Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Message on Journalism Comes from a Weird Place

Okay, "gun to my head" my favorite genre of movies is romantic comedies.

Looks like I just got shot. I mean come on you are not clutching your Sno-Caps in suspense. You aren't gasping for air out of pure terror. You aren't weeping or sobbing uncontrollably (I'm not that sensitive guys). It is happy. The ending is safe and structured. And if the right "wingman" character is casted to waywardly aid his or her friend in their pursuit of love, you may gather a few giggles out of it.

So, that is precisely why I spent the night before Easter on the couch with my mother and sister viewing Morning Glory. It is a romantic comedy (surprise) starring Rachel McAdams (naturally), Diane Keaton (at least she was in the Godfather), and Harrison Ford. The latter sounds pretty badass. However, I'm here to assure you it wasn't.

I was shocked to discover as the movie wore on that it was extremely relevant to the modern media world. Harrison Ford plays a seasoned, grizzly veteran of the evening news desk. He champions hard news and content of journalistic value. He is paid by the network IBS (there's one of the giggles), but for the most part is retired from daily news.

McAdams plays an ambitious young producer who dreams of leading the Today Show from behind the scenes. She gets hired to salvage IBS' dreadful morning show and immediately fires Diane Keaton's co-host. She is given an ultimatum by the station to raise ratings to a certain level by a certain time, or the show would be pulled.

Through an arduous process of getting ridiculed and scoffed at, McAdams gets Ford to agree to co-anchor the morning show. What results is awful for ratings. Keaton attempts to show ersonality, while Ford sticks stubbornly to hard news stories. Eventually, the pair push the show to the brink of failure.

McAdams starts to turn the corner by sending their apprehensive and socially awkward weatherman across the country to participate in borderline stuntman activities. The ratings finally rise, though, when Ford does an investigative piece that leads to the arrest of the governor of New york (score one for journalism).

In the end, McAdams gets an offer from the Today Show and turns it down to work with Ford. At first, Ford was incredibly reluctant to embrace the entertainment side of the show. But in an emotional and tense moment at the end of the movie Ford caves in and makes his favorite egg breakfast dish on the air. Ultimately, it was the content that was the polar opposite of journalism that raised the ratings and pushed the show over the top.

Again, this was just a movie, but it still held some interesting insights to the television world. The Today Show is a great example. Matt Lauer and Ann Curry are capable of doing and have done tremendous journalistic work. However, it is their ability to do the other stuff that sets them apart.

Oh, I should mention that throughout the movie Rachel McAdams was falling in love. Regretfully, it was not with Harrison Ford. But him and Diane Keaton was a better match in the end anyway.

How one newspaper used Facebook to build readership ... and make money

We've engaged in a lot of discussion this quarter about the role social media plays in news. I came across this article today and thought it was worth sharing.

In this post, the editor of the Lake Country Sun (a weekly newspaper in Gradford, Texas) talks about how his newspaper used its Facebook page to spread news about wildfires in the area.

Mark Engebretson, the managing editor of the Sun, discusses Facebook and Twitter as tools for disseminating credible news that the community needed. His essay was published by the Texas Center for Community Journalism at Texas Christian University. I particularly liked the last paragraph:
As communications become more advanced, we must also advance. Newspapers will not become relics of a bygone era, but will remain as the written history of today for tomorrow’s generations. Tweets and Facebook postings will be lost, purged for more space, but the written word will last far into the future. The trick will be in dedicating the resources necessary to integrate the past with the present and prepare for the future.
Also worth noting: As traffic to the website surged because of Facebook and Twitter traffic, advertisers took note. Web advertising almost quadrupled, and new advertisers were also looking for space in the print product.

