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Media Literacy – Mediactive

My class post on what I read (watch, etc.)

NOTE: For a digital media literacy class I’m teaching, I’ve asked students to do this assignment: Write a blog post of 300-500 words about the media you follow every day. By “follow” I mean, for example, what you read / listen to / watch in email, Twitter, Facebook, YikYak, Instagram, news websites/apps, and the like. Which of these are “news” in the traditional sense? Do you read news articles mostly from recommendations, or do you have some homepages you visit routinely?

Here’s my stab at it–a bit longer than what I assigned, but I didn’t have enough time to make this short. I promised to post by the end of the day today, and will add links later.

My daily media consumption is enormous, because I do this for a living. Here’s what happened one recent day:

When I wake up I briefly check email and Twitter. If something seems super-urgent I may open an email or click through to a link. Usually I don’t.

At breakfast, using a tablet, I go to the homepages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Guardian and Financial Times. All of those outlets have a world view, and I want to see what their editors–some of the best in journalism–believe is important. I also check my RSS newsreader, which collects stories and links from a variet of sources I’ve pre-selected.

At my home-office desk:

— I check out a number of websites including Reddit, Slashdot, All Things Digital, BoingBoing, Talking Points Memo, Ars Technica, National Review, Wall Street Journal, TechDirt, Jon Stewart, John Oliver (when HBO posts his regular commentary), among others.

— I run Twitter and Google+ in separate browser tabs but don’t try to keep up with it all the time (though I confess I check them more often than I should.) Whether an important story or some ridiculous meme is bubbling up, I’ll be likely to notice it among the people I follow. I also check 5 Twitter lists I follow on these topics: journalism, the media business, technology, entrepreneurship and media literacy.

— Besides regular email, I subscribe to several mail lists on those topics, as well as a great daily list of five items from This.cm, a site that creates serendipity for me. I sort those separately in my email inbox, and read them one after the other. Many of the links have already shown up in Twitter, and many point to the traditional and other media sites I routinely scan.

During the day I’m constantly bouncing around to various media including videos (typically posted on YouTube and Vimeo), audio (NPR and others), and other websites.

After dinner I sometimes watch videos on our television, but almost never live TV. We subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime and satellite (Dish). I record some TV series (e.g. “Justified”) and watch when I have time, skipping through the commercials.

On my bedside table I have a hardcover book or two (one from the library and one I’ve bought, the latter almost always written by someone I know), and a Kindle Voyager e-reader. I read for a half hour or so before going to sleep.

Takeaways (similar to what I found when I did this several years ago):

I listen to or watch very little broadcast media apart from NPR (or super-important breaking news, very very rarely).

My main sources of trusted information resemble some of the ones from several decades ago, such as the New York times. I get to them in some different ways, however.

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. However, I know I’m missing some important things if I rely only on other people to flag things.

For me, media consumption is an evolving collection of people, sites, conversations, and entertainment. Much of it overlaps. It takes more effort on my part, but I believe I’m vastly better informed — and entertained.

FCC Hearing Illuminates Supply, Not So Much About Demand

I’m listening a simulcast of the Federal Communications Commission’s hearing this morning at ASU’s Cronkite School. The event was designed to highlight issues surrounding the FCC’s recent report on community information needs.

The overwhelming focus is on supply, with almost no discussion of demand. That’s disappointing, and reflects a continuing problem in this arena.

The report discusses demand (which is a major focus of Mediactive), but offers few recommendations on what to do about it. Meanwhile, one FCC commissioner, Michael Copps, has been talking about the issue — in the context of media and news literacy — but, as the report suggests, it’s unclear what the FCC can do to promote these literacies apart from calling them a good thing.

We will never have great supply without great demand.

Q&A With Henry Jenkins on Future of Media

Henry Jenkins, a USC professor and author who knows more about participatory media than just about anyone else, asked me some questions about the news/information ecosystem and media literacy in the 21st century. Here’s how the conversation went, in two parts (Part 1Part 2). 

