prof. e.

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

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 »

Free Speech for All in a Fact-Free Era?

Posted by prof e on December 2, 2016

Overheard in a newsroom: “What is journalism even supposed to be now? We reported the facts, but they didn’t matter.” In case you didn’t hear, “post-truth” is Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016. Here’s how they define it on their website. post-truth

The challenge for journalists, and really anyone who get to the bottom of things, is sorting out fact from fiction, reporting from commentary, and bias from perspective.

The problem with the newsroom quote above is that too many “journalists” DIDN’T report the facts. Or when they did, they didn’t put the facts in proper context. Added to that is that reality that nearly anyone can become a de facto journalist thanks to the wonders of modern digital media and social networks. Given a place to stand and a megaphone, the most strident voices have suddenly found themselves with the ability to sway opinions…even, perhaps, influence elections.

If it seems that this blog is stuck on this topic (see recent posts about fake news and fact-checking), you’re right. But this is important…and if we don’t get this right we’ll have to live with the consequences. What consequences you say? Well, for starters how about a future where ideological conflicts spill over into the streets…where discourse and discussion give way to hate-filled rhetoric designed to alienate and subjugate the opposition?

Unfortunately some of the proposed solutions may turn out to be worse than the problem. Giving social media platforms a reason and permission to edit users’ posts is a dangerous and slippery slope. Do we really want Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithm and a team of editors deciding between fact and fiction, bias and perspective? We’ve already witnessed the failure of that approach earlier this year.

Recently Twitter booted accounts from those connected to the alt-right movement for “harassment and ‘hateful conduct,’ which includes “non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes” and “behavior that incites fear about a protected group.”  This led the editors at Slate to ask if Facebook or Twitter might possibly ban President Trump. Twitter responded that it wouldn’t rule it out. As Slate said, “That’s a tough line from a company that once declared itself the ‘free speech wing of the free speech party.’” (BTW, the click-bait headline for this post might have been: “Twitter considers banning President Trump!”)

So where are we now? Some of the ejected Twitter users have moved to a new platform that promises greater freedom of speech. Gab.ai is, according to the New York Times, the far right’s “new digital safe space.” It’s much too early to tell if Gab has any legs, but if it does it will likely do little to advance dialog and understanding between those contending for the future of our country. Amanda Hess of the NYTimes sums it up nicely, “It’s the next logical step after all the blocking and muting on Twitter and filtering and unfollowing on Facebook split America into two social media realities. Where there once was a bubble, now there’s a wall.”

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, interactive media, journalism, politics, regulation, 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 »

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 »

The Cubs and Indians Gave Us a Much-Needed Break

Posted by prof e on November 4, 2016

mlb-2000-ws-trophy-590The seven-game race for the MLB championship was a much-needed break from this year’s ugly race for President. Thankfully the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians gave us a welcome diversion from the bare-knuckle politics that have dominated the headlines in recent weeks. Winning a major-league championship is a big deal, and winning after a 108-year drought is even bigger.

So let’s take just a minute to reflect on the state of nation, and media, the last time the Cubs won the World Series (in 1908).

  1. Yellow journalism was still the norm…and the Spanish-American war had just ended 10 years earlier.
  2. The wild west was slowly being tamed. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in Bolivia just a few weeks after the Cubs won the World Series. And the State of Colorado had only been a state for 32 years.
  3. It was an election year, and William Howard Taft was running against William Jennings Bryan. Taft, the Republican, won. Women were allowed to vote in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho, but not elsewhere.
  4. Human flight was taking off (pardon the pun). Wilbur Wright demonstrated his plane in Europe for the first time in 1908.
  5. Model T’s were available from the Ford Motor Company in any color you wanted, as long as you wanted black.
  6. Émile Cohl makes the first fully animated film, Fantasmagorie.
  7. Journalist Edward R. Murrow was born.

 

(Credit: http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-11-03/what-world-was-when-cubs-last-won-world-series)

Posted in journalism, politics, sports | Leave a 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 »

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

Posted by prof e on October 4, 2016

truthmeterMass media are essential to the process of democracy. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” only works if the people know what’s going on…and the media provide the primary channels for that information. Of course the implication is that the mass media do their jobs in a responsible way, avoiding partisan bias and manipulation by outside interests. The brunt of this responsibility falls on journalists. Whether they work for newspapers, TV networks, or internet websites, reporters who cover the political beat are the eyes and ears of the American electorate. Ideally they report what they see and hear without speculation or conjecture.

In a political season such as this, journalists must be particularly careful when covering candidates who use every trick in the book to manipulate the media and advance their message. When candidates stretch the truth (often to the breaking point) journalists in a live reporting situation must make an effort to call out the error.

But fact checking candidates and their surrogates can be tricky business. While partisans may think that every statement by their political opponents is a flat-out lie, it is seldom that clear-cut. Journalists must have enough command of the facts to catch the easy calls, and the aid of researchers, aka fact-checkers, to parse the more difficult cases. This is not easy. NBC’s Matt Lauer was heavily criticized for pushing back too hard when interviewing Hillary Clinton for the Commander-In-Chief Forum, and NBC’s Lester Holt was criticized for fact-checking Donald Trump but not Hillary Clinton in the first presidential debate last week.

