The Media Circus

In 2008, I wrote a few blog posts about a young mother from Florida, “ branded by Nancy Grace on national television as the worse mother in America”. No, I am not talking about Casey Anthony. I am talking about Erin Markes. She had a son with a rare birth defect, and Nancy Grace “ridiculed and branded a criminal before all the facts about her son’s medical condition were known…The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped the charges. The boy died in hospice care two weeks later. Markes has remarried and has a healthy baby. Nancy Grace never apologized.”

Now, I must admit, I have not followed the media circus around Casey Anthony. All I really know is that a jury, when presented the evidence, found Casey Anthony not guilty of what she had been accused of by Nancy Grace.

But that was last week’s news. This week, the big story is the unraveling of parts of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The ‘hacking scandal” has already cost the jobs of quite a few people and we’ll see what is left to be played out.

Meanwhile, the discussion about how to understand and resolve the financial problems of our country and the world seem caught in a game of he said, she said, where the focus is on placing blame, scoring political points, and not doing anything to make our country or our world a better place.

All of this brings me back to the SPJ Code of Ethics,

Seek Truth and Report It…Minimize Harm…Act Independently…Be Accountable

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Rethinking Television

I am not a big fan of television. Much of the content seems a bit mindless. However, recently, we purchased a Roku and I’ve been re-evaluating my thoughts about TV.

Mostly, we’ve been using the Roku to watch movies on Netflix. I’ve been trying to get my daughter to spend more time watching interesting shows. After much negotiation last night, we ended up watching the documentary, Between the Folds. It was a fascinating exploration of aspects of origami that I was not aware. Fiona enjoyed it as well.

After she went to bed, my mind was still engaged, so I thought I would go back and watch more of a lecture at Columbia, Manuel Delanda, "Deleuze and the Use of the Genetic Algorithm in Architecture". I had started watching that a while ago, but hadn’t watched in on Roku. However, as is often the case, I got distracted and started watching Cinéphilosophie: Philosophy goes to the Movies by Maison française.

The video isn’t all that high a quality. Pretty much a single shot of a lecture. Yet it was fascinating for a bunch of reasons. The topic was fascinating, the intersection of philosophy and cinematography. The idea that it was a lecture, filmed and placed on YouTube, to be viewed online, and here I was, watching it on my television, as the guests spoke about thinking about film.

This morning, I woke up, not feeling all that well, so I did a little work online, but mostly rested. As I searched around, I found the European Graduate School on YouTube. So, I spent a little time watching Claire Denis. Perspective Context and Narration in Film. 2010.

The video quality was even poorer than the video from Columbia, but again, the content was fascinating.

So, now I’m on a question for the best sources of educational videos on YouTube, and by this I’m talking about graduate school level lectures and now six minute how to videos about starting blogs.

Got recommendations?

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Engagement, Connectivity and Creativity

This is a slightly edited version of an email that I sent to a list of group psychotherapists that I participate in. It pulls together some ideas from Story.lab and my thoughts about writing my blog and writing for The Patch.

Here in the United States, it is Thanksgiving Day. I will spend most of this day with my extended family away from technology. There are over 10,000 unread emails, including a fair amount from this list, sitting in my inbox. There are websites I should visit and articles I should write.

Yet I want to take a few moments to reflect on the comments on the mailing list. I have an odd relationship with media. As a technologist, I am immersed in it. Yet at the same time, I have a strong dislike of what I consider 'bad' media.

To me, technology and media are not bad in and of themselves. They are neutral. They can be used for good, or they can be used for bad. As I try to determine what makes for the good or bad use of technology or media, I come back to three key ideas. Engagement, connectivity, and creativity. Technology and media that encourages engagement, connectivity and creativity are, in my mind, technology and media that is being used for good. Technology and media that discourages engagement, connectivity and creativity are, for the most part, being used badly.

My older two daughters grew up watching limited television. Typically, we limited it to arts and education shows. They are better versed in opera than in boy bands. For computer games, they were typically limited to educational games and I always told them they were free to play any game that they could write.

Years later, they have commented about how this created difficulties in them adjusting to the society around them and I worry that in some ways I was too restrictive. It is useful to have at least some exposure to popular culture to be able to relate and connect with our peers that are more steeped in popular culture. In addition, it seems like there is something artificial in a line between high brow culture and low brow culture. There are good boy bands and there are bad operas.

As an aside, as I talk about technology and media, I think of two addition thoughts. First is Marshall McLuhan and "The Medium is the Message". Certain media encourages passivity. Certain media encourages creativity and engagement. This leads into the second thought. My middle daughter is now a senior in college majoring in art. She did drop the double major in psychology, but it remains a strong interest of hers. As a creative fine artist, her favorite media are oils and clay. Her favorite technology is the paintbrush and the potter's wheel.

So, I've altered my parenting style with my youngest daughter. When she comes home, she plops down in front of the television. She needs time to unwind. We all need that from time to time. I let her chose what she wants to watch. However, she knows that my wife or I are likely to engage her in discussion about what she watches. There are a few evening television shows that she likes and is permitted to watch, Glee and Modern Family. They often lead to long discussions about the moral issues as well as the creativity involved.