Engebretson made this observation:
By posting instant updates on Facebook that were accurate, The Sun gained not only exposure, but also credibility and that credibility is what added to the advertising revenue and will continue over the next several weeks.
Here is a link to the whole essay:

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I've thoroughly enjoyed our conversations regarding privacy throughout the last few classes, so I just wanted to give my opinion on the matter here on the blog. I think that I definitely agree with Kevin's sentiments that we need a broad reaching form of legislation to help alleviate cyber privacy issues, and issues with privacy in general. As a student in our class stated, legislation is fluid. Just because our technology is growing more rapidly than our legislation is, does not mean that we can't write legislation that will impact types of privacy that we have not come up with yet. A net-type of legislation can, and will help to improve protection that we will receive, and deter the ways in which companies are delving into our private lives.
On the other hand, I think that we need to remain cognizant of fact that we are the ones who give out this information the majority of the time. We give out our age, phone number, credit card number and religious affiliation. Not that we are entirely to blame, though we must realize that we are a contributing factor to the beast that is privacy violations.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How to block cookies you don't want

Eerily related to our class discussion today, the website How to Geek has posted a step-by-step guide to disabling the cookies of decidedly more questionable nature. The post also gives us a quick, concise explanation of what a cookie is and what it does.

A cookie is simply a small file that a web site places on your computer to store information. The process itself is totally benign and can even be helpful when cookies do useful things like store your shopping cart information between sessions, save you from the hassle of logging into a site every time you open and close your browser, and other helpful time savers. The ones that give cookies a bad name track users without their explicit knowledge and help advertisers (among others) build profiles of users. Many people want to limit the amount of information that is gathered about them and do so by limited the kind of cookies that their browser accepts and/or retains.
From there, the site takes you through the settings menus of the three major browsers; Chrome, Firefox and IE. Granted, the methods outlined in the How to Geek post will require some extra curating work from you, the user, but I think you'll find some peace of mind in it.

Both Chrome and Firefox support private browsing in some shape or form. If you're a Chrome user, you have the option of browsing in Incognito Mode. If you use Firefox, you can use private browsing found in the privacy settings menu. The video below talks more about Chrome overall and focuses in on Incognito Mode at about the 1:25 mark.

Hopefully you'll find the How to Geek post helpful, and I encourage you all to read the whole thing. You can also visit the native site of your browser of choice for more information on what your privacy settings mean and how your information is used.

As we mentioned in class, there's no ON/OFF switch, no silver bullet, nothing that will handle and solve every Internet privacy issue, but it serves us all to better understand the technology and be more in control of our own private information.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Facebook secretly hires PR firm to throw mud at Google

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief, at a town hall-style meeting with President Obama last month. In the past, Mr. Zuckerberg has extolled the virtue of transparency.

Editor's note: Social media is all the rage. Micro-blogs like Twitter are increasingly popular and seen as alternatives to traditional news sources. Citizen journalism and social media are often pointed to as examples of how information will be both collected and disseminated in the future. But given what we have discussed and read in this class so far, is Facebook journalism? Or is it just a digital bulletin board? And would any self-respecting journalistic organization act along the lines of what is reported in this story? So what can we conclude about social media. It may be content and it may be popular - but is it journalism? Please respond to this post. - MT

NYT - For years, Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, has extolled the virtue of transparency, and he built Facebook accordingly. The social network requires people to use their real identity in large part because Mr. Zuckerberg says he believes that people behave better — and society will be better — if they cannot cloak their words or actions in anonymity.

“Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” Mr. Zuckerberg has said.

Now, Facebook is being taken to task for trying to conceal its own identity as it sought to coax reporters and technology experts to write critical stories about the privacy implications of a search feature, Social Circle, from its rival, Google.
The plan backfired after The Daily Beast revealed late Wednesday that Facebook, whose own privacy practices have long been criticized, was behind the effort. It didn’t help that some of the technology experts who were encouraged to criticize Google dismissed the privacy concerns around Social Circle as misplaced.

Facebook insiders, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, said the company hired the well-known public relations firm Burson-Marsteller to suggest stories about Social Circle to reporters because it did not want the issue to turn into a Facebook versus Google story. Social Circle is an optional feature of Google search that uses publicly available information from social networks to personalize search results.

In a statement issued Thursday, Facebook said: “We wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles. We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.”

Companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere routinely approach reporters and analysts with stories about the so-called misdeeds of their competitors. But journalism and public relations experts criticized Facebook for doing so anonymously and insisting that Burson-Marsteller not reveal its identity.