Sample:

Q: What role should the news media itself play in fostering basic civic skills, including those of critical reading and thinking? For example, how should the news media be responding to persistent rumors about Obama, such as those promoted by so-called Birthers? Is this a “teachable moment,” as one would say in the Education Schools, and if so, how should teaching taking place via the news media?

A: I wish the news media had made this a core mission a long time ago. They didn’t, and still haven’t. That’s a real shame; it would have helped not just their audiences but themselves – because audiences would have gotten a better idea what it takes to do quality journalism and had more respect for it.

If I ran a news organization and learned that a sizeable percentage of people in my community believed something that was false – birtherism, for example – I would make it part of my mission to help them learn the truth. That sounds easier than it would be, because people who believe lies are invested in those beliefs, but teachable moments abound in today’s world.

A Wise Warning, and Real Journalism from an Unexpected Source

My friend and occasional colleague Scott Rosenberg warns in a CNN column that we all need to be careful of the “gotcha” stunts of people like James O’Keefe, a protege of the infamous Andrew Breitbart. In this case Scott is discussing O’Keefe’s successful efforts to get NPR to panic in the face of some off-putting remarks a fundraising executive (who has resigned) made about Tea Party supporters. (Scott also makes kind mention of Mediactive in the column.)

Meanwhile, the best analysis so far of the O’Keefe stunt comes not from NPR supporters or traditional media. Rather, it’s in this detailed examination of the video on Glenn Beck’s site, The Blaze — and the bottom line is that the NPR exec’s statements look much more benign and O’Keefe’s tactics look (if this is possible) even worse. Who’d have thought this might happen? Not me, I confess — and I’m going to start paying more attention to the site as a result.

Book Mentioned in New York Times Column

Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times’ Public Editor (ombudsman), mentioned Mediactive in his column today. He was looking at the question of speed versus accuracy in the news environment, and while I don’t agree with his conclusions I’m glad he gave the topic some notice.

(Note: I’ve known Brisbane for more than three decades, and consider him a friend.)

IdeasProject: What Can We Each Do to Get Reliable Information?

Here’s a question I hope you’ll take a crack at answering, and not just because you might win a phone if you come up with the best answer:

What single thing can each of us do to to assure that we and our communities (of interest and geography) have enough trustworthy, useful information?

That’s the “Question of the Week“  at Nokia’s IdeasProject.com. The idea is that once a week, someone involved in the project asks a question that sparks some interesting ideas and conversation.

Next Sunday, I’ll pick the best response. Remember, I’m looking for a single thing we each can do; you probably have a dozen good suggestions, but pick the one that will give us the greatest return for our time.

There’s a reward for the best answer: The one who comes up with it gets a Nokia phone.

Some background to my question, which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following our conversations here already:

We are in a splintering media world where anyone can commit a globally visible act of journalism — or deception. This means we’re awash in both good and bad information, and if Theodore Sturgeon’s maxim is true, most of it is crud. But with the huge amount of new stuff out there, this also means that there’s an enormous amount of good stuff, too.

So how do we sort the good from the bad? I’ve discussed it at some length in my own new project, but I’d like to be sure I haven’t missed anything.

To answer the question, visit http://bit.ly/9HOh7x to get directly to the Question of the Week. I’ll be updating here and on Twitter during the week. Please use the hashtag “#ideasproject”.

While you’re visiting IdeasProject.com, be sure to spend a little time looking at the other folks who’ve contributed not just the weekly questions but a whole variety of other thoughts, including Clay Shirky, Charlene Li, Robert Scoble and many others.

Several disclosures: Nokia is giving me one of their Netbooks in return for participating in this feature; I plan to donate it to a local school. In addition, in 2009 Nokia purchased Dopplr.com, a company I co-founded. I also have friends at Nokia, and the company gave us some phones several years ago to do mobile experiments as part of student projects.

