s cabinet ripe with familiar faces; support shows a restrained approach to change

By Christina Edwards

January 21, 2009

Without a doubt, the political candidates of this past election season are some of the most carefully scrutinized people in the U.S. From practically the second President Barack Obama was announced as President-elect, scrutiny and criticism shifted to include questions about Obama’s potential cabinet.

As those skeptical about the quantity and quality of his political experience shrouded Obama’s campaign in criticism, the cabinet nominations were the first chance for the then president-elect to prove himself and gain the trust of the rest of the country after a testy and unexpectedly long campaign process.

For many, the cabinet nominations set the tone and impression of the beginning of the presidential term. So what do the picks say about the 44 presidency?

In short, they project a lot of caution, a dash of safety-oriented doubt and a sprinkle of self-assertion.

One of Obama’s earliest staff picks was Rahm Emanuel for White House Chief of Staff. Emanuel has the experience that Obama is hoping to assert in response to questions of his own experience. He served as a top advisor to President Clinton and is a veteran Congressional leader. But this same top-level experience comes with a catch; he’s a “Clintonite.” Does Obama have the political expertise and knowledge necessary to create his own team?

And what about all of this change we’ve been talking about? Emanuel’s experience may show good judgment, but may also be a double-edged sword.

Adding to the lineup of politicians we’ve seen before is Obama’s secretary of state nominee. The nomination of Hillary Clinton was possibly the most publically scrutinized of the process. While Clinton has significant and extensive experience in world travel and diplomacy, she is, of course, part of the old school of politicians so much of the country is eager to get away from, particularly in the form of her husband’s lingering presence.

And of course, Clinton’s rather volatile campaign against Obama in the Democratic primaries raises additional concerns. The two, who are probably the most prominent example of “frenemies” in current U.S. politics, have traded enough barbs to raise well-founded skepticism on their ability to work concurrently. A partnership between the two could be incredibly well-run and an effective linking of vision and expertise; yet, there’s always the lingering chance that the old prejudices and unsettling politics of the past could lead more toward the path of disaster.

While many of Obama’s cabinet picks may suggest a tendency to stay the same rather than the promised change, others in top positions draw from his circle of Chicagoan political contacts, which suggest an assertion of his own style.

He is certainly treading with an appropriate or even precautionary level of carefulness: His vetting process has shown to be incredibly rigorous. Gov. Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name for commerce secretary in the midst of the vetting process. Even in the case of Timothy Geithner’s taxes, things are out in the open.

Obama’s cabinet is promising, but with reservation. There’s a lot of solid experience and potential. But it remains to be seen what will come when that solid experience and caution meets the promise of change.

Written originally for Elon University’s The Pendulum

Categories: News: Editorial

Twitter: A Microblogging Review

Twitter provides constant, accessible stream of information

By Christina Edwards

November 21, 2008

There’s no such thing as too rapid when it comes to information, at least for the three million plus users on Twitter.

Twitter is a free microblogging service that launched on the Web in 2006. Messages posted are 140 characters or less, which provides a constant stream of short informational updates. Users range from news organizations such as CNN, to bloggers and the average citizen keeping friends and family updated easily.

“With its requirement for people to squeeze their thoughts into 140 characters or less, Twitter is a perfect tool for a fast-paced, mobile society,” said Janna Anderson, director of a research project called Imagining the Internet. “Compressed information fits and it offers quick-hitting details we can apply to our lives. Most of the early adopters using Twitter to communicate today are writing on the road, from conferences, sales calls and other mobile situations in which they want to share tightly written information chunks. It first caught on at the South By Southwest media conference in Austin, Texas, just a couple of years ago. It has since been used by political campaigns, businesses and media organizations to quickly brief people on developing situation.”

As someone fairly familiar with the Internet world of information, I’ve only had a marginal experience with Twitter, having seen updates streamed on blogs. I signed up for an account and started exploring.


The Accesiblity Factor

Twitter is free and takes just a few minutes to set up. All that’s required is an email and a password, so Twitter gets automatic points for the easy sign up process. At the same time, anyone can sign up, which comes with the implications of an unfiltered “news” stream.

Posting a message is easy, too: the textbox is at the top of the page. It also counts how many characters used as you type. Simple.

Searching for news feeds to follow becomes a little more difficult. When you enter in a search term, the engine brings up every message containing the terms. The advanced search option allows you to specify whether you are searching words or conversations or places. Searching for specific users is not easily accessible.

