Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Have We Been Here Before? (or the Clark Griswold Effect, aka the "Look Honey, Big Ben")

The Commission on Freedom of the Press produced the report “A Free and Responsible Press” in response to the question: is freedom of the press in danger? Their answer was a resounding yes. This reaction is debatable upon viewing the media’s response, or lack thereof in the days following the reports publication. As the cultural framework of our country changed from the time of our Founding Fathers to the industrial world power realized at the time of the 1947 report, the makeup of our mass media changed as well. There is a cyclical device at play in much of what the commission discusses. As they cover the danger that press freedom encounters from the new economic structure derived from the industrial nature of modern society, it is hinted that these models are necessary to support modern society’s large agents of mass communication. It is noted that the devices used to provide information can spread lies faster than our forefathers could have fathomed. Yet, it is insinuated that our ancestors would still place the utmost importance on a free media, as is shown by a Thomas Jefferson quote stating that he placed more significance on the role of the newspaper than that of government (under the stipulation that everyone could read. Big stipulation). The report uses more cyclical logic in their grappling with the fundamental paradox at hand. Can regulatory efforts of any kind refine the actions of the press to service the greater good? Or would this regulation inhibit the moral right of the free press to act as a marketplace of ideas? The commission begins to hint at their stance, in a dog chasing its tail fashion, by first saying, “Wholly apart from the traditional ground for a free press – that it promotes the “victory of truth over falsehood” in the public arena – we see that public discussion is a necessary condition for a free society and that freedom of expression is a necessary condition of adequate public discussion” (Hutchins, 1947, p. 9). Extremely eloquent, if recurrent. Yet, the historical context that follows helps to narrow their perspective. It is pointed out that the only serious obstacle to free expression in the days leading up to our country’s independence was government censorship. If protected, every man could start a publication of his own and partake in the competition of ideas in the local market place. Now, protection against government guarantees little to a man (or woman) with something to say. The powers that be in the media bureaucracy decide what is disseminated to the public (what facts, and, consequently, what version of the truth). This leads to a key statement: “The complexity of modern industrial society, the critical world situation, and the new menaces to freedom which these imply mean that the time has come for the press to assume a new public responsibility” (Hutchins, 1947, p. 17). A call to action! Finally! The answer, as the commission sees it, lies not in regulation of any sort, but in the restructuring of the press’ duties to the public they serve. As it is stated, “The freedom of the press can remain a right of those who publish only if it incorporates into itself the right of the citizen and the public interest” (Hutchins, 1947, p. 18). A pretty self explanatory phrase, but is it? The statement offers an ultimatum of those in control calling for press accountability in exchange for their freedom to publish. It hinges on the press’ ability to remove itself from its partial relationships with its economic background. This has certainly not been heeded and we are almost a decade into the 21st Century. The controlling interests are as involved as ever (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jul/27/newspaper-owners-editorial-control). It also implies the need to provide a forum for the “forgotten rights of speakers that have no press”. Low income members of our society have long been under represented. With the advent of one of the most important technological advancements of the past century (especially concerning the marketplace of ideas), they find themselves, literally, without a forum for their voice (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/08/AR2006030802362.html). It would be interesting to see how the Internet would fit into the commission’s report. They state that the five ideal commands levied to garner the intelligence needed to cultivate a free society can never be met, but it seems upon first inspection that the Internet covers all the proverbial bases. The issue still remains, in 2009, as roundabout as John Adams’ quote on the title page of the report: “If there is ever to be an amelioration of the condition of mankind, philosophers, theologians, legislators, politicians and moralists will find that the regulation of the press is the most difficult, dangerous and important problem they have to resolve. Mankind cannot now be governed without it, nor at present with it.”

P.S. If anyone who reads this in class gets the reference in the title and can pin it to my blog entry, I will wash their car...

Commission on Freedom of the Press

Blair Tomlinson
Oct. 1 2009

Robert M. Hutchins chairman of the commission points out in the forward of the report that he is concerned with what we call in class "the marketplace of ideas."
The civilized society is a working system of ideas. It lives and changes by the consumption of ideas. Therefore it must make sure that as many as possible of the ideas with it's members have are available for its examination. (Hutchins, p vii)
This coincides with the Libertarian Theory that everyone's voices should be heard and the truth will rise. However, just like we discussed in class not everyone's voices were being heard. Furthermore, the voices that were being heard needed to be examined at that time in the 20th century.
We briefly discussed in class that Internet helps the marketplace of ideas because it allows peoples voices be heard and allows people to hear others voices more freely. There is no such thing as mass media anymore. (Gade, class notes) If there is no such thing as mass media anymore than the first problem stated by the commission is obsolete. It states: First, the importance of the press to the people has greatly increased with the development of the press and an instrument of mass communication. At the same time the development of the press as an instrument of mass communication has greatly decreased the portion of people who can express their opinions and ideas through press.
The Internet has greatly increased the portion of people who can express their opinions and ideas; again contradicting the first problem expressed by the commission. The media organizations or "press" have lost control of the flow and creation of information due to the Internet. (Gade, class notes)
The second problem stated by the commission has also been outdated because of the Internet. The second problem states: the few who are able to use the machinery of the press as an instrument of mass communication have not provided a service adequate to the needs of society. Everyone is able to use the machinery because most everyone has a computer or access to a computer and the Internet.
The second part of the second problem however are still can be taken into consideration. Just because people have access to the "machinery" or Internet does not mean that they are providing a service adequate to the needs of society.
Finally the third problem that the commission states: those who direct the machinery of the press have engaged from time to time in practices which the society condemns and which, if continued, it will inevitably undertake to regulate or control.
I think regulation would be hard to undertake in this day in age. In any of the areas that the commission suggest regulating: motion pictures, radio, newspapers, books and magazines. Anyone could publish any of those mediums on the Internet.
But then again this report was released in 1947 and as we have discussed in class on numerous occasions the news values and problems are of a product of the historical times they lived.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Social Responsibility Theory of the Press.

