The Assassination of JFK in a Digital Age

One of the things I really love about the Internet as an adult is the access to information. I spoke about it last week, how I’ve used the Internet to learn about weather. YouTube gets a lot of credit for funny animal videos but I want to take a moment to remind everyone that YouTube has become a historical video archive while we were all busy figuring out what the fox says.

I was always a geeky kid - interested in things like the weather and history. How many kids think Santa is the greatest because he brought you Encyclopedia Britannica on CD-ROM? What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I got a minor in history in college, almost enough credits to double major.

As a child and I was learning things, it was the “big events” that fascinated me. None so much like the assassination of JFK. I often asked my dad to tell me about it. He doesn’t remember much, but he remembers sitting in his 3rd grade class, when one teacher came in crying. She whispered to my dad’s teacher, and then they both left the room crying. The same goes for his mother - he remembers going home from school and seeing her crying too. After September 11th, 2001, I came to this strange realization that my children would one day ask me to tell the story of “where I was” over and over again. As I started to compare the two events in terms of importance, I started to look at the reporting between the two events and noticed interesting differences about the journalism.

(Mostly) Zero Sensationalism

Listen to any of the live coverage you can find on YouTube for “as it happened” and the thing that lacks versus a “national” event of today is the sensationalism. A lot of that is due to the time it took for information to travel. If you’ve ever been to the Texas Book Depository Museum (do it!) you’ll see the AP wire that came across, announcing the death of JFK. With time between reports, there was time that these details could be confirmed, vetted. Today, social media is used to find “breaking” and “real time” reports and they are often reported as true.

It Was a Pioneering Day of Live Journalism

When the reports first broke into soap operas and commercials for laundry detergent, most “big” affiliates reported the the President has been shot and would return to regular programming. At WFAA here in Dallas, Texas they went live, read a bulletin, and never left the air. The WFAA broadcast offices are just a few blocks south of where the assassination happened. Jay Watson ran back to the studio and interrupted the regular program - still out of breath from his sprint as he delivered the news. (Watch the landmark footage - it’s absolute chaos in the most amazing and professional way.)

If you ever visit Dallas, I highly recommend the visitation to the Texas Book Depository. The infamous floor where Lee Harvey Oswald took the shot is a a museum now, with lots of Kennedy artifacts. You can also go up to the top floor and look down to the street, giving you an almost exact view of what Oslwald would have seen. Just wandering around Dealey Plaza leaves a heavy feeling in your heart though, no matter how old you are.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the reporting would have been like on that day if social media had played a part? Do you think reporting would have been different or the same?

Uber Car Service Controversy

"Make easy money just by driving with Uber!" That was a Facebook post I saw that was made by one of my friends. Of course, it grabbed my attention. How could you make money by driving? More importantly, who is Uber? My curiosity started kicking in, and I decided to do my research. According to their website, Uber is a service created in 2009 that connects its users to its drivers through a mobile app. Basically, Uber contracts a set of licensed drivers. An Uber user can request taxi-like services by pulling the app up on their phone and contacting an Uber driver that's closest to them. The user can then rate the driver based on their experience, and they pay the driver by linking their credit card information to their account so their fare is automatically deducted. Drivers for Uber can create their own schedule, though the site suggests being available during peak hours to make more money. I assume "peak hours" are when bars are closing or after a concert or sporting event.

The service itself seems pretty innovative. For the driver, they have the freedom to set their own hours and don't have to deal with cash. For the user, they are able to hand-pick their drivers that are close to them and/or are highly rated. You can't quite do that by calling a traditional taxi service.

Although it has gained popularity with the public, many city officials are not too happy with the tech company. In Los Angeles, Uber received a cease-and-desist letter this last June telling the company that they are "operating an unlicensed, for-profit commercial transportation service..." Uber has also had to deal with battles in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., and most recently Dallas. The City of Dallas initiated an investigation that ended up with 61 citations being issued to 31 Uber drivers as of August 28, 2013.

Since Uber came to Dallas in 2012, members of the City Council have tried to regulate its transportation-for-hire services. More recently, city staff members had placed an unscheduled item into the Dallas City Council meeting agenda. When agenda items are scheduled, a committee will study the issue and get the public’s input before it would ever reach City Council. However, a memo  was placed into the August 28, 2013 agenda to propose changes to the current Chapter 10A of the Dallas City Code bypassing the usual procedure.

Along with city officials, taxi and transportation companies are not too fond of the service either. A representative from LADOT (Los Angeles Department of Transportation) said that these drivers for Uber "...are not required to pass background checks or have their vehicles inspected for safety." Arthur Hollingsworth, an investor for Yellow Cab also argues that "Uber drivers don't have to pay the same taxes, insurance fees and licensing fees that taxi drivers do." Both are pretty good points if the primary concern about the whole issue is fairness and public safety.

It seems that after the August 28th City Council meeting, the issue has simmered down a little in Dallas. The Dallas Morning News reported on October 23, 2013 that the 61 citations have all been dropped and the City of Dallas is backing off Uber as the interim Dallas city manager, A.C. Gonzales, has been getting a lot of heat for not handling the issue appropriately. So, the question still begs to be answered. Should Uber be treated like a taxi company and pay the same fees or follow the same regulations that taxi drivers are subjected to? Or are they merely a middleman for the for-hire transportation driver and the Uber user?

David Byrd thinks, "Uber is a new service that wasn't possible before cell phones. Now, you are getting customers from a market that didn't exist. So, is it really competition to taxi services?  I don't think so since I would be willing to use Uber when I wouldn't consider a taxi. I don't see Uber eating into taxi business for people at the airport, or at hotels. So, I don't think they should be restricted by the same rules."

I think as long as the Uber drivers have the necessary background checks done (they don’t have any warrants, are not reckless drivers, and are properly insured) then they should be allowed to offer their services. The transportation market is changing as it should with technology. I think it’s great that Uber users are able to see their driver’s ratings and can hail them quicker than they can get a cab. It’s just a different way of doing business.