Facebook, Foe of Anonymity, Is Forced to Explain a Secret - NYTimes.com

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What is a citizen journalist?

I wanted to take the time to give my feedback on a question that was asked a while back in this blog regarding what a citizen journalist is. I am usually under the thinking that in order to be a journalist you must have specific training, tools and knowledge to complete this task. I think that most of my opinion most likely stems from the fact that I am a current journalism student paying thousands of dollars for a piece of paper that says I am a journalist, though I felt that the resources made available to me actually were what made me a journalist. My opinion has drastically changed. I feel as if the world of journalism in and of itself is changing, and as the way it stands now I think that there should almost be a new term made up for those journalists who have not been through the training, schooling that most professional journalists have one through. Maybe it is just my bitterness coming out, though I feel four plus years of me studying this craft does warrant some recognition! I am more than appreciative of the work that citizen journalists do, and the cause that they stand for, though I think that what they are capable of doing, and what students such as ourselves upon graduation are capable of doing are two different things. A citizen journalist has the same goal in mind, disseminating useful information, though writing style, technique and display of this information are things you can't just learn by yourself.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Google Suggest and public discourse

I recently ran across an interesting article about how Google starts dictating public discourse before the search button ever gets hit.

Last year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published the findings of a study involving the Google Suggest feature, which automatically fills in the search field based on what Google things you want to search for (or perhaps what they want you to search for).

Their research focused on searches involving nanotechnology. They found that, over time, Google Suggest steered those looking for information about nanotechnology toward articles about health-related research and away from other scientific and social applications that are more common (USA Today did a good job of explaining the scientific stuff in easy-to-understand terms).

The bottom line: Google is overemphasizing the role nanotechnology plays in health research.

Wisconsin communications expert Dietram Scheufele, one of the co-authors of the study, told USA Today that Google "is shaping the reality we experience in the suggestions that it makes, pointing us away from the most accurate information and toward the most popular." Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

"I don't think Google is making us 'stupid' but we do see the potential for a self-reinforcing spiral in search suggestions away from the most accurate information toward the most popular," Scheufele later told USA Today. "The whole idea in science is to look at a lot of sources of information and form a comprehensive picture of the situation, not to any one 'best' paper."

The authors of the study speculated that the problems they found would translate to other topics, like politics. Makes sense to me - what do you think?

Here are the first few paragraphs of a news release explaining the Wisconsin study:


MADISON - By adding a subtle nudge to each of more than 1 billion search requests every day, Google may be steering the direction of public discussion.

Begin typing a word in the search box at google.com, and the Google Suggest feature starts kicking in ideas - "tiger" begets "tiger woods," "tea" draws "tea party movement" and "craig" will summon "craigslist."

"It is meant to be helpful, but from a public discourse perspective it is worrisome," says Dominique Brossard, a University of Wisconsin-Madison life science communication professor.

Brossard and four colleagues studied Google's data for nanotechnology-related search terms and the associated Google suggestions from October 2008 to September 2009.

In a study published in the May issue of Materials Today, the researchers found a reversal in the top 10 nano search terms, with economic impact (word such as "stocks," "jobs" and "companies") searches giving way to health ("medicine" and "cancer") searches over the course of a year.

By the time August 2009 arrived, users who typed "nanotechnology" into the Google search box were getting a list of suggestions topped by "nanotechnology in medicine" despite the phrase's standing as the sixth-most popular nano search term.


On the Media's look at the future of the Internet

Greetings all,

I find myself constantly referencing this discussion held in February on an episode of NPR's "On the Media," and I thought it might be nice to share it with all of you. The show is made up of various experts offering opinions and research on the ways in which the Internet is changing the way we communicate with each other.

Though the debate really only scratches the surface, it's a constructive exercise to examine all the good and bad that the Internet hath wrought. I hope you'll all give it a listen, and I hope it will help to inform the way you look at the Internet.

