The Next Big Media Idea Is Small

23 October 2014

Why We Need a New York Times In Every State


We are in the midst of a journalism revival. Startups like Business Insider, Vox, Vice and FiveThirtyEight are reimagining not just newsgathering, but how to tell stories. “Old Media,” that at first struggled to adapt to the Internet age, now are boldly launching projects that seek both to satisfy their existing audiences and find new ones.

We are, at the same time, in the midst of an equally important, but less noticed, journalism disaster – the hemorrhaging of jobs at local newspapers. That trend is threatening the extinction of local journalism, which is essential to American democracy. Good local journalism not only helps voters understand issues and hold elected officials accountable, it also gives policymakers a window into whether their ideas are working.

But the important stories that local journalists cover might not appeal to a New York Times reporter, who is writing for a national or international audience. And the deep-pocketed individuals and companies who pay to advertise and fund some media outlets today may not care, for example, about stories that only impact a small audience. When local journalists leave – they disconnect residents in small towns and cities from news that’s critical to their lives.

Related: What will the future of journalism look like?

How did we get here? The short answer is that the increasing availability of free, digital journalism has propelled journalism organizations towards two new business models, and endangered local policy journalism in the process. One model involves  trying to build a huge audience of readers both in the United States and internationally who consume news for free, with advertisers essentially funding the journalism so they can reach the millions of people who these mega-sites. This is the model of Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post. The other emerging model aims to build a niche readership that pays for the content itself because it values that information. Bloomberg News has pioneered this approach in financial journalism tailored to people who work in the financial sector. Politico has followed,  developing a set of products targeted at lobbyists and other people who are dependent on their news about Washington policy-making.

The irony is that while the army of journalists in Washington is on the rise, law-making there has essentially ground to a halt.

These models don’t work, though, for local journalism – where it can be tough to build a large audience around a story that affects only a few thousand residents. Local journalists are being replaced by a handful of reporters covering a select few stories, emanating from Washington, New York or a foreign hot zone.

The irony is that while the army of journalists is in Washington is on the rise, law-making there has essentially ground to a halt. States and localities are where much of the actual governing is happening, but that news is covered by overwhelmed reporters at increasingly short-staffed local papers.

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act has provided an excellent illustration of this phenomenon. The ACA is really 50 stories. The law essentially creates a separate health care market in each state. Prices for insurance are set at the county level, and many key ACA policies (like Medicaid eligibility rules) are determined by state governments. State decisions about whether to expand Medicaid add further complexity.

State legislators, governors, voters and even insurers can only understand these choices if there is effective local coverage. In many states, there has been almost no coverage that assessed ACA implementation at a local level, instead relying on wire stories that repeated familiar themes like President Obama praising the law or Republicans criticizing it. Much of the local coverage was focused on the political impact of the law, which is both easier to cover and generates more controversy.

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The ACA coverage is simply one anecdote in a much deeper, dangerous trend: the lack of deep, policy-oriented journalism at the local level. (There was another example this week of what can happen with insufficient local reporting – new laws in several states that allow lenders to jack up the interest rates on personal loans for borrowers with bad credit).  I don’t mean to glorify the old days of pre-Internet journalism. The media of the past often suffered from insularity and a lack of diversity in both its subjects and its creators. And I don’t mean to suggest local newspapers are not doing their job. Many of them are doing tremendous work. Newspaper journalists in New Jersey, including the aforementioned Star-Ledger, led the coverage of the controversial bridge closing that has been connected to Gov. Chris Christie’s administration.

But local papers are being cut to the bone, and the vast majority of digital outlets, outside of national publications like Buzzfeed, employ fewer than a dozen staffers.

The venture capitalists funding new media and hoping for profits aren’t going to fix this problem. It’s not an accident most of the new web outlets are more interesting in opening bureaus in London than in Charlotte or Chicago, never mind Raleigh or Springfield.

But the news happening in state capitols or city halls hasn’t gotten less important or less interesting. That’s why I’m calling on people to invest in local reporting in a deep and fundamental way. The model must be more like NPR, which isn’t expected to make a large profit and is reliant on donations from individuals and foundations. Every state in the country should have a journalism entity that is fully staffed to cover not just big news like earthquakes or elections, but the institutions, businesses, churches and schools that are the major influencers in its smaller communities.

Effective media isn’t just part of the solution to solving some of our public policy challenges; it is often the first step to addressing any problem.

Ideally, there would be a New York Times for every state. Not literally, of course– there’s no reason to start delivering a paper to people’s homes in 2014 in an increasingly wired world. Think about it more in an institutional sense. States need outlets that are staffed up enough to both uncover new stories, and that have the credibility to determine which of the millions of news items that pop up through social media are truly stories the rest of us should care about. They need outlets that can serve not only as sources for breaking news, but also as platforms for local conversations and debates.

This will not be a profit-making enterprise in most states. There simply may not be the subscriber base for an in-depth paper in every state. And creating a Bloomberg-style operation, while though it would likely be profitable, in most states would might skew to news covering major corporations and wealthy individuals.

But the journalism need still exists. And this is not a pipe dream. An innovative project called the Texas Tribune already created this kind of public policy news institution in Austin – and could provide a model for other states. As an outlet that gets its revenue from foundations, individuals and from events it hosts, the Texas Tribune not a traditional newspaper. It has no sports or weather sections, or even a print product. But it is a reliable and award-winning guide to policy and political debates in Texas respected by members of both parties.

