prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for January, 2017

Alternative Facts and Rogue Tweets from Alt Federal Agencies

Posted by prof e on January 27, 2017

Journalists have their work cut out for them. With public faith in journalistic credibility at an all-time low and a combative White House that uses social media to circumvent traditional news channels, journalists are facing new challenges that have the potential to either make or break the industry.

A democracy depends on an information electorate, and information, for most of our recent history, has been the responsibility of a free and fair press. Newspapers, magazines, television networks, and internet websites have been the backbone of the journalistic enterprise in recent decades. Investigating and exposing corruption, reporting without bias, holding those in power to account…these are the responsibilities of a profession that is recognized and protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. But more and more news consumers are turning to alternative sources of information, including social media and internet websites that frequently traffic in a different type of information.

Not all information is created equal and it is becoming increasingly difficult to ascertain the value and credibility of the barrage of information that vies for our attention. Take for example the estimates of the size of the crowd attending the Presidential Inauguration. Competing claims, some with photographic evidence, were made by partisan sources and reported by journalists…facts and “alternative facts” if you will.

On Facebook the other day I followed a link to a report of a catastrophic pipeline rupture. A photograph was presented as evidence, calling into question the safety of the Dakota Access pipeline. But the article falsely represented a photo from 2010 (taken in Texas) as a current photo from a Pennsylvania spill by the company connected to the Dakota Access project. Regardless of whether you support or object to a pipeline near this Native American community, this is not journalism.

You may have seen the eruption on Twitter from various “alternative” governmental organizations after President Trump ordered a suspension of the official social media accounts. While these rogue accounts may be just that…actions of government employees acting on their own initiative on their own time…it is also possible that they are simply fake accounts created by partisans who are participating in a grass-roots resistance to the new administration.

As such they are newsworthy, but not for the same reason they would be if indeed they are actually the work of federal employees. According to one blog,

For now, at least, most of these unverified accounts seem to be pushing positive agendas: the climate change facts that many of them tweet are unequivocal, and the planned march of scientists on Washington promises to raise legitimate concerns about scientific progress in the United States. But a dejected left-wing and liberal group should remember that these accounts are emotionally gratifying, not edifying. Embracing such gratification without critical analysis veers close to the Trump administration’s embracing of “alternative facts” — lies that suit the narrative you’d prefer.

Disclaimer: the above quote is from The Verge, a website that has a mixed record as a credible source of news/information.

 

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Posted in ethics, journalism, media industry, new media, politics, social media | 1 Comment »

Time for a New Theory of the Press?

Posted by prof e on January 12, 2017

Four Theories of the Press, published in 1956, was an attempt to explain the role of journalism in the modern world. Each of the four theories are established on the essential values and norms held by governments and citizens who consider the press an essential component of governance. Values that we hold dear are “normalized” by our policies and behavior. Governments, media corporations, and individuals all play a crucial role in determining which values are advanced over competing values.

Recently I came across a blog post from February, 2007 and a comment that I wrote in response. The blog is no longer being maintained, but my comment seems somehow relevant in lights of the current issues plaguing the profession of journalism. Here is the comment as posted nearly 10 years ago…

Press models have never been very good at describing the real world…and even less so now that access to vast quantities of raw, unfiltered information is the norm. Never in the history of communication has there been such unrestricted access to information…and access to the means of production. However, as we all know, information alone does not make for an informed public.

However, there are signs that the investigative reporting role of traditional media is in for a dramatic upheaval. Memogate was just one example of how the collective intelligence of the masses trumped big media. The Consumer-Generated Media model that makes Wikipedia a qualified success is being applied to a particular role played by journalists commonly known as whistle-blowing. Wikileaks.org is a website designed to give a voice to dissidents and critics of oppressive regimes…but may also be equally helpful at exposing corruption within democracies and Fortune 500 companies. One of the most important roles of the press in the Social Responsibility Model is that of watchdog…and now they have the potential to add hundreds and even thousands of eyes and ears of citizen reporters who already have access to closed systems. Sure there are a host of potential landmines…but if you believe that “information wants to be free” you have to believe that this is going to shake things up. This could get interesting.

I think we can agree that things have gotten interesting.

While watching President-elect Trump’s press conference yesterday I couldn’t help but think that the role of the press has never been more in question, and at the same time it has never been more important. In front of a room full of journalists, Trump declared CNN to be “fake news” and BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage.” Just two days earlier Meryl Streep called for public support for the “principled press” to serve as a check and balance to the Trump presidency.*

Journalists are not only trying to figure out how to respond to an aggressive and combative President-elect, they are trying to rebuild credibility that is at an all-time low. At the same time they are divided about whether BuzzFeed’s publishing of the Trump oppo-research file helped or hurt the cause of journalists everywhere. One might argue that if you accept BuzzFeed’s rational for their decision it makes journalists unnecessary.

Which takes us back to the point of the blog comment above…the growth of citizen journalism, the explosion of social media, and an ever-more partisan press have created a perfect storm that makes the Social Responsibility function of the press much more difficult…if not impossible.

*For the record, I support the “principled press”…the challenge is figuring out who they are.

 

Posted in ethics, journalism, media industry, politics, regulation | 2 Comments »

I Hope I’m Not Being Too Pushy

Posted by prof e on January 9, 2017

attentionNew Years is a time of reflection and looking forward. It is a time to take stock of what is working and what is not…making plans to maximize the good and minimize the bad. I just finished an interesting book…The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu, and, if I may be so bold, I would like to make a suggestion that I think will improve your focus and productivity in 2017. And that suggestion is…..(drum roll)…..change the way you currently give your attention to media.

Media companies want your attention. No great revelation there. Your attention is valuable, and the more of it that they can collect and sell, the more money they make. So they work really hard at finding new ways to collect your attention. Sometimes in tiny fragments (e.g., preroll ads and billboards), and sometimes for long periods at a time (e.g., binge viewing).

Media companies know that you’re busy, and that they can’t always count on you to volunteer your attention. They can’t count on you to remember to go to their website or click on their app. So they devise ways to bring the content to you. This strategy has been around for quite a while and it is known as “pushing” content to the consumer. Rather than counting on the consumer to “pull” in the content that they want, media companies “push” it out to those who have opted in. You have probably opted in to all kinds of push notifications…typically when you initially sign up for some neat bit of content that you want to receive. From that point on, they have permission to push new content to you…to notify you that there’s something new to see, hear, read, etc.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that our attention is not infinite. If we’re going to focus on anything worthwhile, we need uninterrupted attention. We need to be free of the distractions that push media provide. Social media may be the most obvious and blatant example of constant clamoring for your attention, but it’s not the only form of media that is working overtime to suck you in.

You might think that you can handle it…that you can manage several streams of incoming data at the same time. But you would be wrong. All of the research indicates that multi-tasking is a myth. What your brain is doing is switching quickly from one stream to the other, not doing anything particularly well.

There are several ways to reduce this threat and I’ll let you figure out which one works best for you. But I can assure you that taking control of who’s in control of your attention will make you a more focused and productive student (friend/employee/etc.) in 2017.

Posted in advertising, applications, interactive media, media industry, new media, social media | 1 Comment »