At the beginning of this week, I took a new freelance position as the Around Town columnist for a hyperlocal online news site. I am very aware of the content I am being paid to create and I constantly ask myself, is this good content? Am I being creative? Will people be better people by reading what I write. As I talk about media and technology the same applies to my coverage of local events. Am I promoting engagement, connectivity and creativity? I hope so.

So, whether you are concerned about schools, media, technology or whatever, I come back to engagement, connectivity and creativity. I hope we call all learn a more of this.

Writing for the Bethwood Patch

Yesterday, I started freelance writing for the Bethwood Patch. I have a column that I will attempt to update twice a day with articles about what is happening around Bethany and Woodbridge. I will need to see how this fits with my other work, writing at this blog and the future of The Woodbridge Citizen.

Especially important to me is how it affects the quality of my writing. Will I be able to pump out two articles a day of writing I can be proud of, of writing that properly honors the towns of Woodbridge and Bethany, or writing that inspires people to become more involved in their local communities? We’ll see.

What will it do to my writing here? The stuff I write about Woodbridge and Bethany is likely to appear only in the Bethwood Patch, so I’ll probably be focusing a little less on local issues and more on other topics here.

Patch is an interesting venture. Can AOL revive itself and local journalism through The Patch? What will Patch do for journalists coming out of J School? Will there be more jobs, or will some of these jobs go to people who haven’t been to J School? Will reporters for Patch cover the local news stories that haven’t gotten enough coverage in recent years, such as board of education meetings, with a local touch in a way that makes them more engaging to local readers and frees up well trained investigative reporters to pursue more challenging stories? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, be sure to check out my column About The Towns at the Bethwood Patch. Share your comments about the columns there and any meta discussion here. And, if you have any tips about things in Bethany and Woodbridge that I should cover, let me know.

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In Defense of Juan Williams

Juan Williams comment, “if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous” and NPR’s decision to end his contract as a news analyst has got a lot of people talking.

ThinkProgress has a good post about this entitled, Juan Williams Admits His Fear Of Muslims On Airplanes Is Irrational.

They refer to a question that George Stephanopoulos asked Williams on Good Morning America, “should you have gone the extra step and said, “Listen, they’re irrational, they are feelings I fight?” Williams responded, “Yeah, I could have done that.” Although he did get upset when NPR’s CEO Vivian Schiller suggested that his comments should have been “between him and his psychiatrist or his publicist”. Schiller later apologized, and she should have.

These days, psychiatrists typically spend minimal time talking to their patients. Their focus is on prescribing medications. Williams should talk with a good psychotherapist about his irrational fears. But I digress.

The real issue is whether or not his comments damaged his credibility as a news analyst. This is where Williams came so close to getting it right, and yet failing so miserably. For years the news industry has perpetuated a myth that news analysts can be fair and objective, that they can be unbiased. Personally, I don’t believe anyone can truly be objective.

It reminds me of when I attended the bloggers breakfast at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. One of the guest speakers was Walter Mears. Walter Mears has covered conventions for decades for the Associated Press. After he spoke, David Weinberger asked Mears whom he was supporting for president. Mears said that he wouldn’t say, because he had to remain objective. Weinberger pressed asking how people could compensate for Mears biases. Mears then claimed not to have biases and everyone laughed.

This is where Juan Williams came so close, and then failed. He admitted his irrational biases. He could then have said something like, “but you know, Bill, these fears are irrational. I struggle with them and I try not to let them affect my news analysis, but I know that they do, and people listening to me need to take that into consideration. You see, really, those of us in the news industry need to admit our fears and biases. We need to help other people recognize these fears and biases in themselves and rise above them.”

It is worth noting that according to NPR’s ombudsman wrote:

Later in that segment, Williams did challenge O'Reilly's apparent contention that every Muslim on the planet is an extremist bent on attacking America.

NPR was right in terminating Juan Williams news analyst contract, not for the words he said on O’Reilly’s show, but for his continued demonstration of his inability to be a credible news analyst.

Now, we have the battle over whether or not news analysts should be credible. Sarah Palin does not appear to believe that news analysts should be credible. She suggests that NPR should be defunded because “We get to witness Juan Williams being fired from NPR for merely speaking frankly about the very real threat this country faces from radical Islam.”

Unfortunately for Palin, that isn’t what he was talking about. He was talking about irrational fears, the sort of irrational fears that Palin pushes to promote herself. We need news analysts like Juan Williams could have been but failed to be. NPR plays an important role in this and should not be defunded. In fact, as Free Press notes in an email about their Don’t Let Extremists Defund NPR campaign:

The United States already has one of the lowest levels of federal funding of public media in the developed world — at just $1.43 per capita. Yet surveys show that the public considers NPR and PBS not just our most trusted news sources, but the most valued public institutions we have.

So, let’s see if we can get past the noise about Juan Williams. Let’s try to get to the meat of the subject. Can news analysts show their human failings and help us rise above our own? Standing up against islamophobia is a good starting point.

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