Creating these new institutions should be an important goal for foundations, individuals and perhaps even governments. Effective media isn’t just part of the solution to solving some of our public policy challenges; it is often the first step to addressing any problem. People aren’t eager to spend their time or money on a problem that they don’t know exists. They rely on journalists to provide that information, to help illuminate what’s important now. The growth of new media that allows you to choose your own news is exciting. But it’s not an accident that your Twitter or Facebook feed is often full of stories from reliable news organizations like NPR or the Times. People crave news from credible institutions. We need to find a way to build more of them – everywhere.

About the Author

Perry Bacon, Jr.
As a fellow with New America, Perry Bacon, Jr. will explore the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the American South.

The Money Midterms


At least since the first “billion-dollar election,” in 1996, money in politics has seemed like  one of those perpetual problems that we wring our hands about but never fix. The numbers are always shocking, and the solutions always inadequate to the challenge.

But  skyrocketing numbers are only part of the story.  We often focus on how money affects elections – and it does. But it’s also true that elections affect the role of money and the influence it creates. The rise of intense partisanship, for example, with few independents and swing voters, changes the way money is used – encouraging mobilization of the base rather than persuasion — and thus the types of organizations that can influence elections. This, in turn, should change the way we define the problem of economic inequality reinforcing political inequality, and how we think about solutions.

This otherwise lackluster  election might change the role of money in three important ways:

1.    Regulated, disclosed “hard money” contributions might soon become irrelevant.

Sometimes just doing nothing results in major changes to the law. For example, over the course of the last decade, the system of public financing for presidential elections was effectively repealed, after candidates first began opting out of public financing in the primaries (which involved complex and obsolete limits on spending). In 2012, and then in 2012, both major party candidates chose to forsake public money in the general election, spending more than $1 billion each. But until recently, most political spending still came through the regulated system of campaign and party committees, political action committees and SuperPACs, that disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission and adhere to contribution limits.  While the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC earlier this year received outsized attention because it effectively raised those “hard money” limits to the point where a single donor could give more than $3.5 million in one election cycle, more and more big donors have been recruited to support political committees that don’t disclose their donors at all, and aren’t bound by any limits as long as they don’t coordinate with candidates.

As of Oct. 8, with a month left before the election, groups that don’t disclose their donors had spent more than $100 million on congressional campaigns, much more than they had spent on congressional fights in all of the 2012 campaign cycle. In some of the tightest races, candidates have received more support from the combination of non-disclosing non-profits and candidate-specific SuperPACs (which can accept unlimited donations but are required to disclose their donors) than through their own hard-money campaign committees.

Why do political campaigns cost so much? The answer, for many years, has been that the high and rising cost of television (and, to a lesser extent, radio) advertising drives up costs.

The spending we know about from these non-disclosing non-profits includes only broadcast advertising, reported by the stations, and only ads with specific calls to vote for or against a candidate. But much of the groups’ money is spent on ads focusing mainly on issues. In this highly polarized environment, issue ads don’t need to mention a candidate to get their point across. Groups such as those funded by the Koch Brothers ran ads that highlighted citizens who said they had been harmed by “Obamacare.” Some of them mentioned a candidate briefly, many didn’t. It doesn’t much matter: “Obamacare” is an intense partisan signifier. So is “minimum wage” for Democrats.

These  non-disclosing organizations are proliferating so rapidly, and the innovations so clever, that this may be the last campaign where the traditional, regulated system really matters. Future reforms will have to deal with these changes, some of which cannot easily be reined in without infringing on core First Amendment rights.

While this change is frightening, the second and third possible changes to the role of money in politics hold some promise.

More: What campaign finance will look like after the McCutcheon decision. 

2.  Broadcast television advertising might no longer drive campaign costs.

Why do political campaigns cost so much? The answer, for many years, has been that the high and rising cost of television (and, to a lesser extent, radio) advertising drives up costs. But it’s a necessary evil, because T.V. and radio ads are often the most reliable way to reach most voters, especially swing voters who don’t seek out information about candidates. In the late 1990s and 2000s, there was a small movement to require broadcasters to provide a certain amount of free time to candidates, to offset this cost and ensure balanced access to voters.

But all that might be changing. In Providence, Rhode Island, a city of 177,000, a candidate for mayor this year won the Democratic primary, and thus election, without running a single television advertisement. As political scientist David Karpf told, “Even though it is very expensive to put TV ads on the air, nobody has wanted to be the first campaign to take the leap and say we just won’t do it, yet here we have a campaign that did just that and won.” Of course, campaign professionals have a strong incentive to keep alive the idea that only broadcast ads reach voters – they collect a 15 percent commission on ads, making them the best-paid participants in the electoral process. National campaigns, including Obama’s and Romney’s, cut down on those commissions, but the SuperPACs and “dark money” groups, often organized by those same consultants, still pay them.

What was once an elite, bipartisan cause with little grassroots energy is now a grassroots cause, but one drawing almost all of its energy from a one-sided source.

Regulating the influence of money in a world where broadcast television matters much less than it once did calls for a more creative set of solutions – like focusing more on online advertising, for instance. So much is still being spent on television that this can’t be called the first election of the post-television-ad era. But it may be the last of the television era.

