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Archive for the ‘media industry’ 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. (https://web.archive.org/web/20100401033524/http://apps.olin.wustl.edu/faculty/macdonald/GroupThink.pdf)

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.

 

Posted in ethics, journalism, media effects, media industry, new media, politics | Leave a Comment »

Survivors and Victims of Reality TV’s Deception

Posted by prof e on April 15, 2017

Reality TV is constantly inventing new ways to shock its viewers. This past week on Survivor it was the outing of transgender contestant Zach Smith by gay competitor Jeff Varner. In a side story (in real life), Varner was subsequently fired from his job as a real estate agent by a boss who was quoted as saying that Varner is “in the middle of a news story that we don’t want anything to do with.”

The uproar on social media was immediate and unforgiving. Some of the harshest criticism was for Varner and his use of the word “deception” to describe Smith’s secret. Others were harshly critical of CBS for deciding to include the scene after months of deliberation.

But it turns out that CBS and Smith worked closely to prepare for the episode’s airing this past week.

According to the New York Times,

From the moment the episode was filmed nearly 10 months ago, the “Survivor” producers had been consulting with Mr. Smith about how best to handle airing the incident, which included a strategic media rollout and working with Glaad, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group, before the episode’s broadcast.

Jeff Probst, the show’s host and executive producer called it “one of the most raw and painful studies of human behavior that has ever happened on ‘Survivor.’ ”

But I’m left with a question that goes to the heart of reality TV as a programming genre. For the Survivor-type shows where contestants compete for a grand prize, deception, betrayal, and backstabbing are not only allowed, they are encouraged. Deception is how you play the game on reality TV…and, unfortunately, increasingly so in the world of politics and international relations. But I digress.

One viewer took to Twitter refusing to accept Varner’s apology saying, “Apologies only have meaning when they are expressing sincere regret for a mistake. What Varner did was no mistake. He intentionally humiliated Zeke and tried to justify it.” Exactly! That is how you play the game on Survivor. The drama created by conflict is why most people watch, and have been watching Survivor for more than 13 years. The business model for Survivor and CBS is based on people doing outrageous things in front of cameras and microphones. CBS will cash that check over and over again…or at least as long as the audience shows up asking for more.

But we’re still left with the question; why did this tactic by Varner elicit such a strong response from viewers? Just like the collective judgement directed at United Airlines, the moral outrage targeting Varner and CBS is indicative of society’s desire for justice. We know when something is over the line. But whose line is it, and where should it be drawn?

Some of the ugliest disagreements (on social media and elsewhere) are between people who want to draw the line in a different place than where others think it should be drawn.

Posted in ethics, media industry, social media, tv | Leave a Comment »

Take the Oscar Challenge

Posted by prof e on February 15, 2017

logo_oscars_3d-colorIf you’re 18 years of age or older, are a legal resident of the USA, not a felon, not an employee of the Academy (or family member of an employee), and don’t mind signing in with your Facebook account…you can enter the Oscar Challenge sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip to  next year’s ceremony.

Just go to http://challenge.oscar.com/ and submit your ballot by picking the winners in 24 categories up for selection. The grand prize winner (randomly selected from those with the highest number of correct predictions) will win,

… one (1) Oscar® All-Star Winner prize package, which consists of a 3-day/2-night trip for two (2) to Los Angeles, CA and tickets to sit in the bleachers next to the red carpet arrival area at the 90th Academy Awards® tentatively scheduled to take place on March 4, 2018 (“Trip”). The exact date of the 90th Academy Awards® is subject to change; exact date will be provided to winner at least sixty (60) days prior to the event. Grand Prize Trip includes round-trip coach class air transportation for two (2) to Los Angeles, CA from an airport near winner’s residence (as selected by Sponsor in its sole discretion); two (2) nights’ hotel accommodations (one room, double occupancy) at a Los Angeles area hotel (as selected by Sponsor in its sole discretion); ground transportation between Los Angeles area airport (of Sponsor’s sole choosing) and hotel; and two (2) tickets to the bleacher section next to the red carpet arrival area at the 90th Academy Awards®.