The present day news industry is having trouble following the Social Responsibility Theory of the Press because of factions influencing the reporter and media organization. These factions influence news so that they are benefited as opposed to the citizens reading the paper.
The Social Responsibility Theory of the Press is rooted in six basic functions, very similar to the ones laid out by the Libertarian Theory. These six functions of the press as told by author Theodore Peterson are: providing information and public discourse on public affairs; providing information to the public allowing it to be free and self-governing; being a watchdog against the government for the benefit of the citizens; providing information that will bring together buyers and sellers through the use of advertising; offering entertainment for citizens; and "maintaining its own financial self-sufficiency so as to be free from the pressures of special interests" (Peterson).
The last function is the most pressing issue for media stations today. The news industry is hurting because it was incredibly dependent on advertising for its source of revenue. Now it is losing advertising revenue because more readers are switching to Internet based content.
Now there are multiple dilemmas and potential ethics faux-pas. The first is the news companies can not make as much revenue online as they could in print. Not all of the advertisements can be seen. The advertisers are not willing to pay as much for online ads because the potential viewership of the ads are not as much as a print copy.
The second dilemma is the potential unethical activities that arise when trying to keep as much print advertising as possible. Because the revenue is becoming more and more scarce, and news industries are relying on a steady revenue from print ads, they may be more willing to not print negative articles involving an advertiser. On the opposite side, they may be more willing to print positive articles over a particular advertiser as opposed to using the best company for the story.
These "factions" or organizations that can influence the story written by the reporter, or produced by the news organization prevent the media from fully allowing itself to submit to Social Responsibility Theory for the Press. As Gade says in many class lectures, a reporter must divorce themselves from themselves. It is easy to be influence by outside factors. It is easy to be influenced by your bosses. But when reporter, writing, or producing a story, a reporter must become independent from all factions such as themselves, advertisers, organizations, clubs, and affiliates.
The reporter needs to stick to the six functions of the theory to produce news that allows the citizens to be free and self governing (Kovach). By sticking to the functions, reports can produce accurate, unbiased, verified and transparent news stories that will bring more readers to their content. The technology for the industry will change, but the platform for what journalists need to provide the citizens will not.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I am Social Responsibility Theory, and So Can You

The social responsibility theory of the press first emerged in the twentieth century as the beginning of a shift away from libertarianism. The basic outline of this theory as opposed to others is its emphasis on freedom carrying with it associated obligations. Freedom isn’t just a privilege, it’s a duty. This connects to the press in the sense that, as the press, enjoying a favorable position under our government, we are responsible to society for carrying out specific and essential functions of mass communications in the world today (Peterson, 74).
But to better flesh out this theory in our minds, let us look at a few of the main requirements that the press faces under social responsibility theory, and take a look at how our current press stacks up.
The first requirement of social responsibility theory is servicing the political system by providing information, discussion, and debate on public affairs (Peterson, 74). We all know there is much debate on the news these days, perhaps personified no better than when a network newscast will go to those multi-panel arguments between the raised voices of either party, regardless of the issue. However, there have been cries of “Liberal!” and “Conservative!” when it comes to several major news outlets. Fox has been branded as purely Conservative news and many others like CNN have been labeled liberal. Are these accusations of unbalanced or slanted political reporting consistent with servicing the political system? With the way some government officials have been lashing out at the news media, consider Sarah Palin, it certainly doesn’t seem that way.
Another main requirement, which just might serve as a contradiction to the previous, is safeguarding the rights of the individual by serving as a watchdog against the government (Peterson, 74). The theory says reporting on the government should be accurate and objective, without personal comments. This would make it easier for the viewer to discover the truth, instead of us as reporters telling them what they should think. Do we do that today? Many would argue that we don’t, and when you look at some newscasts in which an “expert” on a political party will come onto the show and have a personal conversation with the reporter or anchor about how or why this politician made that move and what it means, we conceivably lose our objectivity. The theory says we are responsible to the people, and many people take what we say as law. But Peterson also says we have to report the truth behind the fact. He says the press have also attempted a hurried objectivity, in which they provide both sides of the story but in an incomplete way, not supplying the perspective essential to a complete understanding of the situation (Peterson, 88). This results in half-truths, and that should not be the objective of any of us in this class. Whether or not this is prevalent in our news media remains up for discussion.
One final main requirement is to enlighten the public so as to make them capable of self-government (Peterson, 74). The self-government of the people and their freedoms of expression are centered on the duty of the individual to his or her thought under social responsibility theory. Consequently, if any individual weakens their claim to their expression by not assuming their expression, they weaken the claims of others. This is where the collectivist theory comes into play. When considering the nature of the people themselves, social responsibility theory reflects the current culture when it factors in the doubts that contemporary science and thought have cast on the rationality of man. Social responsibility theory does not deny the rationality, but instead denies the libertarian idea that man is innately motivated to search for truth (Peterson, 100). Therefore, social responsibility theory recognizes that citizens are morally obligated to be informed, and how they do so is their choice. I would say this is a case in which our media today are proficient in. I believe we do allow citizens plenty of opportunities to be informed, and leave their choice of how they do it wide open.
This is of course assuming that the people believe we report accurate news. Two weeks ago, a Pew research survey revealed that public assessment of the accuracy of news stories has hit a two-decade low. 63% of the country said news stories are for the most part inaccurate, up 29% from 1985.
With that in mind, whether or not our current media stack up to this theory, would it be the best for us today? Or is the most meaningful system, as John Merrill would say, an authoritarian system (Merrill, 36)? I would very much like to discuss.

