As we all know, newspapers are in dire financial straits. The reason generally given is “People get their news online these days,” but I think the larger reason is that many simply aren’t so interested in the news as people used to be. There are in turn lots of reasons for that, but to return to the central point, the newspapers are in trouble.
That, unfortunately, will ultimately lead to distortions in the presentation of the news, so that those of us who do follow the news will be badly misled. Yes, that was always true to some extent, but like a lot of things these days, technology makes everything writ large.
An apparent case in point is the announcement today that the San Francisco Chronicle has plans to “crowd fund/crowdsource” a news project on the H-1B work visa, with a private firm, Beacon Reader, administering the effort. Though the two companies promise “journalistic integrity,” I don’t think it can be avoided that the outcome will mainly be on the pro-H-1B side. The most critics of H-1B can hope for is coverage that boils down to “The Intels use H-1B responsibly, with the main abusers being the Infosyses.” As any careful reader of this blog knows, I consider that view to be both highly inaccurate and legislatively disastrous, actually worse than having nothing at all negative about H-1B.
I’ve mentioned recently that after the recent court decision vacating the DHS expansion of the Optional Practical Training program for foreign students, a White House petition was immediately started by H-1Bs, F-1s, employers, immigration lawyers, university administrators and others with vested interests in foreign tech worker programs, protesting the court’s action. With lightning speed, organizers of the petition had no trouble reaching the 100,000-signature mark needed for White House action. The Chronicle will find that it is inundated by the same vested interests, offering both funding and volunteers for the multimedia stories the newspaper is seeking. Hopefully some American programmers and engineers will respond as well, but there will be the usual problems — there is no one to organize them, they are the reticent types who don’t want to get involved, etc.
All this will occur in spite of the fact that the Chronicle is NOT particularly pro-H-1B. SF is a union town, after all, with quite a pro-labor history. The Chron ran a number of balanced, informative articles back when Carrie Kirby worked for them, and there have been some good ones by Carolyn Lockhead, Joe Garofoli and Carla Marinucci. The paper once even wrote a rather strongly-worded editorial criticizing the tech industry’s stance on the visa program. Don’t mistake this publication for the San Jose Mercury News.
But the enormous PR campaign by the tech industry over the years, implanting in the American consciousness the notions that “Johnnie Can’t Do Math” and that we have a STEM labor shortage, cannot but have an impact, even on a supposedly skeptical press. And since the narrative of the last few years — pushed by both the industry PR people and some critics of H-1B alike — has been “Intel si!, Infosys no!”, I think that will be the likely outcome here.
Hopefully it will not be as bad as the incident I reported on a few years ago, in which the deep pockets pro-H-1B side actually funded a major article in the Washington Monthly. The Chronicle project will in the end contain some worthwhile kernels here and there. But the overall message will be wrong.