Fortunately journalists, and the public, have additional resources at their disposal. Independent fact-checking organizations have stepped up to provide non-partisan, independent fact-checking of politicians and other news-makers. Politifact’s Truth-O-Meter is one example. Here’s a short (light-hearted) video that explains how it works.

Posted in ethics, journalism, politics | 6 Comments »

Supersized Audience for Presidential Debate

Posted by prof e on September 26, 2016

trumphillaryThe first of three presidential debates between candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was expected to set a new record for audience size as the two “least popular” candidates in decades took the stage tonight. The previous record goes back to 1980 and the Reagan/Carter debate.

With this large of an audience, brands see this as an advertising opportunity. While the debate itself is aired without advertising, some of the ad spending will go to social media where hashtags are used to connect with customers. According to digiday.com,

Tecate and agency Saatchi New York are airing a Trump-mocking ad called #TecateBeerWall. Unlike the barrier proposed by the Republican nominee, Tecate’s wall will be 3 feet tall and used as a meeting point for people from both sides of the border to have a drink on. It will air Monday night on Fox, Univision and Telemundo.

The guidelines for the debate are set by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that sets the rules and chooses the moderators. One decision that has drawn some attention is that the moderators this year will not serve as on-the-fly fact-checkers. So if/when either candidate says something that is dubious, it will be up to the other candidate, journalists, and later, the TV commentators, to try to set the record straight. Of course you can always turn to Twitter where the American audience will be fact-checking every statement in real-time.

And speaking of social media, you don’t even need a TV to watch the debates. Plenty of websites, including Facebook, are live streaming the events.

Posted in politics, tv | 9 Comments »

Russian Hackers Feed US Journalists

Posted by prof e on September 15, 2016

Hacker at keyboardYou may have seen news reports about emails and other documents that have recently been released to the public after they were obtained by hackers, who are likely of Russian origin. Documents were obtained from Democratic National Committee computers, the Hillary Clinton campaign, and George Soros, a billionaire and liberal donor, earlier this summer. More recently, former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s emails were hacked. Some have speculated that Russia is targeting Democrats in order to sway public opinion towards Donald Trump.

Cyber warfare is not new, but this meddling by foreign countries in political matters on the eve of a Presidential election is cause for concern.

WikiLeaks, the organization founded by Julian Assange, and DCLeaks have published the leaked documents. Little is known about DCLeaks. While they claim to be a group of “American hacktivists”, some have speculated that Russian intelligence created DCLeaks for the express purpose of leaking sensitive data intended to manipulate the upcoming election.

But leaked information still needs a channel or conduit (aka “medium”) to reach its intended target audience…the American people. That is where journalists come in. Once private emails and other sensitive information is uploaded to the DCLeaks website, news/gossip websites, such as BuzzFeed, report on the privacy breach and the private information. Journalists working for established media outlets such as the New York Times, NBC Nightly News, CNN and Fox News file stories about the “breaking” news and these front-page and top-of-the-hour reports are seen by millions. Social media users take snippets of journalistic candy and spread it even further and wider. And yes, I recognize that this blog post is part of the problem!

Russian hackers, using the moniker Fancy Bear, have also hacked the World Anti-Doping Agency and released medical records from Olympic athletes from numerous countries, including celebrity athletes such as Simone Biles and the Williams sisters. Poynter.org, a journalism think-tank asked an important question: should journalists report on leaked information that was obtained illegally? You can read more here.

Whether it is private medical information or personal emails, questions remain. Should anonymous criminals with potentially nefarious motives be allowed to influence our culture and politics?, and should American journalists assist and abet them in the process?

Posted in ethics, journalism, politics | 5 Comments »

Not Safe for Advertising?

Posted by prof e on September 3, 2016

We’ve all seen the acronym NSF, which stands for Not Safe for Work. YouTube has generally been pretty careful to ensure that content on its site is devoid of overtly offensive material. But now they’ve gone a step further to protect advertisers who may be squeamish about appearing alongside content that pushes the boundaries. A new policy announced by YouTube allows them to remove certain videos from their monetization program if the contents of the videos is potentially offensive to advertisers.

YouTube producers are pushing back claiming the new policies are too strict and have a chilling effect on their creative output. According to AdAge, “On Wednesday, YouTube video creator Philip DeFranco, with 4.5 million subscribers, said he was put on the no-ad list after he mocked ‘political correctness.'”

According to Google’s guidelines, videos with the intent to “inform or entertain” and more likely to get a pass than those intended to “offend or shock.”

This is nothing new for websites and apps that rely on user-generated content. Again, according to AdAge,

The video site is just the latest to find itself embroiled in a social media battle with voices that oppose “political correctness” or claim free-speech violations over any pushback to their activities on a given platform. Last month, right-wing advocate Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter for allegedly leading a bullying blitz against “SNL” and “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones.

Here’s a link to a somewhat lengthy video (the first 4 min is about this issue, but the rest is pretty informative on related topics) from DeFranco that explains his position. (warning: graphic language)

 

Posted in 1st amendment, advertising, interactive media, new media, social media | 2 Comments »