Please note, “GRAND PRIZE DOES NOT INCLUDE ADMISSION TO THE 90TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS® CEREMONY OR ENTRANCE INTO THE DOLBY THEATER.” You can read all the rules here!

Of course if you want to witness the grand spectacle from INSIDE the venue, you could always look into becoming a seat filler. Or, if you prefer, just kick back and watch the show, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel (for the first time). The live show is scheduled for Sunday, Feb 26 at 5pm MST.

This year there are nine nominees for Best Picture. The film with the most nominations is La La Land with 14 (including Best Picture)!

Recently on Kimmel’s show Viggo Mortensen had some advice for Jimmy.

Posted in film, media industry | Leave a Comment »

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.

 

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 »

The Sky is FALLING…And You Won’t Believe Who’s Responsible!

Posted by prof e on November 23, 2016

misleading-fake-news-sitesThere’s been a lot of discussion lately about the potential danger of fake news. Apparently we’re a lot more gullible and susceptible to misinformation than anyone imagined, and IT IS KILLING DEMOCRACY! Okay, that conclusion may be overstating it a bit, but the number of media and political analysts who are wringing their hands over the outcome of the recent election seems to be growing. And seeking an explanation (or scapegoat), some are pointing the finger at fake news.

The proliferation of satire, fake news, clickbait, propaganda, and commentary masquerading as news is undeniable. While there have always been people with an agenda spreading lies and hearsay, the dynamics have changed in recent years. Social media platforms provide opportunities to people who, before social media, had to work a lot harder to gain an audience. For those familiar with Ryan Holiday’s “trading up the chain” approach to media manipulation, this should come as no surprise.

There have been quite a few excellent summaries of the issue. Some have questioned whether media platforms like Google and Facebook bear responsibility (here, here, and here); others have reported on specific case studies (here, and here), and efforts to combat (or at least categorize) the growing number of questionable sites (here). A new report from Stanford suggests that we have a lot of work to do while MediaShift proposes a role for journalism programs.

I have a few suggestions of my own.

  1. In a world where anyone can be a source of news, what we need is for everyone to behave like a journalist when confronted with new information. Remember the motto of skeptical journalists everywhere: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out!” We need more skepticism and less single-source research.
  2. For those of you who prefer social media for your news…because it’s free, quick, and often fun…remember that you get what you pay for. Unless you read in-depth from multiple and diverse sources you can’t consider yourself an informed consumer of news.
  3. Learn about confirmation bias and make a commitment to discovering your own vulnerability. Until we take a long, hard look in the mirror we have no right to point out the bias in others.
  4. And finally, don’t share anything on social media unless you’re willing to vouch for its accuracy and authenticity. That rule alone will do wonders to improve the overall news IQ of our democracy.

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

Private Lies Exposed

Posted by prof e on October 12, 2016

A journalist’s job is to find and report the truth. Assuming for a moment that “the truth” exists and can be found and identified as such, journalists still face a plethora of challenges as they go about their work. For starters, the truth can be inconvenient. Thanks to Al Gore, the inconvenience of truth is now forever linked to a particular issue; global warming. But every issue has its inconvenient aspects. For example, a journalist may uncover a fact that runs counter to her personal values or beliefs. Or, a discovery may reveal a truth that defies simple explanation.

Of course a truth revealed can also be terribly inconvenient for the news maker. Celebrities, politicians, and others in the public eye are constantly trying to manage their public perception…which is often at odds with their private reality. Last week’s revelations from Wikileaks and NBC/Access Hollywood have been very inconvenient for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump respectively for obvious reasons. The leaks, while damaging, do not break new ground but rather reinforce existing concerns about Clinton’s propensity for lying and Trump’s sexist and demeaning behavior towards women.

In each case the public figure is damaged when the private self is suddenly revealed. This is, of course, most pronounced when the public and private selves are substantially at odds with each other. The greater the difference, the more pronounced the conflict when the private self is exposed. This kind of hypocrisy, of which we are all guilty on some level, can derail a public figure when it spins out of control. The public demands authenticity, or at least something closely resembling it, from their leaders.