Watch: The future of campaign finance. 

3.    This might be the year that campaign finance itself becomes a viable political issue.

“No one in the history of American politics has ever won or lost a campaign on the subject of campaign finance reform,” a Senator once reassured his colleagues. When Congress has acted on money in politics, it has usually been because of elite, bipartisan consensus, prodded by media, but not mass political engagement by ordinary people. The result has inevitably been narrow, technocratic reforms that didn’t reach the deeper inequalities of opportunity in the political process. And in a sharply divided legislative climate, even incremental reforms that until recently seemed to have consensus support, such as the DISCLOSE Act, have crashed on the shoals of partisanship.

The good news is that there’s more public engagement and, frankly, anger about money in politics than ever before. And we saw some of it in the election: all the Democratic senators running for reelection, and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, focused on reform in their fundraising emails and messages this year. They used a proposed constitutional amendment that would reverse Citizens United to raise record amounts of money. Lawrence Lessig’s Mayday PAC raised $7.6 million on the promise to support candidates who supported reforms, joining efforts such as the newly merged Every Voice political committee. And the senator who told his colleagues that voters don’t care about campaign finance reform, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is facing the toughest challenge of his career.

But note what all of these have in common: with a couple of exceptions, they involve Democrats. What was once an elite, bipartisan cause with little grassroots energy is now a grassroots cause, but one drawing almost all of its energy from a one-sided source.  To broaden support for an issue, a political committee like Lessig’s Mayday needs to be able to leverage both parties. But when Mayday supported Tea Party candidates in New Hampshire, it faced significant backlash from the left. And ironically,the use of this grassroots passion for fundraising meant that it didn’t carry over into the development of a more robust movement for realistic reforms.

And yet, for the first time in decades, there is evidence that a substantial number of citizens, too many to ignore, understand and care about the distortion of democracy by money. When citizens across the political spectrum are fully engaged in the issue, there will be an opportunity to move from a bipartisan, elite cause to a grassroots cause that transcends party and ideology.

About the Author

Mark Schmitt
Mark Schmitt is director of the program on political reform at the New America Foundation. A prominent writer on politics and public policy, with experience in government, philanthropy and journalism, Schmitt is also a columnist for The New Republic and a leading voice on political reform, budget and tax policy, and social policy.

History is Happening Now


New America President Anne-Marie Slaughter and guests explore the ideas and policy challenges that not only dominate today’s headlines, but will shape our future. Subscribe to the Weekly Wonk Podcast in iTunes.

In this episode, Slaughter talks with historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, about why the story of police violence against people of color seems to be repeating itself from Rodney King to Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown.

If Norwegian Women Can’t Have It All, Can Anyone?


From the outside, life for a woman in Norway seems nearly perfect. According to UN Reports, Norwegian women enjoy the best standard of living in the world, with free education, one year of paid maternity leave, paternity leave, state-funded nurseries for all families, and affordable child care.

But all that perfection hasn’t managed to dissolve a sticky cultural roadblock that derails women around the world. You see, even with a plethora of policies aimed at supporting women and families at home and work, Norwegian women only make up three percent of top business leaders.  Why? They’re facing a different kind of glass ceiling that may sound familiar: too many women are striving for perfection instead of success, and think the former is required to climb business ranks. In order to multiply numbers of women business leaders in Norway—and everywhere else—we have to break the cycle of believing that a lack of failure is the same thing as success. When we strip away the shiny public policies, and withdraw the time it takes to change a male dominated business culture and traditional family patterns (because that takes decades…) we’re left with perfectionism – and our narrow and unhealthy definition of what makes a successful life. That’s what’s holding many women back.

This obsession with perfection (just have a look at your latest glossy magazine or a TV ad portraying a successful businesswoman juggling children, homes, fashion and friendship…) is partly why so many women’s leadership trajectories stop at middle management – their aspirations crashing into the “glass ceiling.”  Coined by two Hewlett-Packard staff members, Katherine Lawrence and Marianne Schreiber, the “glass ceiling” is commonly defined as the barrier between middle management and top management positions, and is shorthand for what’s arguably the most difficult period for any leader. Middle management is a time of extensive staffing and budgetary responsibilities, limited freedom to make your own choices and few opportunities for relief or assistance. It also tends to coincide with the phase of life where you want to have children, or child number two, and build a home and family. One of the most instructive – and stressful – periods in a managerial career, this phase helps you move towards the next step.

In other words, if you don’t take care of yourself, set your own standards, decide when enough is enough, learn to balance and rest, you’ll have limited success.

If only you never fail, and at the same time create a perfect home and family life, right? Wrong. Attempting a perfect performance as a middle manager won’t guarantee success, because it assumes that any failure is a barrier to career ascension. It may, however, guarantee insanity. This is the key element of the glass ceiling for women in Norway – and yet, women around the world face more than one “ceiling.” One is the ceiling they often create for themselves – interpreting imperfections as disqualifications for leadership positions – and the other is one that’s built with poor work-family policies, or lack thereof.

Here’s the truth: If you sign up for a leadership position, and remember, this is a personal decision – you are guaranteed to meet defeat and opposition on your journey. Encouraging women to understand that is key to filling the ranks of top spots:  That takes the focus off of failure and success and shifts it instead to thinking about making an impact in a position.