I've embedded the full show below, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The citizen journalism debate continues

I thought this article was interesting. Rather, I should say I thought this blogpost was interesting, which I think it ironic considering we've been discussing the importance/integrity of blogs versus mainstream news articles.
But this blog debates the criteria of what a "citizen journalist" is an surrounding the recent events with Osama Bin Laden's death and the "breaking news" coming from Twitter users, I thought it was a good idea to read how other accountable journalists feel about the issue.

..How do you define a citizen journalist?

Posted by Federica Cherubini on May 6, 2011 at 3:28 PM

As already noted, the news of Osama Bin Laden's death, which has filled newspapers pages and monopolized every news stream, first spread onTwitter. Not only the first credible feedback came from a tweet by Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but also the first feedback of any kind came from an IT consultant who lives close to Abbottabad, where the raid took place, and who live-tweeted the attack, even without knowing it.

Some then praised the role Twitter played, wondering if it could ever come to replace traditional media.

Dan Mitchell on the SF Weekly blog, addressing the issue, argued that "no, Twitter hasn't replaced CNN". With no intent of diminishing the role it played of what he called "the best real-time headline service yet invented and a place to come across news I wouldn't otherwise see", he however questioned if this could be called "citizen journalism".

He started from an article by Steve Myers of the Poynter Institute where the author noted how in 24 hours Sohaib Athar, the guy who live-tweeted the event, "went from someone who jokes with friends on Twitter and invites people to his coffee shop, to someone who broadcasts his thoughts to more than 86,000 followers".

"Good for him. But does having 86,000 followers make him a journalist? For that matter, did his real-time tweets of the events make him one?" wonders Mitchell. "Wondering on Twitter why there are helicopters flying around your neighbourhood isn't journalism."

Myers answered Mitchell explaining why he called Athar a citizen journalist.

"Athar is not a citizen journalist simply because he wondered about something on Twitter. Rather, he's a citizen journalist because when he came across an unusual event, he acted in a journalistic manner", he said.

He went on saying that Athar is a proper example of people who even if they aren't trained as journalists, undertake journalistic endeavors.

Journalists' job - at least once upon a time - was to go out of the newsroom to look for news, to report on events, to look for sources and news.
Citizen journalists find themselves in the place where the news is happening without having necessarily planned to be there, but then they act as journalists.

Athar, Myers noted, did not simply share his thoughts with friends. He observed something unusual and told others about it, answering questions, and sharing new information once he got them. He sought reports from news sources and shared them. He tried to analyse what was happening, citing his sources, even admitting they could be just rumours.

Witnessing something newsworthy alone doesn't make you a citizen journalist, Myers said. The next level is to share what you witnessed and digital tools allows us to share these information in a very pervasive and effective way. Other activities move you further up the ladder: seeking corroborating evidence, interviewing people, vetting sources, confirming information before sharing it, analyzing what happened, providing context. Each one is a specialized type of journalistic activity.

The difference with the past - he wrote - is that once this process was not evident, as the only thing to be shown was the final product. Twitter instead enabled journalists - whether professional or amateurs - to do this work in plain sight.

NPR's Andy Carvin acted as a one-man news agency, aggregating and curating tweets from the Arab World riots and he spent nights doing this job. He is a professional journalist. Athar is just a citizen one, Myers argued.

"What Athar did was journalistic. Social media brought it to the attention of professional journalists, who wrote about what he observed. Some of these stories simply noted that he heard some of the sounds of the raid. Others focused on the changing ways that we become informed about our world. Hundreds, if not thousands, of works of journalism were created as these professionals brought the news to their audiences", Myers wrote.

So is this "citizen journalists vs journalists" the simply new version of "bloggers vs journalists" debate, he wonders.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Influence of Social Media Presence on Businesses

I stumbled across an interesting article today in the WSJ talking about the amount of influence a business can have through a web presence without an actual website.

Since in class we’ve discusses a few times about this reliance between media and advertising, I thought it would be interesting to talk about advertising online and the influences certain forms of advertising can have on the web.

These days when we hear about a business for the first time, chances are the first place we will turn to check information about the business will be through the internet. As potential customers, we do this to find and learn information about the companies we hear about. Therefore, it is important for any business to have an online web presence these days.

