CNN Political Director Mark Preston Discusses Digital Age, Media & Politics at JHU

CNN's Political Director Mark Preston addressed a capacity crowd at last night's Johns Hopkins University Symposia on "Journalism, Politics, and How the Internet is Changing the Face of Traditional Television News."  Mark shared his unique perspective on this topic, having started his career in traditional print journalism at Roll Call, describing himself as "always someone who bleeds ink."  Early in his own career he saw the collapse of the newspaper industry and the rise of the 24 hour television news cycle.  At this juncture, he left print journalism and began work at CNN (incidentally, the man who hired him at CNN was in the audience, JHU faculty member Tom Hannon).  Mark threw into relief the rapid changes in technology in the last decade alone, among them:  2005 YouTube founded; 2006 YouTube purchased by Google; 2007 the first IPhone.  These technological developments have had an enormous impact on how news is delivered.  In 2005, the majority of journalists did not want to write for websites; today, the opposite is true and the digital age is revolutionizing how journalist think, write, and present news programming.  We live, as Mark put it, "a two screen existence" with most of us utilizing multiple mobile devices with TV while we multitask the gathering of news and information. Social media especially is  an increasingly important vehicle for the news media: CNN has over 41 million followers on Facebook and in 2011 had 1.6 billion global page views on   Interactivity is key in social media and now in journalism too.  To that end, CNN recently launched CNNx which gives viewers complete control of their news viewing, allowing viewers to choose which news segments they want to watch from a scroll down screen or to view segments they might have missed.  In effect, each viewer becomes his or her own news producer.  Television will always be an important and dominating vehicle for news viewing, but must adapt to the digital age to remain relevant.  Mark admits that noone knows for sure where all these new developments are heading -- noting it is prudent to not overuse social media and that the many of the practices of good old fashioned print journalism are still highly relevant to how journalists engage the faster paced world of digital technology.  He recommended a few sources for students interested in these questions to explore, including and the Pew Research Foundation website.  He also recommended a study by Peter Hamby called, "Did Twitter Kill the Boys on the Bus?  Searching for a better way to cover a campaign."  A lively Q & A followed his fascinating and highly informative talk. 


Classroom on the Battlefield

On April 12, Sarah O’Byrne and I led a group of twenty students on the Global Security Studies Program’s annual Gettysburg staff ride.  This was more than a walk in the park on a beautiful sunny day.  It provided an opportunity for students to reflect on some of the enduring qualities of war including chance, friction and uncertainty.  It also gave us a chance to consider what makes a good military leader.  Every student was forced to confront these issues by giving short presentations from the perspective of various leaders, right on the battlefield.


More students wanted to go than we could accommodate, so we gave priority to students who had already completed the “Military Strategy and National Policy” course because they have been exposed to the work of Carl von Clausewitz.  The Prussian philosopher has a great deal to tell us about the Battle of Gettysburg.


Consider chance, a favorite topic of Clausewitz’s.  Would the battle have unfolded differently if Union General John Reynolds had not taken a bullet to the head in the first hours of the battle?  We can never know but certainly at the time it felt like a setback to the Union cause just as the battle was starting to get serious.  Clausewitz discussed the notion of friction by saying that “everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”  What is simpler than marching into position for an attack?  Nothing, but it becomes difficult when you unexpectedly have to countermarch as Longstreet’s Corps did on the second day of the battle.  The result was that the attack on the Union’s left kicked off late in the day and Hood’s Division—which had spent the entire day marching—was exhausted and thirsty when the time came to assault Little Round Top.  Uncertainty played a role in the Gettysburg, too.  In fact, the battle was a meeting engagement: a battle that takes place when two armies blunder into each other.  Students were able to explore this idea by considering what Confederate General Henry Heth thought he was doing when he engaged a small Union cavalry force athwart the Chambersburg Pike.


 Finally, students thought about leadership by considering the decisionmaking of Robert E. Lee and the initiative and courage of the Union Colonel Joshua Chamberlain.  We also asked them to think about what degree of obedience is owed to a commander by working through the cases of Union General Daniel Sickles and Confederate General James Longstreet. Sickles disobeyed a sound order when he found that local conditions did not agree with the information available to his commander but in the process he probably made a battlefield mistake. For his part, Longstreet obeyed a probably unsound order from Lee and thereby may have lost an opportunity to win the battle.


Like all battles, Gettysburg is complex and can never been known in its totality.  That makes it good ground for learning and is why we will be going again in the fall.  We hope to see you there!


Flat Tax Simpler? Not Necessarily

The tax code is overly complex and many argue that a flat tax could help address this problem.  However, a new State Tax Complexity Index, developed by Paul Weinstein, the director of the MA in Public Management shows that the tale is not so simple, in fact: measuring complexity in terms of tax expenditures, states that rely on flat or sales tax systems are just as likely to have high levels of complexity as those states that have progressive income tax systems.
In the brief introducing the index, Weinstein reviews the history of state income tax systems and highlights the various shortcomings across states and finds that: 
Reducing complexity through the elimination of tax expenditures can finance lower tax rates and also increase fairness (progressivity) because their benefits mostly go to higher income individuals and businesses.
You can find the full brief here at the Progressive Policy Institute



Words on a wall: Graffiti and Dissent in Syria

Current GSS student, Jeremiah Foxwell, writes in the @WorldPolicy blog about the role of graffiti as a tool of dissent in Syria. Drawing on his midterm essay from his class on Politics and Security in the Middle East, Jeremiah writes: 

Political graffiti is indicative of an angry population unable to express themselves through the democratic process. A notable increase in its presence can be an indicator of  emerging political unrest in nations that do not have democratic processes for political change.

Read the full account here


Alum Matt Laslo Launches Online Political Show "Bills and Brews"

Matt Laslo
, MA in Government 2012, wrote his masters thesis on the problem of partisanship  ("Why Compromise Shouldn't Be A Dirty Word.")  He continues to build on the work of his thesis and is now hosting an online political show called "Bills and Brews."  Matt interviews politicians on the show as they sip local craft beers from their districts, "ridding Washington of partisanship one sip at a time," in Matt's words.  The first episode of Bills and Brews can be seen here:
Matt has lined up 10 lawmakers to be part of future episodes.  
Matt has been a public radio reporter on the Hill for eight years and is revising his thesis on the increase in partisanship since the 1970s into a potential  book.  
If you are interested in supporting this project please go to  Kickstarter: