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Archive for the ‘media effects’ Category

The News Media Bubble

Posted by prof e on April 26, 2017

Politico, a left-leaning web magazine, just published an essay about the bubble in which journalists live. According to the authors the bubble is not just geographic, but also ideological. According to Politico, the media bubble served to insulate journalists from the people and issues that ultimately led to the election of Donald Trump. For most journalists it was not an issue of whether Hillary Clinton would win, but by how great a margin. Was it perhaps because they didn’t understand what was happening across the country? According to Politico,

Nearly 90 percent of all internet publishing employees work in a county where Clinton won, and 75 percent of them work in a county that she won by more than 30 percentage points.

Another essay, this one by pollster and statistician Nate Silver, (the golden boy of recent electoral race coverage), makes the argument that the national media were the victims of group think leading up to the 2016 Presidential election. Silver’s essay spends some time reviewing a premise introduced by James Surowiecki in his book The Wisdom of Crowds. Surowiecki’s thesis is that networking theory, applied to information flow, can yield superior results given certain conditions. Whether the crowd is professional journalists or citizen journalists, the idea is that collective wisdom is superior to the wisdom of any one member of the group. That is fine if the conditions are met. If not, group-think, an idea popularized in the 1970s by Irving Janis, leads to poor judgement and low-quality decision-making. According to Janis,

the more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making ingroup, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against outgroups. (

Both articles point to a serious problem for national media coverage of politics. More than ever, national journalists are more highly educated, more liberal, less religious, richer, younger, more urban, and much more likely to live in communities with like-minded neighbors. The liberal, coastal, elite journalist is becoming the norm when it comes to national media coverage, and that is a problem for the future of the industry. Some have argued that this trend has led to an erosion of trust and created a credibility vacuum where fake news and lies can thrive.

This was not always the case. Journalists have not always been so out of touch with the audience that they serve. The failure of local and regional newspapers is a significant contributing factor. According to Politico, labor statistics are a clear indication of the trend.

In late 2015, during Barack Obama’s second term, these two trend lines—jobs in newspapers, and jobs in internet publishing—finally crossed. For the first time, the number of workers in internet publishing exceeded the number of their newspaper brethren. Internet publishers are now adding workers at nearly twice the rate newspaper publishers are losing them.

As news shifts from local newspapers and local reporters who reflected their communities’ values, to national news organizations located in major metropolitan centers on the coasts, it has becoming increasingly likely that the news that we’re consuming on social media and television is out of touch with mainstream values and main street sensibilities.


Another theory that may be useful to understand what is happening is Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence theory. According to this theory, unpopular ideas are pushed to the margins, where they slowly lose favor and spiral downward to eventual silence. We’re fine with this if it’s a bad idea, one that does not deserve to be sustained. But what about when an unpopular idea is silenced because those in authority don’t want to give it a hearing? What about unpopular ideas that are banished to the margins because groupthink has created a hostile climate for those kinds of ideas? What if the lack of ideological diversity in our newsrooms creates an echo chamber that drowns out dissenting voices?

Conservatives have consistently accused the national media of having a liberal bias, and that appears to be supported by these essays. But I’ll close with this quote from the Politico article…

Resist—if you can—the conservative reflex to absorb this data and conclude that the media deliberately twists the news in favor of Democrats. Instead, take it the way a social scientist would take it: The people who report, edit, produce and publish news can’t help being affected—deeply affected—by the environment around them. Former New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent got at this when he analyzed the decidedly liberal bent of his newspaper’s staff in a 2004 column that rewards rereading today. The “heart, mind, and habits” of the Times, he wrote, cannot be divorced from the ethos of the cosmopolitan city where it is produced. On such subjects as abortion, gay rights, gun control and environmental regulation, the Times’ news reporting is a pretty good reflection of its region’s dominant predisposition. And yes, a Times-ian ethos flourishes in all of internet publishing’s major cities—Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington. The Times thinks of itself as a centrist national newspaper, but it’s more accurate to say its politics are perfectly centered on the slices of America that look and think the most like Manhattan.

Something akin to the Times ethos thrives in most major national newsrooms found on the Clinton coasts—CNN, CBS, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Politico and the rest. Their reporters, an admirable lot, can parachute into Appalachia or the rural Midwest on a monthly basis and still not shake their provincial sensibilities: Reporters tote their bubbles with them.



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Looking for Someone/thing to Blame

Posted by prof e on November 10, 2016

Sorry, but this is another politically-themed blog post. I know that many of you have seen and heard enough after 18 months of political campaigns, debates, and negative ads; all of it adding up to what will likely be remembered as the most contentious election cycle in history.

But I need to take one more opportunity to discuss the role of the media in our democratic process. Our system of government depends on the participation of an informed electorate. Access to reliable information from non-partisan sources is essential to ensure a that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish” (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address). According to Martin Baron, executive editor at the Washington Post, “If you have a society where people can’t agree on basic facts, how do you have a functioning democracy?” (NYT)

I received an email today with a list of recommended articles. whichoneHere’s a screen shot of two of them. I don’t know Max Read or Mike Masnick, but one of them is, apparently, an idiot. But seriously, they can’t both be right…unless they are. It is certainly true that social media has been a game changer for political campaigning, and Donald Trump and his surrogates have been incredibly effective. But it is also true that there are many other dynamics that explain the outcome of this race.

There is a growing sense that the election this week was revolutionary. The fact that most of the reporters, commentators, pollsters, and pundits were caught off guard by the outcome is remarkable as well. Some have speculated that journalists seem to be more out of touch than ever with rural folk in the country’s heartland (what some dismiss as the flyover states) and that could have something to do with it. Margaret Sullivan at the Washington Post claimed that most journalists just didn’t get it, weren’t listening, or were unable to comprehend the depth of support for Trump.

Now that the dust is settling…or at least we hope it’s settling…there is a lot of debriefing, navel-gazing, and yes, finger-pointing going on. For those in the media looking for an explanation there has to be something or someone responsible for this mind-boggling outcome. One place receiving special scrutiny is social media, and more specifically, Facebook. According to Will Oremus at Slate and Damon Beres at Mashable, Facebook’s inability or unwillingness to police its Trending news and news feed for fake news is leading many Facebookers astray.

According to Beres, While it’s obviously impossible to define how exposure to certain articles, video or photographs impacts an individual’s life, it’s downright cynical to suggest it all has zero effect.

Beres goes on to cite a study by PEW Research that suggests that “20 percent of Americans have changed their views on an issue because of something they’ve seen on social media.”

Like I said, there will be plenty of finger-pointing in the coming days, weeks and months. Some of them right now are being pointed at Facebook and other social media platforms. One thing is clear…social media is a force to be reckoned with.

Posted in journalism, media effects, politics, social media | 1 Comment »

Porn: a Threat to Public Health

Posted by prof e on April 11, 2016

The research is in, and the facts overwhelmingly support concerns that pornography is unhealthy, dangerous, and taking a toll on public health. According to a report published in the Washington Post, which cites 40 years of peer-reviewed research, porn “shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality — for the worse.”

Another article, published in Time magazine, views porn through a different lens. According to this article many young men are finding that they are incapable of being sexually aroused by their partner because of years of exposure to extreme pornographic images. These are not moralistic crusades by puritanical killjoys.

These men, and the thousands of others who populate their websites with stories of sexual dysfunction, are all at pains to make it clear that they are not antisex. ‘The reason I quit watching porn is to have more sex,’ says Deem. ‘Quitting porn is one of the most sex-positive things people can do,’ says Rhodes. One online commenter, sirrifo, put it more simply: ‘I just want to enjoy sex again and feel the desire for another person.’

And if you’re a woman who thinks this is a guy problem, think again. The Time magazine article has a sidebar about the effects of porn on women. Women who use porn experience some of the same negative effects as do men. And for women, the often violent and abusive nature of pornographic sex makes women more likely to face similar behavior from their partners.

It’s time to take this matter seriously and recognize it for what it is…a multi-billion dollar industry that does great physical and psychological harm to its customers.

The Time magazine article ended with this poignant quote by a man who decided to cut back on porn: “When I think about it,” he writes, “I’ve wasted years of my life looking for a computer or mobile phone to provide something it is not capable of providing.”

Posted in ethics, media effects, media industry, research, websites | 1 Comment »

What do you fear?

Posted by prof e on March 28, 2016

If you listen to news for any length of time you’ll find plenty of opportunities for fear. Global terrorism, the Zika virus, gang violence, opioid addiction, a White House occupied by ________ (fill in the blank with your least favorite candidate)…all are reasons to pull the covers over your head and stay in bed. The good thing about being a young adult is that most of these fears seem rather distant and unlikely. After all, you’re young and healthy and you live in America (not some undeveloped nation ruled by a despot). Why worry?

News is, by definition, a summary of what’s gone wrong. People always say they’d like to see more “good” news…but the fact is that news is news precisely because it deviates from what is good and right. Crime, natural disasters, political chicanery, moral failings…this is the stuff of news on any given day. When a new virus threatens millions of people, even in a distant country, we pay attention. Even more so if it has any chance of reaching our shores. Suicide bombers and mass shooters get our attention; which, ironically, is exactly what they want. And slowly but surely we begin to think that the world is a more dangerous place.

Media theorists have a name for this. Cultivation theory says that the more time we spend in the media world the more we fear. The Mean World Syndrome studies tracked people who watched a lot of TV dramas and news, and found that they had a more fearful and pessimistic view of the world than those who watched less.

So what do I recommend? Don’t ignore the news of the day. Don’t hide your head in the sand and hope it all goes away. Instead, remember that the reality created by the news industry is intentionally biased to show you everything that is wrong with the world. Then, take a moment to reflect on what is right in your world. You’ll be happier for it and we’ll all be better off.

Posted in global media, journalism, media effects | 11 Comments »

Living Inside the Bubble

Posted by prof e on March 2, 2016

I’ve posted about the “Filter Bubble” and mentioned it in another post, but a new trend is emerging that takes the concept and makes it even more troubling.

First, let me take a minute to review the idea behind the filter bubble. According to Eli Pariser’s Ted Talk, the filter bubble is a dangerous and unintentional consequence of software algorithms that social media platforms use to customize our user experience. In an attempt to keep us online and engaged, social media platforms feed us the content stream that they believe is of greatest interest to us.

DrumpfinatorSounds good so far, right? But the problem is that by putting some things in and leaving others out our social media experience can begin to reflect and reinforce our personally held biases. Pretty soon we’re only seeing Facebook posts from people who agree with our political/social/religious positions. And while that may make us more comfortable it doesn’t do much to make us more aware of, and sensitive to, other points of view.

Now imagine for a moment a software hack that allows you to create your own filter bubble. Google’s Chrome browser allows users to download and install extensions that can do any number of things, including changing your browser to display certain words instead of other words.

This gained quite a bit of attention recently when John Oliver’s rant about Donald Trump went viral. With more than 13 million views in just a couple of days, the video makes reference to a claim that Donald Trump’s family name was originally Drumpf. That was all that some clever software programmer needed to create a Google Chrome extension that is designed to turn every mention of Trump into Drumpf! That’s right, the next time you search for Donald Trump, the results page will display results for Donald Drumpf. When your friends post about Trump on Facebook, your browser will automatically change it to Drumpf. Presto Chango, out with Trump and in with Drumpf!

ChoiceLanguageChromeExtensionsSounds like a great idea, right? But consider this. The Chrome extension website offers up some other “fixes” that are slightly less funny. Don’t like your news feed filled with comments about pro-life or pro-choice arguments. Just download the Chrome extension Choice Language or ProLife. Your webpage will no longer display the offending terms. Choice Language changes the words “Pro-Life” into “Anti-Choice”, while the Pro Life extension changes “Anti-Choice” or “Anti-Abortion” into “Pro-Life.” Simple as that you can browse the web and never encounter an offending phrase.

Ahhh, if life could be so simple. Imagine being able to rewrite the evening news or edit a popular film so that is more closely reflects your view of the world. Imagine the joy of never having to encounter an uncomfortable idea or thought. Imagine living in a bubble…a self-made filter bubble.



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So How’s that Media Fast Thing Working Out?

Posted by prof e on October 27, 2015

Fasting, abstaining, cleansing, detoxing, going Walden, Amish month…whatever you call it, dialing back the media technology for a period of time may just help you get your head on a little straighter. I know it’s not comfortable, or fun. Shoot, it’s barely tolerable at times. You’ll get bored (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing) and fidgety. You’ll probably do more homework and cleaning, or working out and sleeping, than usual. You may even spend more time having real interaction with real people…you know, the face-to-face variety of interaction.

In a recent blog post on AdAge’s website, Jamie Barrett described their attempt at the ad agency BarrettSF to make meetings tech-free for all but the presenter. They called it “Amish month”, and the rules were pretty simple…

When you’re in a meeting, and you’re not presenting, you can’t look at your laptop. Or your tablet. Or your smartphone. Or your Apple Watch. Or your discontinued Google Glasses. Or your contact lenses if they receive a wi-fi signal.

According to Barrett,

There is some wild stuff that happens. With no keyboards to pound or screens to stare at, heads tilt up and start to look around the room. There’s eye contact. Facial-expression recognition. People speak words and others hear them, and can perceive whether those words are serious or funny, sincere or sarcastic, angry or glad.

Like I said, it’s wild stuff. We’ve decided to extend Amish Month into October.

Maybe the Amish are on to something.

Posted in media effects | 2 Comments »

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Posted by prof e on September 6, 2015

The title is a saying that is intended to capture the painful choice between two equally bad options. You may have also heard someone use the phrase “between a rock and a hard place.” Both are idioms used to describe a dilemma.

When I saw this AP (Associated Press) photo in my local newspaper a few days ago I knew that this was one of those photos. It grabbed my attention and forced me to acknowledge a painful reality. Refugees from Syria and other nations under siege by the Islamic State are trying to get to safety, and some are dying in the process. Three-year-old Aylan and his five-year-old brother Galip, along with their mother, were just three of the victims of this tragically failed bid for freedom. To see a lifeless body of a young child is never easy…but is it necessary? That’s a question for journalists and reporters…and media ethicists.restricted-refugee-boy

The decision to take the photo or to record audio/video of an event unfolding is fairly straight-forward. Unless you can do something to change the outcome, your journalistic responsibility is to shoot the photo and record the event. Once you get back to the office, away from the urgency of the situation and with the support and counsel of colleagues who are emotionally one step removed from the situation, you can make the decision whether to use some part or all of the material.

As expected the photo was widely distributed, not just by AP but by social media users: some who were shocked by the photo, others by the reality that it represented, and still others by the decision to publish the photo at all. It’s not an easy call. Those who published the photo argued that the shocking nature of the photo may serve a greater purpose. According to the BBC article linked below, the UK newspaper The Independent said it had decided to use the images on its website because “among the often glib words about the ‘ongoing migrant crisis’, it is all too easy to forget the reality of the desperate situation facing many refugees.”

This incident is not without precedent. There have been other photos that have forced us to face harsh realities and the dilemmas inherent in life-and-death moments captured on camera. In an earlier blog post I asked similar questions about photos of men who were seconds away from dying. Years and continents away, a South African photojournalist, Kevin Carter, took a Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a Sudanese child as a vulture waited for her to die. Carter later took his own life. You can read more here and here.

If you believe that these photos should not be published, then you see me as contributing to the problem. I thought about that…and decided to take the risk. I hope that you think deeply about what this picture means, and what it means for you. If we turn away and go back to our Twitter feeds, our video games, or our Netflix movies…or even back to work or whatever else we might be doing this Labor Day weekend…without asking soul-searching questions about our role in the world and how this tragedy might be averted for future Aylans or Galips, everyone loses.

For more information:

Posted in ethics, global media, journalism, media effects, new media, politics, social media | 3 Comments »

Rewiring my brain…this could take awhile

Posted by prof e on June 15, 2015

I’m approaching the mid-point of my year-long experiment. For 2015 I’m avoiding (as much as is professionally possible) all forms of electronic mass media. No TV news, no NPR or music on the radio, no podcasts, no Facebook or Twitter (except for an occasional post to the MCCNM department’s pages). Essentially I’m allowing myself print media. I resubscribed to the Pueblo Chieftain (newsprint edition) and have been reading a lot of books. (So far over 30, about 10,000 pages!) I continue to use email, course management software for classes, and I post content to various websites (this blog, YouTube, etc). I cannot turn off the switch entirely without taking a sabbatical from work.

I’m sure some of you may be wondering whether this constitutes professional malpractice for someone who is a professor in a Mass Communication department. Unplugging, while demanding that my students pay close attention to the media event or scandal du jour, may seem unfair or irresponsible. Perhaps you think that I’m just a curmudgeonly old fool, a closet Luddite, a technophobe, and a recluse. I can assure you that most (not all) of those assumptions are unfounded.