 

You Don’t Always Need to Read the Book to Know It’s BS

One of the favorite media outlets of the “conservative” fringe — the semi-to-full-cuckoo faction of the right wing — is WorldNetDaily, which has just run an article about journalists who declined to read a new anti-Obama book. The story, which I’m deliberately not linking to so that I don’t help its search ranking, does make one interesting point: that journalists using email with people they don’t know well should remember that their own words can be used to make them look either foolish or petty, as several do in this case.

I’d heard about this book and wasn’t interested in reading it for several reasons. The main one, as I told a Twitter user who pushed me to read the thing, is that whatever truth it contains, it can’t be trusted at all. How do I know that, since I haven’t read it? Because people who have read the book have noted that an entire chapter is devoted to promoting the idea that Obama is occupying the White House illegally because he either isn’t a citizen or (it gets complicated) has lineage that prevents his office-holding. This is birtherism on steroids.

When I pointed this out to the Twitter person, he tweeted (seriously): “Not all who question the exalted messiah is a ‘birther’. Love how libs shut down discourse w/ BS buzzwords. “

No, I shut down discourse, first, when people make the ridiculous assumption that I regard Obama as an exalted messiah; anyone who’s read what I’ve written and Tweeted about his extension of the Bush-era civil liberties abuses, among other things, would understand that. I also shut down conversations when the other parties use over-the-top language to push their own political agenda without regard to what I’m actually saying.

Again, it’s simple: An author who pushes birtherism as a basic part of his anti-Obama tract loses me before he starts.

Games and Democratized Media: Suggestions Wanted

I’ll be at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) this week and I’d like your suggestions on what to cover. Games and interactivity are a large part of contemporary media and the ability to both engage with and create within this rapidly-evolving medium become more important.

You can see the conference’s schedule here. Hot topics this year are social games, geolocation, smartphone applications and augmented reality. As well, something like the Serious Games summit examines the use of games for not purely entertainment reasons. So, if the GDC interests you, add suggestions for sessions or topics you’d like me to cover to the comments section.

The Future of Journalism Education

Next week I’ll be attending a one-day conference at the Paley Center for Media in New York. The center and the Carnegie Corp. are asking what the future of journalism education should be — who should do it, how it should be done, and for what purpose.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time, and have blogged a number of ideas in the past several years, and one chapter in my upcoming book, Mediactive, will look closely at media education. Here’s an excerpt:

If I ran a journalism school, I would start with the same basic principles of honorable, high-quality journalism and mediactivism, and embed them at the core of everything else. If our students didn’t understand and appreciate them, nothing else we did would matter very much.

With the principles as the foundation, I would, among many other things:

  • Emphasize undergraduate journalism degrees as great liberal arts programs, even more valuable that way than as training for journalism careers. At the same time, focus graduate journalism studies on helping people with expertise in specific areas to be the best possible journalists in their fields.
  • Do away with the still-common “track” system for would-be journalists where students focus on print, broadcast, online, etc. These are merging. There would be one track. We wouldn’t just recognize our students’ digital future; we’d immerse them in it.
  • Encourage, and require in some cases, cross-disciplinary learning and doing. We’d create partnerships around the university, working with business, engineering/computer science, film, political science, law, design and many other programs. The goals would be both to develop our own projects and to be an essential community-wide resource for the future of local media.
  • Teach students not just the basics of digital media but also the value of data and programming to their future work. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to become programmers; but they absolutely need to know how to communicate with programmers. We’d also encourage computer science undergraduates to become journalism graduate students, so they can help create tomorrow’s media.
  • Require all students to learn basic statistics, survey research and fundamental scientific methodology. The inability of journalists to understand what they’re reading is one of journalism’s — and society’s — major flaws.
  • Encourage a research agenda with deep connections to key media issues of today. More than ever, we need solid data and rigorous analysis. And translate faculty research into language average people can understand as opposed to the dense, even impenetrable, prose that’s clear (if it really is) only to readers of academic journals.
  • Require all journalism students to understand business concepts, especially those relating to media. This is not just to cure the longstanding ignorance of business issues in the craft, but also to recognize that today’s students will be among the people who develop tomorrow’s journalism business models. We’d discuss for-profit and not-for-profit methods, and look at advertising, marketing, social networking, and search-engine optimization, among many other elements.
  • Make entrepreneurship a core part of journalism education. Arizona State University, where I’m working, is among several schools working on this, and the early experiments are gratifying. Several of our student projects have won funding. At City University of New York, Jeff Jarvis has received foundation funding for student projects to continue after the class is over, based on semester-ending competitive “pitches” to a judging panel of journalists and investors. We need to see more and more of these and other kinds of experiments.
  • Recognize that not all, and probably not most, students will end up as entrepreneurs. But they will all come to appreciate two key elements of entrepreneurship. One is the notion of taking ownership of a process and outcome. The other, which may be the most important single thing students — of all kinds — need in this fast-changing world is an appreciation of ambiguity, and the ability to deal with it. This means reacting to changes around us, being flexible and swift when circumstances change. Ambiguity is not something to fear; it is part of our lives, and we need to embrace it.
  • In a related area, recognize that many of our best students, particularly the ones with a genuine entrepreneurial bent, will not graduate as scheduled, if ever. They’ll create or join startups while they have the passion and energy, and we should encourage them to try.
  • Appreciate our graduates no matter where their careers have taken them. If we understand that journalism education is a valuable step into any number of professions, we should not just celebrate the graduates who’ve gone on to fame (if not fortune) in journalism, but also those who’ve made marks in other fields.
  • Persuade the president (or chancellor or whatever the title) and trustees of the university that every student on the campus should learn journalism principles and skills before graduating, preferably during freshman year. At State University of New York’s Stony Book campus, the journalism school has been given a special mandate of exactly this kind. Howard Schneider, a former newspaper journalist who now is dean of Stony Brook’s journalism school, won foundation funding to bring news literacy into the university’s broader community, not just those enrolled in journalism courses.
  • Create a program of the same kind for people in the community, starting with teachers. Our goal would be to help schools across our geographical area bring mediactivism to every level of education—not just college, but also grade, middle, and high school. We would offer workshops, conferences and online training.
  • Offer that program, or one like it, to concerned parents who feel overwhelmed by the media deluge themselves, to help turn them into better media consumers and to give them ways to help their children.
  • Keep what we now call public relations as part of the mission, but move it into a separate program. Call it “Persuasion,” and include marketing and other kinds of non-journalistic advocacy in this category. As we recognize that the lines are blurring, sometimes uncomfortably, we’ll require all journalism students to learn the techniques of persuasion. But Persuasion majors would conversely be steeped in the principles of honorable media creation.
  • Provide for-fee training to communicators who work in major local institutions, such as PR and marketing folks from private companies, governmental organizations, and others. If they could be persuaded that the principles matter, they might offer the public less BS and more reality, and we’d all be better off for the exercise.
  • Enlist another vital player in the effort to help people appreciate the value of solid, ethical journalism: local media of all kinds, not just traditional media. Of course, as noted earlier, they should be making this a core part of their missions, given that their own credibility would rise if they helped people understand the principles and process of quality journalism. But we’d very much want to work with local new media organizations and individuals, too.
  • Advise and train citizen journalists to understand and apply the principles and best practices. They are going to be an essential part of the local journalism ecosystem, and we should reach out to show them how we can help.
  • Augment local media with our own journalism. We train students to do journalism, after all, and their work should be widely available in the community, particularly when it fills in gaps left by the shrinking traditional media. At Arizona State, the Cronkite News Service provides all kinds of coverage of topics the local news organizations rarely cover, making our students’ work available to those organizations. Soon, we’ll be publishing it ourselves on our own website.

All this suggests a considerably broader mission for journalism schools and programs than the one they’ve had in the past. It also suggests a huge opportunity for journalism schools. The need for this kind of training has never been greater. We’re not the only ones who can do it, but we may be among the best equipped.

Note: Seth Lewis at the Nieman Journalism Lab is looking for ideas in this space. He’s dead-on in wanting to see students come out of the experience with great flexibility, and his piece has already attracted some excellent comments.