Research study: http://people-press.org/report/543/

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Let Freedom Ring

Freedom of the press is so ingrained in our country’s ideology that contestants on the quiz show “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” have surely answered questions about the First Amendment.

Rarely does a child make it to middle school without having a good dose of democratic socialization to generate an appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy in America.

But what do those freedoms mean and how much do we really appreciate them?

Those are the basic questions the writings by Merrill, Schmuhl, Picard and Sibert inspire. They ask you, as a journalist, to think about the right of freedom of the press, and how free, free really is.

In pursuing these questions, it is important to understand the values of libertarianism on which the American model of press freedom was founded.

As defined by Siebert the libertarian view says “man is a rational animal and is an end in himself, and the happiness and well-being of the individual is the goal of society.”

Under the libertarian concept, the function of mass media is to provide man (or woman) with the information necessary to make informed decisions about his or her world in order to be free and self-governing.

Siebert further says, “Libertarian theorists assumed that out of a multiplicity of voices of the press, some information reaching the public would be false and some opinions unsound. Nevertheless, the state did not have the right to restrict that which it considered false and unsound.”

Merrill, who seems a radical libertarian, holds the current state of the media to this standard of “total, complete, and utter” freedom, and finds some of the current trends dangerous. He specifically addresses balance, fairness and social responsibility.

Balance suggests an egalitarian view of media coverage, much like we see today on television news shows that cast Democrats and Republicans or left wing and right wing commentators to debate an issue.

These, so called experts, argue incessantly in order to provide equal time to opposing views. But, does that, in any way, make the public more informed? I think the opposite is true. Rarely do these shows present any facts or verifiable information. What the viewer does generally walk away with, is a very good dose of both sides’ opinion.

Imposing rules of fairness also conflict with the values of a totally free press. What does it mean to be fair? Fair to whom? Presumably the ideal of fairness suggests that journalists be impartial, rational and non-discriminatory in reporting events.

But what about the reporter who stumbles upon a story with an obvious villain – a coked-up slum lord who takes tenants money but refuses to address the infectious rat problem or a sleazy politician who uses campaign funds to support the arms trade in Afghanistan. Is the journalist required to be fair in these circumstances? Maybe, but who's to say?

As to the call for social responsibility in the press - one could hardly argue the nobility of fighting social injustice with ink, but as Merrill noted, “making the press “responsible” or “accountable” to anything or anyone negates the very notion of liberty.”

The desire to employ a social agenda should therefore lie in the individual conscience of the journalist and not be imposed as a guiding principle for the profession, Merrill argues.

In fact, the best insurance society has for mass media to produce fair, balanced and socially responsible journalism is "the marketplace of ideas."

By insisting on a totally free press with the rights to publish any and all ideas, views and opinions, Americans will benefit by having all the information necessary to make good decisions about their world and to be free and self-governing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Libertarian Theory of the Press

The libertarian theory of the press is rooted in ideas that were formed during the Enlightenment of the 16th and 17th centuries. Being that the Enlightenment saw changes in theory within a cultural spectrum, the method by which people were obtaining information was changing as well.

Power was not solely given to one human being. These ideas manifested the American proclamation that all men have “inherent rights” that cannot be taken away (with the exception of non-whites of course). These ideas shaped the way that the press functioned. The middle class had emerged and “man was forced to rely on himself rather than on a divine Providence.”(Siebert, p. 42) It became clear to the masses that the people had more power than one person.

Everyone was after the truth. The truth was more desirable than faith. In that sense, news has followed the pattern of seeking the truth in order to inform the masses of what the truth actually is. Facts and truth are not the same. The truth has always been linked to the facts in everyone’s mind, but versions of the truth always vary.

The press has the liberty to seek the truth based on the facts by asking the people who matter. Ideally, the press would first start with a fact, find out the important people to consult in regards to those facts, and then allow the viewer, listener or reader to distinguish what they believe to be the truth.

Last unit, we discussed facts as being verifiable. Before this period of Enlightenment, what the King said was the truth. There was no need to verify it, because everyone believed that the King had divine wisdom from God. Now, we all have the liberty to believe what we want and find our own truths. Because of thinkers like Milton, Locke and Jefferson the press has served the interests of the people.

The evolution of the transfer from press being controlled by the church, state and then not controlled is what has caused our press to evolve into communication amongst the common folk. When newspapers shifted from opinionated to news medium, it required that journalists reported news objectively and according to Siebert journalists of that time thought, “their job was to require an attitude of aloofness.”(p. 60) This theory stems from principals that allow the masses to interact with each other in order to form ideas and explore options based on them.