This has been, and continues to be, an experiment. It is not unique…many others have run this experiment before, and for many different reasons. And with such a small sample (n=1) you know that this qualitative experiment will have very little generalizability in the end. But it will matter to me. One way or the other I expect to learn a lot about myself, my media habits, my thinking process (with and without the constant barrage of media shrapnel), and my relationships.

Our discipline has a long history of media deprivation studies. Usually a researcher looks for a naturally occurring interruption in media services and uses the occasion to collect data on how people respond and react to the loss of service. Strikes by journalists or union workers who drive the delivery trucks, extended power outages, and natural disasters are all sources of media outages. Self-inflicted media blackouts are another matter altogether.

The reason for this experiment is to see if there has been a slow and steady decline in my thinking and my thought process as a result of my media consumption behavior over time. Reading Nicolas Carr’s prescient essay, Is Google Making Us Stupid, when it was published in 2008 initiated my concern. In the essay Carr bemoans his own ability to read deeply…and to think deeply about what he has read. For an academic, this is NOT good news. When I assigned Carr’s essay to students in my Media & Society class, they complained that it was too long…thus supporting Carr’s thesis. Can’t I have my internet, my social media, my podcasts, my news sound bites AND an intellectual capacity to contemplate the big issues? Not according to Carr.

A friend of mine who works with people with addictions tells me that it takes three years to change the mental processes that frequently drive compulsive behavior.  The big question that remains for me is whether this one year of partial withdraw will be sufficient to see a significant effect. I’ll keep you posted…just not on Twitter or Facebook!

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Are we all ADD now?

Posted by prof e on March 2, 2015

Black and Blue, or While and Gold? It’s the question that appears to have captivated the ever-so-brief attention span of the online world. The more philosophical are asking again the age-old questions; what is the nature of reality and perception?…and, can we ever know for certain what we think we know? Yes I’m talking about #TheDress. And if you haven’t been paying attention, suffice it to say that the “twitterverse” has been embroiled in a heated debate about the real color of a dress that was worn to a wedding in Ireland. Here’s just one of the many tweets having a bit of fun with the whole thing.dress

Well, that was before the llamas got loose in Arizona…which was just briefly before Leonard Nimoy passed away. We are an easily distracted lot, humanity. One might argue that we need a distraction every now and then to give us relief from the pressure and demands of real life.

But seriously, is this what we’ve come to expect from our media? Was there nothing important going on in the world at the end of last week? Oh yeah, there was. “Jihadi John” was  identified as a college grad from West London; Net neutrality was adopted by the FCC (thanks, perhaps, to John Oliver); and a Russian politician, and foe of Putin, was executed on a city street.

But perhaps there is an explanation. According to this article by Mel Robbins at CNN, “the emotions that make a story go ‘viral’ are not fear and anger — they are awe, laughter and amusement.” Well, there you go. I feel just a little better now about #TheDress and #LlamaDrama.

Posted in interactive media, journalism, media effects, new media, social media | 1 Comment »

RIP Peggy Charren

Posted by prof e on January 22, 2015

PEGGYCHARRENA powerful advocates for children’s television died today. Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children’s Television (ACT), passed away after a long life of advocacy for quality TV programming for children. Dismayed by the rampant violence and commercialism that marred children’s programming in the ’60 and ’70s, Charren became a crusader and reformer. Her steadfast devotion to the cause led to the Children’s Television Act which was passed into law in 1990. The legislation limited the amount of commercial content in children’s TV programming and required stations to show evidence of the educational value of its programming.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, Charren’s group seized upon “one tiny clause in the 1934 Federal Communications Act that required broadcasters using the public airwaves to serve the public interest if they wanted to keep their licenses. Ms. Charren’s group, which grew to 20,000 members, insisted that federal authorities and network executives take that mandate seriously.”

Current FCC chairman Tom Wheeler was quoted as saying,

Parents across America owe a debt of gratitude to Peggy, who single-handedly turned the vast wasteland that was children’s television programming in the 1960s and 1970s into the plethora of educational, informational and entertaining programming families enjoy today.

Peggy Charren was recipient of a Peabody award, an Emmy award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.

Posted in media effects, regulation, tv | Leave a Comment »