Obamacare gets passed but the President’s vitals are dropping

Much will be made of the “historic” nature of Obama’s victory for healthcare reform in the US.  It’s a controversial issue that was swatted away by Congress when Clinton was in office and whose most famous advocate Edward Kennedy would not live to see.  To Europeans and Canadians the issue isn’t even an issue having lived with socialised healthcare for decades, but the issue might just have broken Obama.

The figures

  • Obama was elected with 52% of the popular vote.
  • The vote was won 219- 212, a margin of just 4 votes which were only won with key concessions to anti-abortion Democrats.
  • 49% of Americans polled were AGAINST the healthcare bill with only 40% in favour.  A massive disparity between his election figures.
  • His job approval ratings are effectively split.

Whichever way the Obama team spins the passing of the bill it was an extremely weak victory.  The American electorate will be greatly annoyed that such an unpopular bill was passed through and by the slimmest of margins.  Obama has lost friends in Washington over the issue with 35 Democrats voting against, with more intending to had he not conceded on abortion.

With mid-term Congressional elections in November the American electorate will have a chance to show how aggrieved they are and the Democrats are set to suffer massively.  He will lose allies who lose their seats in Congress and could find getting any other significant policy passed close to impossible if the Republicans reduce the Democrats’ majority.

This won’t  come as good news to a President who has already been widely criticised on all sides as having a lame-duck first year in office.  If one unpopular reform bill is all he manages to achieve in four years then re-election in 2012 looks increasingly unlikely.

This is not to detract from the significance of the bill itself which will entitle a massive 35 million more Americans to healthcare giving the nation 95% coverage.  There’s great cost involved to the taxpayer and also Obama but maybe it was a sacrifice worth making?

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New media will augment with and enhance traditional quality media.

I made a point in this brief take on the future of journalism, that rather than replace traditional media, new media will augment with and enhance traditional media.

Director of POLIS at LSE, Charlie Beckett, in a draft article on ‘quality’ journalism in the digital age makes a more expanded argument for this.

He speaks of the ways in which networked/ social/ new media can add quality to rather than detract from traditional quality media.

Beckett writes:

Networked Journalism creates ‘quality’ by adding value to news in three ways.

1. Editorial diversity: it creates more substantial and varied news

2. Connectivity and Interactivity: it distributes news in different ways

3. Relevance: it relates to audiences and subjects in ways that create new ethical and editorial relationships to news

Those already mourning the death of the quality newspaper are missing the point entirely.  Guttenberg’s press was the death of monks writing copies of the Bible, not the Bible itself.  The newspaper isn’t the product, the journalism is.

New media whether it be comments on an article, the spreading of content via links or contributions from citizens enhances and engages people with journalism.

Co-founder of Wired, Kevin Kelly, wrote in 2008 “Where attention flows, money follows“.  Bring people to your website, have engaging content, interactivity and the ability to share that content. The money will come and the quality remain high.

Student journalists should be more subjective.

Joseph Stasko has written a new blog post on why he thinks student journalists should be taught that subjectivity isn’t a bad thing.

From my experiences on the same course, Joseph has a great point. Finding an angle on a news story is inherently at odds with the notion of objectivity that we’re taught.

While a story must be covered giving balance it isn’t a bad thing to give prominence to the most salient arguments. Personally I’d rather read a viewspaper over a newspaper. I want a journalist to tell me what they think is important. That’s what I’m paying for.

If I want a more objective channel for my news I can quickly read the BBC news website. But the BBC is a string of facts and while I can gain knowledge from that, I can’t gain insight.

Journalism students should be taught to be thinkers as well as writers. They should be told to have an opinion, be thought provoking, be controversial. If you can’t be angry, rebellious and controversial as a student then you’re going to be a very dull dinner party guest by the time you’re 35.

Full link to Joseph’s blog http://josephstashko.com/media/student-journalists-take-note/

Archive article – May 8 2009

Kindle: Can it save newspapers?


On Wednesday Amazon announced the newest version of it’s ebook reader, the Kindle DX. Taking the second generation’s improved design and increasing the screen size to 9.7” Amazon has targetted newspaper and textbook readers.

To complement this Amazon announced partnerships with the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe. Kindle owners can pay for subscriptions to the newspapers’ content, which is instantly and discretely downloaded to the device via an over-the-air network Amazon calls “Whispernet”.

Amazon also announced special deals with several University text book publishers and thousands of books, often weighing a considerable amount, will be available on the device which weighs just over 500g.

The problem is, for all the convenience and elegance of the device, it costs $500.  There’s very little economic incentive for students to adopt the device when they may only need $100 in text books, which are relatively easy to sell back when finished with. Newspaper readers can either pick up an inexpensive newspaper from a newstand/newsagent or in many cases access identical articles online, for free.

For the device to be a success Amazon needs to work on subsidy deals with content providers or academic institutions.  If the device cost $150 or £100 many people would be keen to pick one up and I think a subscription cost of around £10 a month for a newspaper is not a lot to ask, especially for ad-free quality content.

Undoubtedly, the price will come down as time goes by and component prices fall but it needs to happen sooner rather than later.  Rupert Murdoch yesterday called for an end to free online content from newspapers, and while he’s a hard character to warm to he makes a valid point.  Ad revenues for online content are just not enough, and are not a sustainable model for the newspaper business.  One doesn’t tear out the ads from a physical newspaper but it’s relatively easy to do that online with utlities such as AdBlock Plus for Firefox.

Quality journalism should be paid for.  The question is whether it’s too late for media outlets to start charging for their content, but a device like the Kindle could be just the device to change people’s ideas of how they access written news. Just make it cheaper, and available to the UK please Amazon.