According to the WSJ’s article, “A Web Presence Without a Website”, rather than investing the money and time to host and manage a website dedicated to their business, new entrepreneurs are taking increasing advantage of establishing a social media presence.

It’s an easy and cheap form of advertising when it comes to promoting any business. It puts part of spreading the message of a business in the hands of the customers (so there is always the risk a business’s message may bring negative exposure), but through social media, a business can gain exposure not through that business’s self-promotion, but through the people who have received goods or services through that business.

Businesses use social media to gain exposure for their products, services and brands. The alternative is traditional advertising, but social media is uniquely valuable to small businesses for two reasons. First, it’s cheaper. But it also ensures that people are hearing about your business from a source they trust more than an advertisement: friends and family.

Quite a few entrepreneurs have found success relying on social media to expand their business. Take Reid Travis of Panchero’s, for example. Travis promotes his restaurant through Facebook by claiming, “We’re not focused on marketing to our followers, fans and readers,” he says. “Our primary goal is to connect with them...the best advice I can give from my adventures in the social realm is to listen more than you talk and don’t be scared to let go of the reigns. You’re definitely not going to be able to control the entire message out there; be okay with that.”

Some businesses have even been able to see online sales go up in proportion to Twitter followers. Joe Johnston of Liberty Market will actually tweets regular customers asking them how the food was, for example.

“People ask me if we have ‘made money’ with Twitter. Absolutely yes. But not how most business think. We have solidified loyalty and have our name out there, front of mind. Because of that, many social media meet-ups use our place. Patience! One has to believe that increased loyalty and awareness are a key to business growth.”

There is no doubt that newspapers rely heavily on revenue from advertising to succeed, but with business’s relying on free and relatively easy-to-manage advertising methods through social media like Facebook and Twitter (and with customers consistently flocking to these sites to check a business’s reputation), how will this affect the newspaper industry?

Perhaps the drop in newspaper advertising may be due to the drop in circulation, but at the same time social media sites probably have an equal influence in the direction of the newspaper industry as well when it comes to advertising.

So although a lot of news is being geared toward an online direction, perhaps advertising should also be considered to have just as a powerful influence when it comes to the future of the newspaper industry.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is it ok to text that or do I have to talk to you?

I thought this article related to our discussion this week about when we draw the line on texting/Facebook posting/Tweeting. There are situations that definitely warrant at least a phone call. What do you think?