A lot of women in Norway – and around the world – get that. But not nearly enough of them. As the CEO of Innovation Norway, the Norwegian government’s instrument for the development of new industry and enterprise, I can tell you that being a CEO is understandably not for everyone, man or woman. And that’s ok as long as it’s your own decision. Enduring long hours, setting strict priorities, and focusing on making a difference, rather than obsessing over perceived missteps, is a daily challenge.

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It’s also hugely risky. For example, there are almost as many women as men in employment in Norway. But we still we have a relatively segregated job market gender-wise: 70 percent of the start-ups in Norway are run by men, for example. The fact that 48 percent of women and only 19 percent of men work in the public sector might also indicate that women are more prone to choose job security over the private sector, which is vulnerable to downscaling, cost-cuts and competition. It is also a challenge that 34 percent of the female workforce work part-time. We cannot escape the fact that Norwegians still have traditional family patterns where many women still run most of the household and family matters. They work the so-called “ second shift.” Our much-lauded flexible workplace policies are not yielding similar numbers for the men. While most male entrepreneurs are encouraged to aim for growth and take risks, most female entrepreneurs are happy to make a living. Women, in other words, are shying away from failure – and drifting towards fields where they can achieve that ever-elusive quality of perfection. That’s hurting all of us. We lose great potential if the reason they don’t do it is because they don’t dare to fail.

As New America President Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in 2012, “women still can’t have it all.” My question is: who decides women can’t have it all and what does “all” even mean? I don’t know if I “have it all,” but I have a lot. I certainly have more than enough. I’m healthy, I have three daughters, a husband with a career, I write blogs and published a book this year. When people ask me how I do it, I tell them my secret: I decide what “good enough” means for me.

More: Where are all the women peacekeepers?

That’s something I learned from my father’s favorite expression, “It’s good enough for the bastards.” He encouraged me to determine what “ good enough” meant for me. In other words, if you don’t take care of yourself, set your own standards, decide when enough is enough, learn to balance and rest, you’ll have limited success. I learned from him that life was not about striving for perfection.

I’ve chosen to combine family and career, and refuse to be burdened by the guilt of not being good enough in either of those roles. I am not perfect. I’m far from it. I make mistakes at work. I don’t exercise. I don’t have a perfect home. My three daughters are independent and make their own choices. There is a lot I choose not to do. Not to control. But we manage our lives well, and that is more than good enough for me. In a way, maybe you could even say that for me, it’s perfect.

About the Author

Anita Krohn Traaseth
Anita Krohn Traaseth is the CEO of Innovation Norway and former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Norway.  She is a socially engaged business leader, blogger and author of the book Good Enough For The Bastards - a manager's thoughts about courage, vulnerability and credibility. She has received several awards, including Best Female Leader in the IT Industry by Od@-nettverket, a talent development forum.

What is in Resistance?

By E.K.

Editor’s Note: The author is a Beirut-based journalist who, due to security concerns, prefers to be identified with initials.

The people, the army, the Resistance. Lebanon’s longstanding formula, where “resistance” is a euphemism for the Shiite political party and militia Hezbollah, has become a national mantra repeated often in recent years.  This so-called golden equation, however, is being reevaluated as Hezbollah has redefined its resistance operations in a way that could further destabilize Lebanon.

What is Hezbollah up to, and has it miscalculated the delicate calculus of Lebanese politics?

For years Hezbollah has been Lebanon’s de facto military adjunct responsible for operations against Israel, and for years many Lebanese have supported the group’s efforts to, in its words, “liberate” three disputed areas along the country’s southern border currently held by Israel: the Shebaa farms, the hills surrounding the town of Kfarshouba, and half of the Ghajar village.

More: We asked 6 experts, “How can the U.S. defeat ISIS?”

Hezbollah gained broad, though certainly not unanimous, support by framing itself as a patriotically motivated guerilla force equipped and determined to reclaim these areas and to prevent Israeli aggression in Lebanon.

In 2008, two years after a bloody summer war between Hezbollah and Israel, the country’s Sunni-led unity government officially mentioned “the people, army, resistance” equation in a ministerial statement, thus lending further legitimacy to the group’s operations.

While it may seem unfathomable that a government would allow a paramilitary force to operate openly within its borders, Lebanon and Israel are still technically at war. Israel occupied a large swath of South Lebanon until 2000, a full ten years after the country’s bloody civil war ended. Hezbollah, which engaged in repeated guerilla attacks against Israeli positions in South Lebanon during the occupation, is credited with forcing Israel’s withdrawal. Needless to say, there is no love lost between the two countries.

The sectarian tinge to Hezbollah’s new operations has increased tensions in Lebanon and intensified confessional rifts.

But since Hezbollah publicly announced that it was sending fighters to Syria to shore up the forces of Bashar al-Assad in May 2013, Hezbollah has drastically revised its narrative. Hezbollah now claims that resistance is necessary not only against Israel but against radical Sunni groups like ISIS and the Nusra Front.

While the majority of Lebanese Sunnis do not profess any particular sympathy for either ISIS or Nusra, many are supportive of the Syrian opposition which has been led by the country’s Sunni majority.

The sectarian tinge to Hezbollah’s new operations has increased tensions in Lebanon and intensified confessional rifts.

