I’m teaching a media literacy course in Arizona State University’s online program, and one of my assignments has been to ask students to keep a detailed record of their media use — consuming and producing, but an emphasis on the former — for a day. (Maybe it should be a week…)
Here’s the assignment in detail:
For one full day, keep track of your own media consumption. I don’t care if it’s reading a newspaper (in print or online), TV or radio program (broadcast or online), Facebook, YouTube, blogs, Twitter or anything else. Take notes. Then, do a blog post on your own impressions of how you get information and entertainment. For example, what are your main sources of news? Why do you trust them (if you do), and which do you trust more than others? Do you go to news organizations’ home pages or do you mostly read articles via links from other places, such as Facebook? A key question: What do you think you might be missing? Do you care? In general, I want you to explore your own use of media as a consumer. (We’ll look at media creation later on in the course.)
In the spirit of doing, not just telling, here’s my media use for Monday, Oct. 21:
- 5:15 am: Wake up to a smart-phone alarm-clock app. Quickly check email.
- 5:45 am: On a tablet at the breakfast table, check the New York Times homepage. Read a couple of articles including a fascinating piece about a Hungarian opera aimed at countering anti-Semitism.
- 6 am: Before leaving for the airport, check to see if flight is scheduled on time (it is); print boarding pass.
- 6:10 am: Listen to NPR’s Morning Edition on car radio.
- 6:50 am: At the gate after checking in, an announcement tells us the plane were supposed to board is being taken out of service. Check the airline’s mobile site to see what is leaving later in the day if this one is cancelled.
- 6:55-7:30 am: On phone, check out my Twitter feed, looking at stories several people have linked to, plus retweeting a couple of items and posting a tweet or two of my own (expressing annoyance at airline’s lack of information about the delay).
- 8 am: We are told to go to another gate. Once there, read an e-book (in my Kindle phone app, on loan via my local public library) until we board.
- 9:00 am: When flight attendant tells us to turn off our devices for takeoff, skim the San Francisco Chronicle, one of three newspapers I picked up in the frequent flier lounge). Catch up on the Bay Area Rapid Transit strike news; not much else of interest in the paper.
- 9:45 am: On mobile phone, watch part of a saved TV show episode (Person of Interest, if it matters).
- 10:30 am: On laptop computer, work on a chapter for upcoming book.
- 11 am: When we’re told to turn off devices for landing, skim the Wall Street Journal (dead-tree edition), reading several articles carefully, including one about a broadcasting company’s expansion via what a critic calls a legal “shell game” that lets it artfully skirt media consolidation rules.
- 1 pm: At ASU office. For next few hours, catch up on email, check Twitter, meet with students, read a number of news articles — via Twitter, bookmarks, Reddit, Slashdot, Feedly, Google and Yahoo News keyword alerts, email referrals, etc. — from sites including the New York Times, All Things Digital, BoingBoing, Talking Points Memo, Ars Technica, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Washington Post, National Review, Wall Street Journal, TechDirt, and many, many others. Make notes on some, tweet and Google+ a few others, send several URLs to ReadItLater for further attention. Do a quick post on my personal blog, pointing to my most recent Guardian column. Work on my opening statement for a debate in which I’m a participant on Tuesday evening. Work on next lecture for my online course.
- 6:15 pm. At dinner in hotel restaurant, read a few articles from favorite tech and policy websites, some listed above.
- 7 pm: Skype conference call: meeting of search committee for the next director of the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism & Media Studies Centre (where I taught part-time from 1999-2004)
- 9 pm: Watch previous day’s Jon Stewart Daily Show monologue, then watch a film via Netflix (Fargo, a great 1990s movie).
A couple of things jump out at me when I look at this — apart from the immense amount of media use, more than most people (which makes sense since I do this for a living):
First, I didn’t watch live TV even once, and the only time I listened to the radio was on the way to the airport. (Note: I just edited this sentence to add the word “live” before TV, after a Twitter follower asked me why watching a saved show wasn’t actual TV.)
Second, my main sources of trusted information are in some ways a lot like the main sources 20 years ago in some ways — the New York Times, for example, as well as several other large media sites. But my way of getting to them is evolving, and I have many more trusted sources than before.
In particular, several Twitter lists and Google+ circles (roughly the same thing; collections of people I follow about specific topics) have become filters of great value. I can generally depend on them to send me to information I need to know about.
Nonetheless, I know I’m missing some important things if I rely only on other people to flag things. This is one reason why I go to the home pages of some news sites on a regular basis. The Hungarian opera story is one great example: I don’t think any of my automated (e.g. RSS) or human feeds (e.g. Twitter) flagged it for me. Serendipity lives in the new world, but the serendipity created by great editors is still pretty valuable.
Two decades ago, just before the graphical World Wide Web exploded into our lives like the Big Bang of the Internet era, my news/information/entertainment consumption was basically a daily sameness. Trusted (or mostly trusted) editors — including network TV people — put together reports, which could take or leave.
Today it’s a constantly evolving collection of people, sites, conversations and more. It takes more effort on my part, but I believe I’m vastly better informed.