The major advantage of a libertarian media theory is that it allows everyone the right to say something. Even though that right is available, we also have the right to abuse it. Consequently, having this theory fails to place a formal standard on the press. There is no specified way of handling it all.

These ideas are flexible and ever changing. Because of the liberty to question the way things work, we will always be revising the way things work. This is a reason why we are taking this class. In being presented these ways of thinking we are given the tools to create our own product based on the ideas we gain. It’s almost as if we are participating in an Enlightenment of our own.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Freedom of the Press

In order for the press to exist in a democratic society it must coincide with freedom. Press freedom, as provided by the constitution, is the solid ground on which journalism stands. Without this freedom, we would lack the ability to provide authentic news for diverse audiences. Merrill believes this to be crucial and states, “journalistic autonomy is the imperative for those who want to participate in journalism on a really human level…” (p. 55).

As journalists, we are required to fulfill that role. Merrill asks, “Does press freedom belong to the press or to the people?” (p. 56). Both of the answers to that question are synonymous; the press represents the people and is therefore linked to them, and the people determine which pieces are published depending upon their news value within the community. Yet, how does one participate on a “really human level” when news value is determined by grand events and occurrences?

In the text, Merrill poses a situation in which press freedom is equally available to all citizens. The setting allows every citizen the opportunity to submit a response and each will be displayed fairly in a newspaper. The idea is ridiculous, the point I believe Merrill is trying to make; it forces the newspaper to determine how each response will be formatted and presented in a way that is considered equal for all but will waste valuable time in the preparation. His presentation leads one to believe that the idea of press freedom for citizens is unattainable. However, I disagree with the conclusion of the scenario presented. Press freedom has become increasingly more available to the public through open comments and blogs. Readers, critics and the opinionated are able to share their ideology openly with viewers through these methods (blogs and comments).

The stress for a free press, therefore, leans upon the idea of “message pluralism,” which is the diversity of content and its analysis. Newsreaders and Internet perusers are demanding message pluralism, and it is beginning to be seen in the form of blogs provided by an array of news sites.

We have discussed blogs in our class in a negative light because they dampen the light that shines upon a true journalist. Bloggers express opinions and biased views that an education in journalism teaches students to suppress. However, Merrill’s paradox of equality states the decision makers and arbiters create the divide in equality, which could be a reason why the people use the Internet as a new medium. Thus, press freedom has created a new path and is one that gives opportunity to those outside of the newsroom.

Merrill says, “press freedom has all but become the people’s freedom to control the press” (p. 62). The people decide what the hot topic of the day is and the public tweets it, blogs about it and demands more information through the news. Lippman said we should confront ideas with opposing ideas; journalists seek to do this through fact and information and bloggers do this through word of mouth. The shift in the media has provided the ultimate freedom of expression through free press and the power of the people’s voices.

Journalistic Autonomy: Is it Possible?

The media today is in a world of hurt. Quoting J.C. Merrill from his book The Imperative of Media, the media has become “passive ‘secretaries for the public’ who provide the various audiences only with what they want, what pleases them, what reinforces their prejudices, and what enhances their social position.” That sounds very similar to what is happening now with the media and their products. What was known as the marketplace for ideas is becoming the marketplace of copiers and limitations to what the media can and cannot say.
Nowadays, one can’t find autonomy in the media because it seems that egalitarianism has incorporated itself into journalism and now there’s no incentive for individual achievement or work done. Media people are just taking orders and trying not to get in trouble. That’s why a lot of media products across the spectrum (broadcast news stories, print articles, etc) seem to have no depth at all. No one is taking the time to dig deeper and find out what is “the best version of the truth”. In the words of Oliver Wendell Homes Jr., “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
Unfortunately, from Robert Schmuhl and Robert G. Picard’s The Marketplace of Ideas, “free speech is less of a concern than figuring out how to be heard above the din of rapidly circulating messages coming from every direction.” Media people in the end are just getting the assignment done and calling it finished. Along those lines, the media suffers without realizing the damage being done to themselves and the field.
Then is it possible to gain autonomy and bring the media back to a more journalistic and self-deterministic mindset? For one, the marketplace of ideas can’t be measured by size and technology. Another thought is that tastelessness and copies of other works don’t conduct ideas and information. If limited ideas and triviality contain any sufficient power, they drown out lesser voices and discourage thought. One needs to “divorce themselves” from their ideas and biases to see what the truth or best version of the truth is to get to the heart of the story and see it through the stakeholder’s eyes.
Not only do media people need to separate themselves but also to challenge the ideas that are presented in the marketplace. In other words, get people thinking again about what is going on and that will help cut the blandness out of media. If media people challenge what they are presented in an intellectual way, that can spark critical thinking and possibly keep bias out of the marketplace. In other words, how Walter Lippmann sees it, “the press should confront ideas with opposing ideas” so that people will get “true ideas” and if this isn’t done, freedom can’t be defended.
To conclude with Merrill, “as a journalist I must do what I think is responsible, not what some other journalist thinks is responsible. It is the only way that our journalism can retain autonomy.”