Hezbollah claims that if it had not sent troops into Syria, particularly in areas along Lebanon’s borders, fundamentalist groups would have swept through Syria and Eastern Lebanon, arriving at Beirut’s doorstep.

More: Syrian women know how to defeat ISIL.

In August, militants affiliated with ISIS and the Nusra Front clashed with Lebanese security forces in the North Eastern town of Arsal. When the dust settled after five days of fighting, the groups had taken more than twenty Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage.

The key condition of the captives release, the groups say, is Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria.

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Sunni politicians blamed the Arsal Fiasco on Hezbollah, saying the group’s involvement in Syria had drawn Lebanon into a broader regional conflict. Hezbollah sympathizers have suggested that presence of ISIS in Lebanon proves that the group is fighting religious extremists who use dirty tactics to achieve their ends.

The situation was further complicated earlier this month when Nusra Front militants attacked several Hezbollah outposts in Eastern Lebanon, killing at least ten of the group’s fighters. While such clashes occur frequently on the Syrian side of the border, it was the first time Hezbollah and Nusra had exchanged blows on Lebanese soil, adding an unnerving new dimension to the country’s already precarious security situation. The Lebanese army did not intervene in the conflict.

Nasrallah, who is rarely seen in public, travelled to the Eastern border twice last week to boost morale among the troops. “I assure you that our we are still very strong; our preparations are highly advanced and our plans are well schemed,” he said.

Two days after the battle, an explosive device was detonated in the Shebaa farms area, injuring two Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attack, the first time it has done so since the 2006 war.

“This is a message,” said Hezbollah’s second-in command Naim Qassem said after the attack. “Even though we are busy in Syria and on the eastern front in Lebanon our eyes remain open and our resistance is ready to confront the Israeli enemy.”

One thing is certain: not everyone is buying Hezbollah’s editorialized definition of “resistance.”

So what’s next? Renewed hostilities on the Israeli front? A full-scale war against Sunni extremists in Eastern Lebanon? No one knows.

One thing is certain: not everyone is buying Hezbollah’s editorialized definition of “resistance.”

Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouk launched a tirade against “partisan immunity” in the country this week, a thinly veiled critique at the fact that Hezbollah fights openly in Syria while those affiliated with the opposition groups are arrested by Lebanese security forces. He then accused an unnamed security institution, most likely Military Intelligence, of harboring a pro-Hezbollah bias.

A Lebanese soldier defected earlier this month and joined the Nusra Front saying that the army had become a “tool of Hezbollah” to oppress Sunnis.

It’s still unclear whether Hezbollah’s editorialized definition of resistance will drag Lebanon back into civil war. Regardless, it is clear that the group’s expanded military operations are not furthering much needed national unity.

Defining Cyber Warfare




Imagine that China launches a cyber attack on the United States tomorrow. It devastates systems, crippling the financial sector or causing loss of life. But does it merit a military response? The answer to that big question also informs a much larger, looming debate: As it becomes increasingly clear that few cyber attacks can be defined as acts of war, what should the role of institutions such as NATO be? And in this new world, how do we define what is war – and what is not?

The topic was discussed at September’s NATO Summit in Wales. Attending heads of state agreed that cyber attacks can reach a threshold that not only threatens Transatlantic prosperity and security, but could even be “as harmful to modern societies as a conventional attack” and thus merit an invocation of Article 5, the collective defense clause. Treading carefully, though, they refrained from defining which cyber attacks cross this threshold.

This is an important declaration and the culmination of a seven-year internal debate that stems from Distributed Denial of Service attacks pointed at Estonia in April 2007. But the emerging policy still begs questions, about NATO’s response to cyber attacks in particular, but more broadly about the general function of the Alliance.

On April 27, 2007, Estonia, a NATO member, relocated a Soviet-era war memorial. Within hours, a large-scale DDoS campaign began, targeting the websites of government departments, banks, telecoms, and news organizations. Some sites were shut down entirely, while others were defaced.The attacks rendered a number of Estonian government sites inaccessible for weeks and generally disrupted communication in the country.

It is useful to consider three dimensions: confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data.

The attack on Estonia illuminated the vulnerability of NATO members in cyberspace and placed the enhancement of cyber capabilities near the top of the Alliance agenda. In June 2007, NATO defense ministers committed to take up the issue, and in 2008, the Alliance opened the Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence in the Estonian capital, Tallinn.

The latest Alliance statement, however, does little to clarify NATO’s role. At its core, Article 5 is a reactionary clause. Its only invocation in the 65-year history of the Alliance came in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And as the summit declaration states, a certain threshold must be met to consider invoking Article 5.


But how do we define thresholds in cyberspace? It is useful to consider three dimensions: confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. A few key cases help unpack these concepts.

Confidentiality is the principle that sensitive data should be kept out of the wrong hands, and breaches of confidentiality are perhaps the most common form of cyber attack. Take the widespread accusations that the Chinese hacked Lockheed systems and stole blueprints for the new F-35 aircraft. This attack produced a tangible strategic loss for the United States – and for allies who buy the F-35. It provided the Chinese with not only the information to build a competitor aircraft, but also information to help defend against such an aircraft. Chinese responsibility for the incursion is widely acknowledged. The response? The Department of Justice indicted the hacker in question. For better or worse, confidentiality breaches have been treated as crimes.

