Thoughts, reflections, news, and musings from a veteran Silicon Valley journalist and commentator.

April 24, 2009

ReelChanges.org Documentary Project Raises $5K in One Day!

"Heist," the new documentary film project produced by Donald Goldmacher that documents "how Wall Street pulled off the greatest theft in history," has become the single most successful ReelChanges.org documentary project so far, pulling in $5000 in just one day (yesterday).

Woohoo!

ReelChanges.org is a project of the Center for Media Change, Inc., (CMC) the non-profit organization I created last year to experiment with new business models for journalism. We also sponsor CMC president David Cohn's www.spot.us project.

CBS Pulls Last Week's (4/19) "60 Minutes" Broadcast Off Web!?

CBS 60 Minutes just pulled their entire April 19th episode, which contained their controversial segment on cold fusion research, off the web sometime tonight. Curiously, at present they still feature a promo tab for the 4/19 show referencing the cold fusion report on the 60 Minutes homepage, but when clicked on it now leads to a streaming video of the previous week's show. The 4/19 show, which came under heavy criticism by the American Physical Society disappeared one day after the APS released the following statement:

On April 19, CBS aired a "60 Minutes" segment on "cold fusion," a process that proponents claim could solve the world's energy problems. The script stated that "['60 Minutes'] asked the American Physical Society, the top physics organization in America, to recommend an independent scientist. They gave us Rob Duncan, vice chancellor of research at the University of Missouri and an expert in measuring energy." That statement is false.

None of the American Physical Society's (APS) authorized spokespersons, including the president, president-elect, executive officer, director of public affairs, head of media relations and press secretary, provided CBS with the names of any experts. APS has learned that "60 Minutes" did receive a long list of names - that included Rob Duncan's - from University of Minnesota Professor Allen Goldman, who states unequivocally that he never claimed to be acting in the name of APS.

APS does not, as an organization, endorse particular experiments or their results. That can only be done through publication in peer-reviewed journals, and by independent replication by other researchers. The APS does not endorse the cold fusion experiments featured in the April 19 "60 Minutes" news program. Any suggestion by the CBS journalists to the contrary is misleading and false.

The American Physical Society is the leading professional organization of physicists, representing over 46,000 physicists in academia and industry in the United States and internationally. APS has offices in College Park, MD (Headquarters), Ridge, NY, and Washington, D.C.

More: the link to the cold fusion segment stopped working a few hours before the entire show was pulled. On the other hand, at the moment the site still features a printed transcript of the segment here. Interestingly, the printed transcript has been edited to remove the "false statement" cited above by the APS.

What on earth is going on?

Addendum: Just as mysteriously as it vanished, the video report reappeared on the CBS 60 Minutes site a few moments ago. CBS edited the video in the same way they edited the transcript, removing the one sentence that was contested by the American Physical Society. Here is the new version...:



Watch CBS Videos Online

April 19, 2009

CBS 60 Minutes Confirms Previous Reports on Cold Fusion Research

A remarkable thing happened today. Tonight's edition of 60 Minutes, on CBS, confirmed previous reporting I did on cold fusion research here and here, relying heavily on many of the same sources I used, including SRI's Dr. Michael McKubre.

The dust up over cold fusion research was one of most controversial topics I ever covered. As I reported at the time, I was appalled and mystified by the vicious smears and character assassination aimed at scientists working on the experiments, attacks that should have no place whatsoever in science -- or media. There was a rush to halt federal funding and what appeared to me to be a public smear campaign against virtually anyone involved, including some very well respected scientists. It may not have been coordinated but it was certainly a gang attack. I never saw anything like it. I took risks with my own career by continuing to report on the subject long after most others stopped. More than one editor told me I was making a mistake by not dropping it and one cited it as a reason for dropping my longstanding and well-read column. But I was fascinated by the subject and persisted.

Now, twenty years later, 60 Minutes comes along with an extensively reported piece that says my earliest reports basically had it right, as did those of Wired writer Charles Platt, who was virtually the only other "mainstream" journalist to continue to follow the story after the initial interest died down.

You'd think I'd be breaking out the champagne. But instead I keep thinking about my old source, Dr. Eugene Mallove, who kept this story alive when others wanted to kill it only to himself die under mysterious circumstances. What a pity Gene did not live to see this day.