Monday, September 14, 2009


Journalists must never betray their audience. This is a suggestion that every student of the journalism college can embrace. It is simple enough to read and understand. All students would agree it is important to stay loyal and truthful to the readers of their stories. Yet readership is lessening and the distrust of journalists is continuing to grow. In a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey, 63 percent of Americans surveyed believe the news to be often inaccurate. This isn’t a conspiracy. Something is wrong with the journalists that drove away these readers. The general population doesn’t change their opinion on a whim and decide to stop trusting journalists. This distrust formed over time as journalists became lazy in their reporting and their writing.
S.I. Hayakawa wrote journalistic stories must contain reports that are verifiable, exclude inferences as much as possible, and eliminate judgment. Reports are anything factual and verifiable. They can be conducted by a research institute or an entry in the local phone book. Either way anyone can verify a report given the proper resources needed. Inferences are statements without verifiable information. Hayakawa defined it as a statement on the unknown by what is known. He explains how inferences are important in everyday life as it is a major part of the way society works. But there is no place for it in journalism. A sector of the work force in American that relies on providing the truth can not use a potentially true or potentially false statement that is not verifiable. Last he talks about judgment and how journalists reporting on the news can not allow their judgment to infiltrate the story because it clouds the truth and prevents the reader from formulation their own ideas. Instead of creating public thought and discussion, inferences and judgments shape their thoughts and discussions. By going against one of these rules, journalists betray their readers.
Hayakawa talked about how quick people are to accept information and “trust each other’s reports”. The general public likes to trust information given to them. Hayakawa wrote, “We ask directions of total strangers when we are traveling. We follow directions on road signs without being suspicious of the people who put the signs up.” He continues to list trusting books over automobiles, engineering, travel, and geography.
We trust this information because we believe it to be verifiable. All of this information can be verified and proved true or false. By either providing information that is inaccurate or by providing unverifiable inferences, journalists are betraying the readers and ultimately further distancing themselves from a public forum of discussion with their readers.
The most difficult task of these is eliminating inferences and judgments. Inferences and judgments plague everyday language and general discussion. They even plague parts of this paper because it is a casual, conversational analysis. But in journalistic reporting, inferences and judgments must be excluded in order to provide the reader with the truth.

Synthesizing and Summing up

The combination of different mediums cohesively existing in the world of journalism come together to serve in their own individual respects. Neil Postman looks at different forms of communication and how they are integrated into different societies to serve in different ways.
He says “Each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility.”

This idea can be integrated into how the multimedia platform fits in with the already established and existing mediums of journalism. It can be seen that this is the case when looking at the “20 something’s” age group and their mode of obtaining news. There is not an across the board method that all these people use to get information. Some people may prefer to watch a 30 minute local and/or national newscast, some like to hear from others then go look up whatever it is that they are interested in on the internet, while others still enjoy reading a good old fashioned newspaper, or some combination of all the above.

This is perhaps the way this generation obtains news because as Postman states, “Each medium...providing a new orientation for thought, for expression for sensibility.” In other words, each medium serves its purpose to the person seeking it. If a person chooses to watch a TV broadcast, then there must be something individually about that medium that triggers an interest in that individual. The same thing can be said with internet news, the person seeking that usually prefers to control what news they get, how much of it and several other things. For those who prefer a newspaper, they too may like to select the news they read, but not to the extent where they would have to go searching for it. All in all these different mediums still exist at the same time. Sharing a somewhat symbiotic relationship by existing together, yet still having their individual purpose in the world of journalism.

In The Medium is the Metaphor, by Neil Postman; he says, “The decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television. This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse, since two media so vastly different cannot accommodate the same ideas.”

This goes in contrast as to what I stated above. He is claiming that different media platforms are incapable of sharing the same ideas. This is in a sense true when looking at the idea that different mediums fulfill the needs and/or wants of different individuals. The different platforms of news do serve their audiences, but that does not mean that there cannot be a bleeding of ideas between the mediums.

Though Postman makes a point that could have held true at one point in time, it can be seen in this day in age that there are not really any rules as to what each platform stands for or really who their audience is, thus making the statements made by Postman relatively irrelevant in today’s world.

Synthesizing and Summing Up

“Reports, Inferences, Judgments” and “The Medium is the Metaphor” explain how different perspectives and mediums can alter a story and how to become more aware of when this happens. With such rapid changes underway in the media industry, diversities in readership and viewership, and popular criticisms of different media organizations being biased towards different ideologies, it is crucial we all become more attune to how our messages to the world are perceived and that we are providing sufficient information for the well-being of our democracy. 

“Reports, Inferences, Judgments” educates its readers about subjectivity versus objectivity in relation to how people perceive the world, and offers ways to avoid subjectivity in writing.

Professor Gade advised his students to divorce themselves not only in their final product, but in each step of the process as well. Meaning, to look at the situation as a fly on the wall instead of through our own eyes, shaped by our own experiences. Most students in class agreed that to be completely void of biases is ideal, but unfortunately unrealistic. The text offers helpful ways to detect these biases and avoid them in reporting practices.

While many of us have been told a thousand times to keep opinionated words out of all stories except columns and opinion editorials, a few tips in the article proved my ignorance about how subtly opinion can creep in.

For instance, many of us know to steer clear of adjectives with positive or negative connotations, but what about nouns we never considered as words that pass judgment, but may in fact do so to others? The example that struck me by surprise was the article’s suggestion to use “candidates” instead of “politicians.” I look at both as job descriptions, but that is only because I was unaware of the inferred judgment in the word politician, not because the difference didn’t exist before.  