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The second principle, availability, is just what the word says: The concept that data must be available to users. The DDoS campaign against Estonia is a prime example of an attack that compromises availability. The attack crippled Estonia’s servers and routers, temporarily disconnecting the country from the Internet. Estonia responded by blocking global access to websites hosted in Estonia, blocking all Internet traffic originating in Russia, and requesting support from its NATO allies. NATO quickly dispatched a group of experts akin to a forensics team, but no counter attack, physical or cyber, took place.

So why didn’t these two cyber events trigger a visible military response from NATO or NATO members? There are a number of factors in play. At a fundamental level we can look at the actors involved and the losses incurred. Russia and China are both emerging global powers with formidable cyber and physical force, and the cost of expanding ongoing political conflicts to the military level is simply too high. But the rationale extends further. Though some may disagree, these attacks alone do not constitute acts of war. They qualify as espionage, sabotage, and crime – they affect data confidentiality and availability, but not our third key principle: integrity.

An event that meets the NATO threshold must affect a state in the way a conventional attack would. This is where the concept of data integrity is important. Data can be manipulated; integrity is the concept that data remains valid, or unchanged. We can conceive of a cyber weapon that infects an industrial control system, alters the data that governs the system, and causes a leak at a chemical plant or shuts down an electrical grid. The Stuxnet virus, which the United States and Israel reportedly deployed to sabotage an Iranian nuclear facility, is an example of a capability to infect and manipulate data on an industrial control system. However, the attack sought only to damage a facility’s capacity, not to induce human casualties. A sophisticated malware could conceivably be deployed in the future in a densely populated area where it threatens human life and not just that of an industrial system.

The source of such an attack would have to be an international actor that does not adhere to just war.

But what kind of actor would carry out such an attack? The chances of traditional NATO adversaries such as Russia or China engaging in this type of activity during peacetime are virtually null. Indeed, any country that adheres to general just war principles such as proportionality and distinction is unlikely to carry out such an attack, even during wartime. An attack on a nuclear or chemical facility in a populated area could yield an unacceptably high level of collateral damage, including civilian casualties. Any rational actor still willing to proceed would need to deploy a data integrity attack with caution. Data manipulation weapons are notoriously difficult to control if deployed remotely and can spread to infect unintended systems, including the attacker’s own. The source of such an attack would have to be an international actor that does not adhere to just war.

Undoubtedly, these actors do exist, but extremist groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda have access to much simpler and cheaper ways of inducing mass casualties, undercutting their incentive to develop and deploy greater cyber capabilities. This is not to say that an attack of this sort is impossible, and it would elicit a large-scale, coordinated response not unlike the response to 9/11. But as King’s College professor Thomas Rid is quick to point out, an attack like this may be unrealistic at this point in time.

As more and more data points emerge to inform the conversation, it is becoming increasingly clear that few cyber attacks are acts of war. A small number of cyber attacks involve data manipulation, and even fewer pose militaristic threats. Instead, so called attacks are most often on availability and confidentiality and should be treated as crime. NATO is not a crime fighting organization; it is a military alliance. What NATO should do now is clarify its own role in cyber conflict.

This piece was originally published in RealClearPolicy. 

About the Author

Robert MorgusResearch Associate
Robert Morgus is a research associate at the Open Technology Institute where he provides research and writing support on cyber space and international affairs. His work focuses on swing states in the Internet governance debate, Internet freedom in the context of U.S. export controls, technical sovereignty, and cybersecurity.

The Parent Trap


The Daddy Bonus. The Mommy Penalty. We’ve seen a lot of news recently about how the pay gap between men and women is sometimes tied to parenthood. Research shows that mothers, in particular, are greeted with a new baby’s smiles along with a cut to their income, while new fathers can expect a bonus and pat on the back.

And yet – a recent study has challenged this body of work, and complicated our understanding of parenthood’s effects on one’s career. The study found that an employee’s parental status—not gender or whether the worker is a mother versus a father—can trigger negative treatment from an employer.  It’s an odd silver lining, to be sure.  But this research wrinkle – along with other new findings – could help move our conversation about flexibility and family-friendly polices further from the realm of “women’s issues” and over to “everyone issues.” And when managers finally understand that workplace flexibility issues affect everyone, they may finally start to act on them.

More: Why data can help us solve the work-life imbalance.

Like a kid procrastinating on his homework, it’s not that managers don’t know they should probably be implementing better policies already. In fact, a new Working Mother survey sponsored by Ernst & Young shows that eight out of ten managers acknowledge that employees should have access to flexible work options, even though 39 percent admit to wishing they didn’t have to tackle such a tough management task.

But it may not be as tough as they think – because there are plenty of other models out there that they can mimic. And that, as I wrote recently, is often how change happens inside big companies, anyway – for example, SAS, The Gap, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young.

There’s also plenty of desire for these changes among both men and women.  This is where the findings really get interesting. Men say, in the Working Mother survey, for example, that both parents should equally share child care (88 percent) and chores (83 percent), and they report allocating the time saved by working-from-home to caregiving and household responsibilities.  About eight in ten of 1000 men surveyed have flexible work schedules and feel comfortable using flextime and telecommuting. Three-quarters believe “a parent should be home with children after school.” But that parent does not have to be the mom: 80 percent of the men are comfortable with mom as primary breadwinner; 39 percent would prefer to be stay-at-home dads.