You’d expect that the most common sight I see on the George Mason University campus is Patriot green & gold. It isn’t. I walk from class to class, I run around covering stories, and the sight more common than a sea of school colors is a sea of thumbs fidgeting furiously with a mobile phone.
I’m sure some of them are smartphones – probably a lot of them, really – and I’ll grant they may be checking Twitter or Facebook or an ESPN app. But I feel like I can say (with confidence) that seven times out of 10, the pair of thumbs I see is probably sending a text. It makes me wonder what people are saying. And since you may be one of those numbers, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the appropriateness of content in text form.
We’re building a habit—texting is becoming a norm for our communication, and I worry. Sometimes, it’s just not the best way to say something. It’s not always, well, humanly appropriate. Here are my thoughts on the subject, from both observation and, yes, experience.
Hey where u at
Appropriateness: Awesome. Perfect. This is what texting is for: communicating short info, like where a roommate is, quickly and efficiently.
Sorry missed call. In class. What up?
Appropriateness: Yes! You got this. Another great example—you should definitely text when calling isn’t an option. (Some professors may not like you for this, but meh, if you’re subtle, it’s often better than screwing around on a laptop).
Reminder: Our group meets @ Mason statue @ 2.
Appropriateness: Yeah, sure. If the person you’re sending it to is forgetful. I kind of hope that people are good at keeping track of their schedule (Google Cal and reminders all the way, folks) but yeah, sure.
Hey think ur getting groceries. If so, don’t forget the milk, bro.
Appropriateness: Sure. Calling works for this too though. Simple requests are good, they can save time. They can also get excessive.
Hey what you doing Sat night
Appropriateness: Err… Context? This could be peachy keen, or a big no-no. Who are you sending something so ambiguous to? A girl you’ve been hanging out with who may not know where your “friendship” sits? Think about this one. Content can’t always speak to tone or inflection.
Hey we need to talk
Appropriateness: Nope. Nope, thinking this can’t be good. This is either entirely misleading, or doesn’t help solve your problem. With some exception, notifying someone via text that you need to have “a talk” often causes stress and anxiety. Most situations can wait until you can physically talk to that recipient. If not, call them.
Something I’ve been wanting to tell you… i love u.
Appropriateness: Oh hell no. Why would you do that? Worse than notifying someone of an impending conversation of emotional concern via text is using pixels of words (and even emoticons) to actually try to convey them. Sorry, however comforting, there’s just little chance you’re going to get the response you want. Most what you want to say is probably said by your body, and written all over your face, not just some data on a screen. Also, do you really want to gamble and risk a sub-discussion on “Did you really have to text me that?”
Hey mom, went to ER. Don’t worry though.
Appropriateness: . . . Texts are short. Some situations can’t be explained in short form. Ones that involve physical harm, those need to take the long-form. They need explaining. They need to be expressed in a setting where there can be immediate back and forth. And hold up, don’t think that means Facebook chat is fair game either. If something involves how you’re physically or mentally doing, people want to judge from all their senses, or at least as many as they can. Please give a call or Skype.
And now I leave you with the golden text. Remember it, write it down, save it as a quick key or something.
Can you call when you get a chance?
Appropriateness: You can’t go wrong with this. When thinking about sending a text, for the future’s sake, judge the purpose of it. If you need to get a simple piece of information that doesn’t demand an immediate response, or if calling isn’t an option because of the situation you’re in, that’s when texting works best. All other times, I suggest fighting the urge—dial a number and just call. If you can’t reach them, ask them to reach you.
(Caveat: I say all this, but don’t you dare leave me a voicemail. Why couldn’t you text me “call me” or you’re the nuts and bolts of your message? I’d save like three minutes.)
Kevin Loker is a junior anthropology major at George Mason University, where he is executive editor of the school’s online news site Connect2Mason.com. He’s also an intern for events and conferences at the Washington Post and a blogger at mediabistro.com’s 10,000 Words. Follow him on Twitter for news and conversation related to journalism, technology and society.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blame the search engine for our national stupidity ?

Author Nicholas Carr notes that we may be reading more than ever before. And consumers have benefited enormously, no doubt, from having easy access to information that a decade or two ago would have taken considerable legwork to obtain. We can credit technology for some of this fact - cable modems, wireless phones and fast computers. The rest of the credit goes to Goggle and its development of the modern search engine. Goggle algorithms do a remarkable job of finding and rank ordering information for Web surfers.

But is there a downside to how this information is organized and presented? Carr notes that Goggle finds and rank orders information not on the basis of page views, not on the basis of what you want to see. This approach permits Google to sell more advertising. So, rather than adding to diversity of thought and a wider spectrum of ideas, the search engine is ironically narrowing the searcher's field of vision.

My question is this: What impact is the science of search having on our current (lack of) political discourse and the public's literacy when it comes to current events? We have moved from a nation with a middle class made up of Democrats, Republicans and independents to one that is torn torn by extremism, violence, hatred and bigotry. What were once simple debates are now the subject of verbal combat and roadblocks. (Witness the recent debates in Congress on the deficit.) And we seem to be less informed, or maybe more misinformed is a better term, when it comes to current events.

Carr and other critics are saying the Internet is playing a role here by narrowing (not expanding) the searcher's field of vision. Weren't we all supposed to be better informed? If the Internet has made us so much better informed then why do people believe OBama isn't a U.S. citizen? Or why do Americans believe that corporate taxes need to be slashed when in fact 50% of U.S. companies pay no tax? Obviously the media plays a role here (see Daily Show clip), but what role does the search engine play in shaping public attitudes given what Carr has to say about it?

Please offer your thoughts about what role does the Internet and the science of search play given that our discussion about how search engines tend to narrow-cast the results and make us less informed on national issues. Refer to the Carr articles as necessary to craft your argument(s).