“The Medium is the Metaphor” points out how the medium in which a message is delivered can alter the content and therefore, it’s culture. This is another way, besides people's own biases written into stories, that stories can change.

The author, Neil Postman, cites a lesson taught by his mentor that the clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation.

I think this statement rings very true for our culture’s shift to infotainment. Many adults in older generations prefer to get their news from traditional newspapers. More students, however, prefer to get their news from TV and online.

This can be for many reasons. Students in class said cost and convenience are the two main ones. The news presented in these two mediums is much shorter, reflecting our culture’s shorter attention spans.

This shift in medium also gives way to a shift in content. Many information, fact-heavy stories that make the front page in newspapers are very difficult to make visually appealing on TV, especially if a station has limited resources. Much too often, important stories the public should know about are discarded because they are not very visually engaging. This should be a cause of concern if newspapers really do disappear or consolidate too much like many anticipate. 

Another phenomenon that we should all be weary of is the shift in the way we all think when learning from different mediums, like the article describes.

“Each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility...Whether we are experiencing the world through the lens of speech or the printed word or the television camera, our media-metaphors classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, color it, argue a case for what the world is like.” (“The Medium Is the Metaphor”, pg. 10)

The more our society shifts towards certain mediums, like the TV and Internet, and excludes others, like print, the more we change our culture’s way of thinking. For example, when reading an article you can stop and reread the sentence as many times as you want to understand it. You cannot do the same on a broadcast. Not only does that leave room for misunderstood statements and thoughts, but it also excludes some information all together because it is too complicated.

I think the best lesson to take from the advice offered is to remain aware of what you may be unaware of in such a diverse, changing world.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Understanding the Media

In today’s world the media is all around us. News content is at people’s fingertips twenty-four hours a day and from multiple outlets. It is our jobs as journalist to give the viewer the facts and information so that they can understand the story. However it seems all too often that when watching or reading anything media related there is a biased or slanting of the story because the writers or editors have personal feelings on the matter.

In the assigned readings “Reports, Inferences, Judgments” by S.I. Hayakawa and “The Medium is the Metaphor” by Neil Postman it touches on these issues and how we as journalist need to understand how the media is supposed to work and give the viewer the news without any preconceived notions. “Inferences may be carefully or carelessly made. They may be made on the basis of a broad background of previous experience with the subject matter or with no experience at all.” (Hayakawa, 37) This quote is exactly what we have talked about multiple times in class; we must separate ourselves from ourselves. In other words, as journalist we must check our emotions, beliefs and preconceived notions at the door and report the facts to a wide audience. If we bring our own personal beliefs to our writing or broadcasting we might imply something that can be taken out of context by our viewers. If this happens then our judgments on certain views can stop thoughts on the subject by our viewers and thus tainting the news we deliver. We must understand that we are the mediators; we have to give information on an issue or an event to a broad audience. We cannot infer or slant our media, we give the facts and information, and then we let the audience decipher the information as they see fit. Most likely the way a 50 year-old-man deciphers the information will certainly be different than a 20 year-old-man, however we did not persuade them to have these views they created them on their own, and that is the difference. Let the audience decide what they want to take away from the media, not the other way around (we the media, tell the audience to feel this way, or have these notions about someone or something.)

It also goes beyond writing or what we say during a broadcast. It is also the way we choose to portray and view the people in our stories, in “The Medium is the Metaphor” Postman talks about this in the first part of the chapter. “We may have reached the point where cosmetics have replaced ideology as the field of expertise over which a politician must have competent control.” (Postman, 42) When reading this quote I think back to the presidential election and can remember discussing in my Multimedia Journalism class about how the media was portraying Barack Obama in a more positive light than John McCain. The angles and lighting seemed to be more favorable towards the younger and thinner Obama and thus could have helped persuaded people to favor him. On Election Day the OU Daily’s front page was a large picture of Obama with McCain nowhere to be in sight. Without even reading the headline the Daily was in favor of Obama and showed their bias when reporting the event.

It is a very thin line to walk for the media; it could be one word or the way we phrase a statement or sentence that can have us leaning to one side to the spectrum or the other. It is a tool that we must craft and work at so that when it comes time to use our tools we are able to do so in the proper manner. We have discussed this topic in class as well. Being able to report unbiased and straight is what separates us from every blogger or so called “journalist” out there. This is our skill that most people do not posses and if we as young journalist can understand the correct way to portray media and begin to utilize this skill right now, we might be able to lead by example and hopefully many will follow.

Understanding the Media

News is something that has been a part of peoples’ lives for quite some time now. Before multi media and television, people exchanged information orally by word of mouth. As years passed news was exchanged visually through words, photographs and newspapers. Later on radio was invented and people began to hear their news.

Now, today millions of people all around the world have the opportunity to read, hear and watch news of all different types, topics and subjects in whatever form they want, thanks to television and multimedia.

As our world continues to change and our news enters the age of multimedia, so does our outlook on the world. In the text, “The Medium Is A Metaphor,” the writer, Neil Postman says, “we do not see our nature or intelligence or human motivation or ideology as ‘it’ is but only as our languages are. And our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.”

Postman explains that a metaphor “suggests what a thing is like by comparing it to something else. This suggestion fixes a conception in our minds that we cannot imagine the one thing without the other.”