More: Why longer lifespans could explode the nuclear family.

What about the men who don’t have those flexible schedules? They’re less satisfied with their career prospects, skill development opportunities and compensation. They even feel like they get less support from a spouse or partner to accomplish work tasks.

But the flexibility pendulum can swing too far. The men in the study who reported being the most stressed – even more so than men not using flex-time or telecommuting – were the fathers who worked from home full-time. Most said they felt isolated and unable to escape work, while also sensing that because they worked from home, their job commitment was being questioned by others.  That’s the same experience that women, too, have been reporting for years.

Indeed, the stay-at-home workers may be wise to be wary. The academic study found that managers often interpret a person’s use of flex-work options as a signal of high or low job commitment. Specifically, the research found that if a boss attributes an employee’s need for flex to personal-life reasons like child care, as opposed to job performance enhancement reasons like acquiring new skills, the boss tends to assess the employee as less committed and less deserving of career rewards such as raises and promotions. In fact, the manager may even recommend what the authors call a career penalty: reduced responsibility or outright demotion or firing.

The irony: Flexible work policies likely designed to ease parents’ work-family tensions may, in practice, sometimes hamper career progress for parents. But now that mothers and fathers are in this together, perhaps they can teach their bosses that this parent trap is a risk to their bottom line.

About the Author

Nanette Fondas
Nanette Fondas, co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace, writes about business, economics, and family. Her work has been published in The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today, Slate, Ms., Quartz, as well as academic journals.

Are Cities the New States?


You’re a health official trying to contain a new case of Ebola in a major world city. Who’s your first call – the country’s top health official? Or the city’s mayor?

Easy. It would be the mayor. He, or she, knows the local actors and the social dynamics of the city much better than a federal official.  In most cases, you’ll spend money smarter, hitting your targets with more precision and avoiding wasteful, one-size-fits-all solutions

Surprised? Get used to it. In the future, cities could become more autonomous and less reliant on national governments. In other words, cities are the new states.  And that could mean smoother and more effective governance for urban and rural residents alike around the world.

That’s partly because citizens of London and New York tend to have more in common with each other than residents of rural England and New York State. So it may make more sense for city officials to coordinate with each other on policy, rather than leaders of countries or states that represent a more diverse set of interests.

Related: This is what public housing looks like in Singapore. 

“If you look 50 years out, and it’s true that 80 percent of humankind will live in urban areas, why wouldn’t you have the heads of the urban areas represent those people, rather than those urban areas plus the other 20 percent?” asked New America President Anne-Marie Slaughter at a recent event.

This could be crucial, because cities seem to be diverging more and more from their rural counterparts. It is predicted, for example, that three out of five people will live in cites by 2030, and they’ll also produce a greater share of economic output.

And where cities used to rely on rural areas for things like food, they may soon no longer need them: Many cities are experimenting with vertical farming, which reduces imports from rural areas and further severs rural-urban ties.  What’s more – cities tend to be more liberal, while rural areas tend to be more conservative.

The UN for cities would look more consensual than the UN for countries.

But even if a city could become completely self-sufficient, the nostalgia of rural areas will continue to have an impact on the identity of its residents.

“I am trying to imagine an America that tells the story of itself without a heartland, and I can’t imagine what that would look like,” said Monica Potts, a fellow at New America.

And taking as an example one of the world’s most advanced cities – Singapore – it is clear that the future of most cities will not be determined solely by their technological tools, but also by their cultural and historical roots.

“We have a unique history,”  said Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Singapore’s ambassador to the United States. “The British came [and formed the colony of Singapore] because they wanted a trading post, and that became very critical – we remain a trading hub.”

So if there were to be some form of global governance structure where cities were represented, would cities identify more with their rural roots, or with cities similar to themselves- creating some sort of global city voting block?

The answer could be a bit of both.

More: Singapore have become the masters at globalization. 

“Were each major city mayor worldwide to be put in some sort of UN for cities – Chicago gets one vote, Dallas gets one vote, Shanghai gets one vote and so on – and they were asked to vote on climate policies, the answers of the U.S. cities would cluster with each other and Chinese cities would cluster with each other –you’d still spot ‘national’ differences,” said Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and former New America Fellow. “But I’d also bet that the range of views across all cities would be less diverse than the range of views across all countries. The UN for cities would look more consensual than the UN for countries.”

About the Author

Justin Lynch
Justin Lynch is the Social Media Coordinator at New America.

The Future of Global Internet Policy – a Playbook


If you care about the future of the Internet, you should be paying attention to what’s happening in Busan, South Korea, right now.

You may not have heard much about the Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a little-known, specialized agency of the UN. But high-profile Internet policy issues like cybersecurity, interconnection, and net neutrality are on the agenda as over 3000 delegates from 175 countries meet in Korea during the next three weeks. Although the ITU plenipotentiary is often described as a largely administrative meeting, the stakes of this conference are big: it could significantly impact global debates about these issues and the future of the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.

The Plenipotentiary Conference, held every four years, is the highest-level policy meeting of the ITU, which is the UN agency responsible for making sure that all global telecommunications traffic can work together. For starters, Member States “decide on the future role of the organization,” set policy priorities, plan strategy and finances, and hold elections, including picking a new Secretary-General for the organization.