How Informative Is It?

How informative Twitter is depends on how often a newsfeed is updated. Updates can happen constantly. I decided to “follow” the US World and News Report, BBC, and the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, over a course of four hours, updated constantly, providing news every few minutes.

The pertinence of the information, however, is another matter entirely. Over the same four hours, the most talked about subject was the new Twilight movie—on the same day Hillary Clinton said she would accept a Secretary of State nomination.

The Format

Twitter is formatted to be unintimidating. The layout of the actual site can be chosen by the user: the choices are reminiscent of personal blogging platform Livejournal. This doesn’t have to be a stuffy, professional news atmosphere to getting information: a plus for civilian accessibility, but slightly off-putting to the professional.

The stream of news feeding on the home page is both immediate enough to appeal to those searching for constant information and comforting to those more used to Facebook status updates.

Overall

Twitter is an effective means of communicating short messages in a more than timely manner. But I’m not yet convinced that it’s the future of information: it’s shallowly informative. And currently, finding real information is like sifting through soil to find gems.

My Twitter feed, as I set up my account.

Timeline of Online Journalism

Journalism in the Perez Hilton Generation

The Division of News and Gossip

By Christina Edwards

November 19, 2008

The journalist’s job is to inform, to provide the general population with the current information about the world, country, and community they live in. The average citizen has the right to know when happens are effecting their lives, and it is the journalist’s job to serve and protect that right. The first amendment covers freedom of the press for that very purpose, Sunshine Centers have been introduced to assist the journalist in fighting for that right. But in a country that also names privacy as a first amendment right, where is the line between informative, intrusive, or even frivolous?

The recent election season has brought to the forefront questions of journalistic necessity, particularly where families of candidates (including underaged children) are concerned. It can be argued that the candidates are the one running for office, not the family, but what happens when the family provides news relevant to the campaign?

In late August, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin announced that her 17-year-old daughter Bristol was pregnant. This was immediately followed by a media blitz, covered everywhere from gossip websites to CNN. The coverage, in turn, was immediately criticized by right wing organizations as exploitation.

Palin announced her daughter’s pregnancy at a press conference. Palin is a known advocate of both the pro-life movement and abstinence only education in schools. Palin in essence allowed for this event to be covered, and there is arguable relevancy. The original coverage of the event? Within the rights of reporting.

In the weeks after the news broke, articles appeared reporting on the Myspace Web sites of both Bristol Palin and the reported father, Levi Johnston. These included pictures taken of the teens drinking and quotes taken from Johnston’s page where he had written “I don’t want kids.”
Articles like these breech a level of appropriateness. While it can be argued relevant that a pro-life candidate has a pregnant teenage daughter and child with Down’s Syndrome, the necessity of investigative judgment on the life of a candidate’s child becomes blurred.

On the other side of the partisan pond, one of the hot topics surrounding President Elect Barack Obama (besides what breed of dog the family will adopt) concerns what school his two young daughters will attend when relocated to Washington D.C.

Last week, the New York Times ran an article titled “Parents’ Night with the President,” which reported on elite Washington private schools reportedly looked at by the family vying for the Obamas’ attendance. This topic was also addressed in a recent interview with Obama and his wife Michelle on CBS.

Obama’s democratic education platform addresses several reforms to the public school system and stresses the importance of investing in the quality of public schools. In Chicago, his daughters attended private school, and all of the reported top school choices for the Obamas are private. In terms of where Obama stands on education, the decision he makes on where to send his own children can be considered relevant.

The New York Times ran another article on Tuesday addressing the Obama girls—this time on a tour the were given of the White House by Jenna and Barbara Bush. In the article, there is explicit mention that this was a private event: “The visit was strictly private, with no media coverage or photos.”
Was this article harmful to either the Obama or Bush family? Would it have been harmful to have a couple of photographers snapping pictures? Was this some top secret matter of national security? Probably not, on all counts.
But it wasn’t really relevant to anything, either.

What this comes down to is a matter of privacy. It is not wrong to report that an event happened, or to draw attention to a public website. There’s nothing illegal or even arguably morally reprehensible about these articles.

But just because something can be reported on doesn’t mean it’s newsworthy or necessary. Will it be read? Probably.

But there’s a line between news and gossip, and it’s also the journalist’s job to decide where that line is.

Categories: News: Editorial