Saturday, March 25, 2017

Do we have a free press?

There is a lot of discussion about what is a free press and what it's role is in society. It's been that way since before the founding of our country. It's a concept that is often misunderstood. One of the things to keep in mind when dealing with a free press or news media, is that there are two definitions of free at work here. There is free as in free speech and free as in free lunch. These types of free are continually at play determining what type of news and information is available from both the mainstream and independent media.

Most people expect the news to based on free speech. They expect, and often assume reporting that's not influenced by politics, religion, money, etc., at least from their trusted sources. They want reporting that's unbiased and based on a complete reporting of the facts and by the end of the report they want find truth. Anything else is dismissed as fake news. Sounds good but the truth is that's a bit of a fairy tale that even those in the media often believe. One of the problems with this ideal is the free lunch problem.

Robert Heinlein popularized the saying "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch", frequently abbreviated as TANSTAAFL. Just because you didn't pay for it doesn't mean nobody did. The truth is that advertising pays the bulk of the cost for news. Some of you might object to that. You subscribe to the print edition of your favorite news outlets so you are paying for the news you that you can trust. Hate to break it to you but your paid subscription barely pays for the cost to deliver the ink on dead trees to your home. Even paid online subscriptions do little more than pay to keep the lights on. In the world of news and information it's an economic reality that the advertiser is the customer, and you (or at least a small bit of your attention) are the product.

So far I've ignored an elephant in the room. That's the impact of the government. All levels of government spend a fortune on advertising. Whether it's public service, military recruiting, job advertisements, etc. governments at all levels advertise a lot. In addition, governments use laws, regulations, and the courts to set boundaries. We have radio and TV news because how the federal government interprets the public good of each license issued to use the public airwaves. Add in the news releases, official notices, etc. and you get the idea of how much influence the government has on the news media.

So what we end up with is a world full of news and information sources that are seldom as free as we think they are. There will seldom be direct control but the visible and often invisible influences are there that in the end shape what we see as news. What makes news and reporting free to the extent it is comes from the competition of all these different sources paying for our free press. We need to remember that when we try to separate out the fake news.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Quick thoughts on the Meet & Confer negotiations.

As most of my regular reader know (both of you know who you are) I've been following issues like Police officer wages, benefits, etc. for quite a while on this blog and website. Real wages and compensation have been slowly creeping up to where they reasonably should be. I don't really know of any City employee that's over paid (ok, maybe a couple but we won't go there yet) but the Police wages are in the spot light because they can and are negotiating an updated contract with the city. A major sticking point has been why isn't a one time lump sum stipend payment as good as a raise. Lots of time was spent on that point. Several speakers, including myself spent lots of time trying to explain the difference. In the end, the council approved going for the raise instead of the onetime payment.

All this is a lead up to something that actually seems to happen quite frequently. After the meeting was over, and votes were cast I thought of the perfect metaphor for this whole debate.

A lump sum stipend is how you treat a one night stand. A raise shows commitment.

Nuff said.