Like any global UN convening, the preparation for the Plenipotentiary has been ongoing for months. Drafts have been traded, meetings held to solidify national and regional positions, all leading up to a three week marathon of intergovernmental negotiations in Busan. But decisions will be made by the end of the conference. Already this week they’ve elected a new Secretary General and working groups are being established to consider a wide-range of issues, including those related to the Internet.

First of all, what’s the future of the ITU in Internet governance itself?

Whether and how the ITU should be involved in Internet governance at all has been a contentious issue for years. In 2012, during the renegotiation of a key telecommunications treaty at the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a stark division emerged over whether the text would be revised to include references to the Internet, which some argued would then dramatically expand the scope of the ITU’s role in the global multi-stakeholder Internet governance system. A wide range of stakeholders, including the United States and many European countries (as well as civil society groups from around the world), argued that the ITU is not the right place to discuss Internet public policy and that broadening its mandate could harm the open and free Internet. Several changes to the final treaty text — including the late-night adoption of a non-binding resolution on the Internet — ultimately led to a split, with 89 states signing the revised treaty and 55 others publicly opposing it, including the United States. (For more on what happened at the WCIT and the shifting diplomatic coalitions that have emerged since, see OTI’s interactive map on Visualizing Swing States in the Global Internet Governance Debate.)

The plenipotentiary is unlikely to be as dramatic as the WCIT, but there has been continued pressure during the past two years for the ITU to play a larger role in Internet governance issues, including cyber-security, content regulation, and surveillance. Russia, Iran, and China have long advocated for the ITU to become a go-to forum to discuss these questions, at least in part because the ITU is primarily a multilateral forum, rather than a multi-stakeholder one, which gives governments a greater amount of influence than the business community, civil society, and the network of technical organizations that manage most of the Internet’s key functions. Other countries like South Korea and Brazil have offered proposals that could expand the ITU’s mandate to cover online content and to address concerns about surveillance post-Snowden. And there are a large number of developing countries that support the ITU’s role because of its proven track record on promoting infrastructure investment and affordable access to the Internet. These countries will look to change existing resolutions to include more explicit references to these issues, and may even try to change the way “information and communications technology” is defined and used throughout various ITU documents, which could broadly impact the scope of the ITU’s work on Internet-related topics.

Cybersecurity and Cybercrime

Cybersecurity is likely to be another key topic dominating the conversation at the Plenipotentiary. In the past, the ITU has focused its efforts in this area on helping countries develop and strengthen their technical and legal capacity to address security threats. But the growth of transnational cybercrime and other cyberattacks has also increased demand for additional international mechanisms such as the development of a global cybersecurity treaty,. There will likely be debate about whether the ITU is the right forum to start these discussions, especially given the broad range of existing regional and international efforts to address cybercrime and cybersecurity. What’s more, any changes proposed in the name of security, combatting spam, or child online protection will have to be scrutinized to ensure that they aren’t being used by authoritarian governments as a backdoor way to justify censorship, monitoring of dissidents, or other activity that impedes the free flow of information online.

Interconnection and net neutrality

There are also a number of proposals that would make changes to the way global interconnection and routing are addressed by the ITU. Before the WCIT, several proposals emerged that would have allowed companies to enter into commercial agreements with differentiated quality of service delivery on the Internet or impose fees on network operators to deliver traffic to other networks (often referred to as “Sender Pays” proposals), ostensibly to increase revenue for developing countries that could be used to pay for infrastructure investment. Although these proposals did not gain much traction in 2012, variations of them have reappeared in advance of the plenipotentiary, largely through resolutions that make references to “balancing” interconnection fees charged between developing and developed countries. Promoting investment and competition in unserved and underserved areas of the world is critically important, but it’s not clear how regulating interconnection at a global level would address infrastructure gaps. Critics have also pointed out that these changes could ultimately increase the cost of transporting Internet traffic around the globe and undermine the principle of network neutrality.

Ultimately, concerns about these and other Internet-related issues that will be discussed at the Plenipotentiary Conference come in two primary forms. There are the nitty gritty questions about the language and scope of the hundreds of draft proposals that are on the table at the conference. And there’s the broader debate about where and how these conversations should take place in the future, especially given past criticism of the ITU for being one of the least transparent and most government-dominated bodies in the broader Internet governance ecosystem. We’ve seen some positive changes recently, including last week’s announcement by the ITU Secretary General that they will open up more of the plenipotentiary process to observers and remote participation after pressure from civil society. But there’s still a long way to go — in the next three weeks, and in years to come.

Danielle Kehl is an adviser to the U.S. delegation to the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, but the views expressed in this article are her own.

About the Author

Danielle Kehl
Danielle Kehl is a policy analyst in the Open Technology Institute at New America where she works on technology policy. Her main areas of focus are U.S. broadband policy and Internet freedom. Her writing has been published in a number of outlets, including the Journal of Information Policy, Slate, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

A Creative Ebola “Vaccine”

Nneka Eze, Lagos Office Director for Dalberg Global Development, explains how health officials in Nigeria used “kanju creativity” – former New America Fellow Dayo Olopade’s term for resourcefulness born out of difficulty – to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading unchecked in Lagos, one of the world’s most densely populated cities.