Archive for May 2009

The Obama Portrait

May 17, 2009

Three of us from the School of Communications joined the Elon alumni group in Washington, D.C., on a tour of the National Portrait Gallery a few days ago.

We saw portraits of Pocahontas, Benjamin Franklin and George W. Bush. The most intriguing for me was a portrait of Barack Obama that is at the heart of an ongoing copyright case.

January 2009 unveiling; photo from the National Portrait Gallery blog

January 2009 unveiling; photo from the National Portrait Gallery web site

Shepard Fairey is the artist behind the Obama portrait. The graphic designer from Los Angeles put a downloadable version of the image on the Web, and the image spread virally to car bumpers, yard signs and T-shirts. The portrait became the most recognizable icon of the campaign.

The Associated Press sued Fairey for copyright infringement. Fairey acknowledges that the portrait is based on an AP photo, but contends that his transformative use of the image is protected under the concept of fair use. Fairey has since countersued the AP to seek a declaration that the portrait is a transformative work protected by fair use.

Decide for yourself by comparing the AP photo and portrait at the end of this AP story:

As for me, I consider the portrait a transformative work that falls under the fair use provision, and it was fascinating to see the original artwork at the center of the copyright storm.


The Information Imperative

May 15, 2009
Free Press Summit

"Changing Media" summit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Here’s a thought-provoking idea: Just as our nation aggressively ensured the flow of electricity across the land in the 20th century, we similarly need to ensure the flow of information across the land in the 21st century.

Speakers at this week’s “Changing Media” summit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., say this will require a national broadband policy. (In simplest terms, broadband refers to high-speed internet access.)

Derek Turner, research director for the media reform group Free Press, said 40% of American homes do not have an internet connection or have slow dial-up technology, placing them at a disadvantage in the Information Age. Most of the disadvantaged are the poor and the rural, just as these were the last to get electricity decades ago.

His colleague, policy director Ben Scott, observed that the internet today is         “a fantastic publishing and postal system” reminiscent of colonial times when newspapers became publishers of information and the Post Office became distributors of information. Today, the internet serves both roles with lightning speed. But those who are poor or live in rural areas are unable to access this “fantastic publishing and postal system.”

If we believe that a free flow of information is a bedrock principle of a functioning democracy, then we have a lot of Americans being left out of the national knowledge base and conversation. A national broadband policy would serve the public interest by ensuring that all Americans have the informational equivalent of electricity.

I hear about the problem in a personal dimension when I go home each day. My wife is a fourth-grade teacher in the public schools. She wants to give assignments to her students that require them to conduct research online, whether it’s about state parks or U.S. presidents. Alas, many of her students don’t have internet access in their homes. Think of the disadvantage this places those children.

We heard from the current chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Michael Copps, who told the summit: “We are depriving the public of the depth and breadth of information that a democracy needs.”

‘Interview With God’ Video

May 12, 2009

This is the story of an inspirational video that has an internet marketing plug embedded into the upload.

Many of us have friends and family members who email humorous stories or video links. I open some; I delete some. The other day, a friend sent one titled “The Interview With God Video,” and I opened it. It’s a beautiful video with high-definition images of nature. The text is based on a poem by Romanian writer Octavian Paler, who died in 2007. The soundtrack is soothingly repetitive, and I now can’t get it out of my head.


I recommend seeing the four-minute video.         Here is part of the Web site banner and the link:

When you click “view presentation,” the video loads onto a pop-up page. Enjoy.

As a blogger, I noticed that the video’s sponsor — — freely offers the video for uploading. But the code provides more than the video. It also contains this message for viewers: “learn how to make money online.  Visit this Internet Marketing Business site today.”

That made me curious. I learned that Gregory Writer is the CEO of and that a young entrepreneur named Joshua Writer is behind iMarketingGlobal, the embedded link where people learn how to convert Web site visitors into paid customers. Their respective blogs suggest father and son.

While I still enjoy the video, it’s clear that its purpose is not wholly altruistic. Its creators hope the Interview With God video will go viral and eventually lead to internet marketing customers for themselves.

Hot Dogs

May 8, 2009

Students and faculty in the School of Communications squared off today in a hot-dog eating competition. The faculty won.

The fund-raiser for our student chapter of PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) featured three students against professors Kenn Gaither, Anthony Hatcher and Glenn Scott. Kenn downed his three hot dogs with pasty-white buns about 15 seconds before his student competitor. Anthony maintained the lead in his hot-dog showdown, and Glenn brought the victory home by finishing off a pint of brain-freeze vanilla ice cream before the competing student could.

Watching this competition remained me of a faculty spelling bee organized by communications students at the University of Tennessee when I taught there long ago. My media writing students had signed me up.

Imagine my chagrin when I faltered in the first round!  The word was “controversy.” I had spelled the word correctly hundreds of times in my career with UPI and The Associated Press. But in front of 100 boisterous students, I proceeded to spell “c-o-n-t-r-a…”  I immediately knew I had goofed. The Nicaraguan Contras (an anti-government rebel group) were a news story at the time, and I guess I had a brain-freeze of my own. In spelling bees, you can’t take back a letter once you’ve said it. So I finished off the word “v-e-r-s-y” already knowing that I had blown it.

There was no hot-dogging by me that day. But I enjoyed watching our faculty do high-fives and some hot-dogging today following their victory. I’m glad our students and faculty have a close relationship at Elon.