To understand how our media functions metaphorically we must understand the media’s information and how it is gathered, put together and presented. We must understand how the media works. Where did the information come from? Who did it come from? Is it typed in the newspaper? Is it captured in a picture? Is it posted on a blog? Is it broadcasted on television?

As journalists we have the power through our words and mediums to influence and even shape the way people think about issues, views and events in the world.

Postman says “our media-metaphors classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, color it, argue a case for what the world is like.”

We must be conscious of this and make sure we consistently practice good journalism.

As Professor Gade said in class “We must divorce ourselves from our biases and values, not the facts and the information. We must be a fly on the wall and step back from who we are to try to see our sources for who they are. We must identify their points as they mean them and be empathetic.”

In order for journalists to practice good journalism, we must understand the media and how it works. We must be aware of what we are reporting and how we are doing it. How do we do this?

On top of divorcing ourselves from ourselves, we have to learn to stay away from inferences, judgments and the use of loaded words, according to S.I. Hayakawa.

We need to be constantly checking ourselves to make sure what we are writing and reporting is unbiased and neutral. We need to present the facts to people and allow them the opportunity to make their own inferences and judgments.

Although I agree with Hayakawa in that we need to stay away from inferences, judgments, and loaded words, I can’t help, but ask myself one thing. How do I truly know I am reporting objective, neutral, and unbiased information? I personally think it is impossible right now for me to write objectively about an issue I feel strongly about. How do we overcome this and learn to step away from ourselves?

Professor Gade told us in class, “objectivity is a process and a professional skill”. I hope all of us will possess and mater the art of objectivity one day. Until then, we have a lot of learning to do.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Media Evolution

The role of the Journalist is being reshaped daily, due to modern technology. As discussed in class, everyone serves as a journalist in a sense, having the capability to contribute online content without any sort of gate keeping.

According to the article written by Michael Schudson and Susan E. Tifft, “Journalists have often claimed to serve timeless longings, to be the storytellers of the world, the bards and troubadours of everyday life for everyday people.” In today’s society this is still implemented to an extent. It does seem that journalists are striving to be storytellers; they are storytellers of the world, in that they tell the stories of what is happening around the world, i.e. the news.

Though journalists may long to tell the “stories of the world” in today’s evolving whirl wind of media, it seems that this ability is slowly dwindling. The media have to function as a business while concurrently functioning to serve the public by supplying the information they need and want. This is where a complicated blur comes into effect. How can quality remain, if the media are allowing things such as pseudo-events to flood the pages?

Of course pseudo-events are important to the business aspect of the media. Pseudo-events often keep people happy, more than truly informing people of news. As said in the article From News Gathering to News Making: A Flood of Pseudo-Events by Daniel Boorstin “ ‘Pseudo’ comes from the Greek word meaning false,” this idea of falseness can be applied to the majority of pseudo-events which we see a rise in, in the media today. How often do you read about events that are upcoming? As pointed out by Boorstin, “what does it mean?” will often be the question when speaking about pseudo-events, where as with something more concrete the instinctive question is “What happened?”

The media as a business has encountered a whole new animal with the evolution of journalism today. It is known that online journalism is not a very solid means of profit for the media nor is it a necessarily reliable source for the consumer. How is the media to find a way to continue to work as the media, if online is not raking in enough money? If there was a “right” answer and I knew it, I am sure I would be a very wealthy girl right now.

For the time being, it is frustrating to think about all the community journalists there is out on the world wide web contributing free content without any sort of gate keeping. Though the content created by these free journalists will more than likely not be on par with trained journalists, there is also a lack of editor in the mix. The idea of the lacking editor in this type of scenario seems to be what is keeping the new and old journalists hope hanging on. In reality it seems there is no option but to charge to view credible sites, which would require all media communicating and agreeing on doing so. This seems like a pretty far-fetched idea in reality because all it takes is one person to say they will do it for free and the rest are in the hole.

So we have no real conclusion as to where we will be taken as journalists in the years to come or how it will function as a business in years to come. Looking at years past its not like there is much hindsight, which can be gained and implemented in the future.

So for now… good luck.

The State of the News Media: Have the lambs stopped screaming?

Perusing the Pew Project's report on the state of affairs in the current media climate afforded a comprehensive view into the quagmire that we, as students, have been made very aware of within the walls of the Gaylord College. The report, as stated by the practitioners themselves, is bleak. This dreary outlook can be found not only in the subject matter, but is projected loud and clear through many media outlets scrambling, convoluted attempts to get back to the way it was before things were flipped upside down.

But, wait. Why aim to go back there? For one, it was comfy before all hell broke loose. There's nothing comfortable about now. Today, you embrace change or go home, and many are already on their sofa begrudgingly watching the bookends of the political cable spectrum: Hannity or Olberman.

What surprises more than anything is the reliance these bastions of journalism and stalwarts of the First Amendment had/have upon the dollar. It is common knowledge that media entities make profits. After all, they need to pay their staffs and cover production costs. Yet, the scramble occurring to recover some of the lost revenue that the current technological changes have brought about provides clear insight into an eye opening altruism: making money is more important to many of these organizations than dispensing truth when you get right down to it.

It is an even more startling revelation that many of the current developments that have made life so hard on the long standing institutions of the journalism landscape could have been avoided with a little foresight:

"In newspapers, roughly half of all classified advertising revenue has vanished, a good deal of that to operations that newspapers could have developed for themselves."