The 60 Minutes report concludes with a heart-breaking interview with Dr. Martin Flieschmann, one of the two scientists, along with Stanley Pons, whose work on cold fusion in 1989 sparked the controversy that destroyed their careers. The 60 Minutes reporter asks Flieschmann how he felt knowing that there have now been many successful subsequent peer-reviewed replications of his work, including most recently by the U.S. Department of Defense, scientists in Israel and an independent verification obtained by CBS. But Flieschmann could only muster a weak smile and sad laugh, focusing instead on the lost opportunity of the last twenty years. Indeed.

Personally, I never understood why there was such a rush to shut down the research. And I still don't. Even if the cold fusion claims don't pan out, wouldn't it be a good idea to spend more money on basic research in the field of materials sciences, including to further investigate this reported phenomena, when materials sciences are so essential to the development of a variety of alternative energy technologies?

April 08, 2009

PBS Trade Journal CURRENT Features Story on ReelChanges.org

Special thanks to CURRENT reporter Karen Everhart for her very nice write up about ReelChanges.org in the PBS trade journal's most recent issue. Karen captured both the factual details about what we are doing and the context within the world of public broadcasting, where the public is usually not invited to participate in content creation decisions.

Excerpt:

"Reelchanges.org, a showcase created to raise production money online for filmmakers' works in progress, has teamed up with Maryland Public Television (MPT) to test whether "crowdfunding" will work for public TV documentaries.


With help from a Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant, MPT has fine-tuned its pitch for donations backing its documentary Intrepid Journal: From WWII to 9-11, about the not-so-smooth sailing of a World War II aircraft carrier that recently underwent a major restoration as a naval museum docked in Manhattan.

Two additional MPT productions -- on Chesapeake Bay water quality and on the military service of African-Americans -- also will be featured on the site in a tryout backed last year with a $45,000 grant from CPB's Public Media Innovation Fund.

Working on the project with MPT are consultant Jim Russell, longtime top producer of public radio's Marketplace, and the radio program's original editor, Hal Plotkin, who founded ReelChanges.org last year."

You can read the rest here.

April 01, 2009

Undersecretary of Education Dr. Martha Kanter!

President Obama's decision to name Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Dr. Martha Kanter to be the next Undersecretary of Education will change the course of history. Dr. Kanter's appointment was announced this morning by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and confirmed this afternoon by the White House. This may be President Obama's most significant nomination. I know Dr. Kanter well. I am deeply proud to call her my friend. She will make a truly outstanding Undersecretary, one who will make an enormous difference to students, families and to our country by making higher education more accessible to people from all walks of life than it has ever been before. That has been her life's work. She knows exactly what needs to be done to create new opportunities for millions -- and soon she will have the tools and the resources to make it happen at the national level.

I've had the privilege and honor of working closely with her for the last six years as a member of her Board of Trustees, as her board president and also as her partner in our work to advance the cause of Open Education Resources.

I spent more than two decades, before I joined the FHDA board, writing about entrepreneurial leaders for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. In that capacity, I met, interviewed, and profiled the leadership teams at practically every major firm in Silicon Valley, from Cisco to Yahoo! I studied hundreds of CEOs and wrote extensively about their philosophies and abilities. Here is my conclusion: Dr. Kanter is the single most effective organizational leader I have ever encountered. She has a uniquely effective leadership style. One example: I don't think I have ever seen her tell anyone what to do. At least not that I can recall. Instead, she often leads by asking questions. And typically, what emerges as those questions are answered is a collaborative team effort that is far more effective than any top-down leader could ever manage. It is really something to behold and from her I have learned much. Her team always knows not only what they are doing, but why. Her style also helps attract the very best team members, people who have helped our efforts at Foothill-De Anza primarily because they simply want to work with her. I've also marveled at her ability to handle tough situations, to stand her ground when the cause requires it, no matter the pressure, and her ability to find ways to win, on behalf of the students she fights for, that routinely turn opponents into supporters.

I salute President Obama and Secretary Duncan for this outstanding decision and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I am certain that history will record this appointment as a defining moment for their administration. And like everyone who knows Dr. Kanter well, I will do everything in my power to help.

Here is a copy of the poem by Langston Hughes that I sent Martha when she called me last night to tell me the announcement would be made today:

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes


Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Go Martha, go!