Journalists are often the ones who have the dirty job of pointing out hypocrisy wherever and whenever it exists…even when it is found in “their” candidate…or themselves.

Posted in ethics, journalism, media industry, politics | 13 Comments »

What’s NOT Trending on Facebook?

Posted by prof e on May 16, 2016

TrendingWell, for starters there’s less conservative news from conservative sources than one might expect. A recent report by Gizmodo reveals that the Trending feed on Facebook may be less objective than many thought. One might fairly assume that these are organic results based on what is popular and being shared on Facebook…and you would be partly right. But the revelation that has the media world talking is that insiders say that Facebook intentionally directs human curators to leave out conservative news and opinions while injecting other news stories that are not actually trending.

Now, just to be clear, we fully expect traditional news sources to make decisions regarding what is news worthy and which stories to place on the front page. This is standard practice and any debate about the ethics of this practice is only to the extent that the editorial policies of any given news organization are consistent and transparent. The objection here is that Facebook appeared to be suggesting that the Trending stories were simply the result of algorithms analyzing Facebook for popular results. But if that’s not the case, and Facebook is injecting some stories and holding others back, then there is a real problem that deserves a response.

Sure, the news industry has long been viewed as an uneven playing field where liberal voices have had an upper hand. More recently talk radio and Fox News tilted things back towards the other side. The rise of the internet was seen as a solution for the potential threat of big media controlling access to information. But if Facebook (or Apple, Google, Microsoft, or any other new media mega-corporation) is willing to inject their own biases into their products and platforms, the playing field will become a swamp where no one will dare to venture. This idea that platforms ought to be agnostic is at the very core of the argument in favor of Net Neutrality.

Social media is increasingly becoming a source of news. While mainstream news media (broadcast and cable TV, newspapers, and news magazines) struggle to remain relevant, social media has stepped up to offer bite-sized morsels of news for the highly-distracted audience. Facebook, Google, Snap Chat, and others have been competing for the attention of this audience.

The enormity of the power that can be deployed by a company the size of Facebook is staggering. Just a short time ago Facebook was caught manipulating the emotional state of its users by selectively posting content to their wall intended to make them feel certain emotions. An earlier experiment was designed to discover if manipulating a person’s news feed could make them more inclined to vote in an upcoming election. Now, imagine for a moment if that same persuasive power were exerted for one side or the other in an ideological or political contest.

In response to the allegations Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has denied the charges but has offered to meet with conservative leaders. That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 18th and one of the conservative leaders who will meet with Zuckerberg is MCCNM alumnus Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary.

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

Freedom of Expression Has Limits

Posted by prof e on April 21, 2016

FreedomOfExpressionESPN’s decision to fire baseball commentator Curt Schilling is not an infringement of Schilling’s rights under the First Amendment. Companies have parted ways with high profile employees for all sorts of public statements or deeds that were at odds with the company’s image. A few that come to mind are: Justine Sacco, Sergeant Gary Stein, Paula Deen, Adria Richards (this one is complicated), and don’t forget shock jocks Anthony Cumia and Don Imus. Even when your job is to be outrageous and over-the-line, apparently there is still a line that must not be crossed.

Schilling’s offense (reposting an anti-transgender meme on Facebook) comes at a difficult time in America as social norms are changing at a dramatic pace. Remember that just a few short years ago President Barack Obama and candidate Hillary Clinton were both opposed to same-sex marriage. And now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, transgender rights have become the next big issue. While people evolve on where they stand on the issue, companies, political figures, celebrities and other entities are making statements about where they stand. In this case ESPN decided to take a stand that put Schilling on the wrong side of the issue.

In countries that do not have an equivalent of the First Amendment, public statements can quickly lead to government action. Just this week German Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed a court to proceed with prosecution of  a German comedian for defaming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to a report in the Washington Post, similar laws exist in Sweden, Monaco, and Spain…countries not typically thought of as repressive regimes. In some Muslim countries, blasphemy laws allow for punishment up to and including death.

These events raise questions and concerns about just how much freedom of expression exists within certain corporate or political cultures.

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, media industry, politics, social media | 3 Comments »