One simple word comes to mind: complacency. And what does that say for organizations that turn out a brand spanking new product every single day of the week? Arrogance? Or maybe a head in the sand approach to the looming changes that inevitably face all organizations at some point in their existence? The inability to perceive and adapt to change has placed many news organizations in a hole dug by themselves, and the economic woes multiplied by the recession could very well provide the dirt to bury them alive.

With the layoffs and economic woes mentioned above, reporters are changing their professional tactics, as well. Some individuals are setting out on their own, and, like photographers have long championed, living a freelance lifestyle (though this is only a small number, it is still fascinating). The report states:

"The movement offers the possibility of more skilled reporting from the field. Yet it would also require consumers to be discriminating and raises questions about how news organizations would ensure quality and reliability."

This trend holds much to be afraid of in the brave new world of journalism. The so called movement requires the reader to be more discerning regarding what they consume, but who has that much faith in the everyday joe surfing the net? One main concern with the current trend of fractured/niche media outlets is that they are offering a skewed and opinionated view of the truth, but not clearly stating so on the front end. A reader of a less discriminating mind, or even one without the time or want to seek out other potential sources, gets, if not misinformed, led in a particular direction. This is the nature of this new beast, but so many are simply not aware. Whereas before, there were entities at legacy news organizations in place for quality control, there are no such filters in the blogosphere.

Final thought: negligence within the industry has led to this point, and the only thing that will see it through is vigilance and a commitment to the truth. Doing so in new and experimental ways is a must to compete with lone wolves lurking out in the vast expanse of the internet. Yet, the search for truth can never be compromised. Even for timeliness, our new favorite friend. Anchoring ourselves to this idiom will do more heading forward than running around spending fleeting dollars on dead end ideas executed from knee jerk positions.

How Newspapers Can Make Money Again

People are running. Papers are flying. Phones are ringing off the hook. I try to make sense of the chaotic environment in the newsroom.

“What’s going on?” I ask Randy, a veteran reporter.

“Oh, the ad people are having a big marketing blitz,” he said. “They are calling companies to try to convince them to buy ads in our paper. We’re really hurting financially, you know.”

While I admit newspapers receive most of their money from advertising, there is no possible reason why they should be engaged in a marketing campaign. If such an action has to occur, then the journalists are not doing their job. Good journalism should be the first priority of any news organization, not advertising.

Good journalism has been defined in the last blog as journalism that does not merely present the news, but interpret the news so citizens would know how it impacts their lives. If a newspaper vows to make citizens its “first loyalty,” as Kovach and Rosenstiel explain, then that mindset will leak into the newspaper’s stories; citizens will realize this and circulation would likely increase.

But many news organizations are reluctant to enact this kind of journalism. But why? Because they believe that being positive toward businesses would make businesses more willing to place ads in the newspaper. This has lead to these “pseudo-events” we have been talking about in class. These pre-planned events really have no news value and are usually set up to promote a certain business or organization. The problem with covering these events is that it is counter productive. A news organization wants to make money, but by offering to promote certain businesses over others, it is compromising the organization’s journalistic integrity. The citizens will realize this and circulation will fall, along with the amount of advertisers.

Another misconception news organizations have regarding increasing profits is this notion that if you cut jobs, you will increase revenue. Schudson and Tifft state that “because cost-cutting was an easy way to boost profits, some newsrooms lacked adequate resources to pursue complex stories.” I have seen this first hand when I wrote stories from the State Capitol. The Tulsa World and Daily Oklahoman used to have a total of eight reporters working at the Capitol. Now, they only have three. They do not just work separately either. Because they have lost resources, they work together on stories. So it is like they are one newspaper instead of two. This leads to less compelling stories that affect people, and more stories that simply implement quick quotes and barely scratch the surface. Sure, the organization will get some upfront money from cutting jobs, but it will hurt them financially in the long-term. If an organization can have more employees providing good journalism, then their profits will flourish in the long-term because they will have more readers.

Schudson and Tifft will both agree that the Internet had a huge impact on the journalism industry. "Traditional news organizations launched Web editions that allowed news not only to be interactive, but updated continuously throughout the day." This is great for journalism, but news organizations have not combined good journalism with a good business model. This has led to less circulation and more online readers. Why pay to read something you can read online for free? Ideally, the solution would be to charge for online content, but this is impossible without collaberation between all media organizations. In other words, this will never happen. Media organizations should strip their online stories and allocate only multimedia for the Internet, like videos or slideshows. If viewers want a more in-depth look at a story, tell them to refer to the newspaper. If citizens are interested, they will have to pick up a newspaper because the in-depth content is not available anywhere else.

Lastly, a good-journalism-first business model works not only in the land of theory, but in the real world. A great example of this is the McClatchy Papers. This newspaper company avoided layoffs in 2005. President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a speech to shareholders that good journalism was the backbone to all of the company’s success.

“Our focus on journalistic quality and continuous improvement certainly supports our strong performance in circulation,” Pruitt said.

And strong circulation means no more marketing campaigns for newspapers. If good journalism equals more readers, then companies would realize this and would come to you instead of you marketing to them. And more advertisers mean when an editor is asked what is black, white and red all over, he or she could confidently answer “our newspaper” instead of “our balance sheets.”

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