August 7, 2014

Mass New Media Word Salad

Yes, I did just start a website for my MED581 Issues in media Ethics class called Mass New Media Citizen Ethics. My challenge was coming up with a name that captures the complex nature of media ethics now that citizens — especially millennials — are also, and expect to be, media producers, i.e. more than just a part of the conversation.

I think it works ;-)

School starts on 18 August. So keep an eye out for their contributions. And use the contact form to make suggestions. The comment system will be open.

I have listed the site on the sidebar under Media Ethics. I will not be listing it as a part of the Rhetorica Network just yet. Still mulling that over.

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January 22, 2014

Taking a Break, Back in the Spring

Rhetorica and Carbon Trace will be on an extended blogging hiatus until sometime in the spring.

This is mostly a career-related break. I have several projects and matters to attend to that are going to require my full attention.

Now, when I say full attention, that doesn’t mean I’m going dark. I’ll still be commenting on the various topics of interest related to my two blogs through Facebook and Twitter.

I know you’re all out there just clinging to the edges of your seats :-)

Back soonish…

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November 13, 2012

The Whole Content Thing

I’ve written many times on Rhetorica about the differences between stenography and reporting. The essential difference is that stenography (the thing reporters do too often) is the mere passing along of statements made by others, and reporting is the digging into the issues of civic importance to discover the information people need to be free and self-governing.

In a recent blog post about the questionable future of journalism, Robert G. Picard describes the usual stenography:

Most journalists spend the majority of their time reporting what a mayor said in a prepared statement, writing stories about how parents can save money for university tuition, covering the release of the latest versions of popular electronic devices, or finding out if a sports figure’s injury will affect performance in the next match.

Most cover news in a fairly formulaic way, reformatting information released by others: the agenda for the next town council meeting, the half dozen most interesting items from the daily police reports, what performances will take place this weekend, and the quarterly financial results of a local employer. These standard stories are merely aggregations of information supplied by others.

Almost any of my students — people between 18 and 24 years old — can spot the problem immediately. And I’m not talking stenography (although that’s a problem). The problem here is that the kind of information gathered by stenography is, today, easily gathered and disseminated by almost anyone with a bit of gumption and an internet connection.

What Picard suggests — and it’s important — is really just a new way of understanding the traditional job of journalism we call reporting:

To survive, news organizations need to move away from information that is readily available elsewhere; they need to use journalists’ time to seek out the kinds of information less available and to spend time writing stories that put events into context, explain how and why they happened, and prepare the public for future developments.  These value-added journalism approaches are critical to the economic future of news organizations and journalists themselves.

Unfortunately, many journalists do not evidence the skills, critical analytical capacity, or inclination to carry out value-added journalism. News organizations have to start asking themselves whether it is because are hiring the wrong journalists or whether their company practices are inhibiting journalists’ abilities to do so.

Value-added journalism. That should be redundant, but it isn’t because he’s right.

Our culture can no longer afford the luxury of news organizations paying journalists to pass along their stenography. Our culture needs good journalism; it needs good reporting. So by all means let’s be redundant: We need value-added journalism.

(Note: Critical journalism? Where have you heard that before?)

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March 28, 2012

A Defining Moment

After they spit me out the other end of the graduate school machine, I would have conversations such as this with people I would meet:

Person: What do you teach?

Me: English composition and rehtoric.

Person: Oh, I’ll have to watch how I speak.

Every English teacher in the English-speaking world has had this conversation because it seems every speaker of English is scared to death of making a “grammatical” error (which tells you something about the language or English education or both). I developed this response:

Me: Don’t bother. I’m a content guy.

But the world was simpler then. I knew who I was. Despite the funky stereotype, when I told people I teach English they knew what I meant. If I answered “rhetoric,” I’d get a measure of curiosity that, appeared to me at least, to indicate “I haven’t the foggiest what that means, but it sounds interesting.”

A funny thing happened in 2004. I took a job teaching journalism — something that I had practiced for pay before enrolling in grad school (because I wanted out of journalism).

Now the introductory conversation goes something like this:

Person: What do you teach?

Me: Journalism.

Person: (look of horror and pity) Oh, that’s nice.

This reaction is often followed by the person asking one of two general questions:

Why is journalism so broken?

… or …

What kind of future can your students expect?

I’ve discussed answers to these questions on Rhetorica if you care to search for them. Short versions: 1. Arrogance, misunderstanding (long list), fear, and laziness. 2. Excellent, if one is not focused solely on big-city newspapers.

But here is where this post is really going: I don’t teach that much journalism anymore. My teaching duties have been, and will be for at least the next few years, two classes in media ethics, two classes in multimedia journalism (Ozarks News Journal), one class in fundamentals of media convergence/new media, and one class in introduction to journalism.

Half my teaching load is media courses. And ONJ is a learn-by-doing class for juniors and seniors. The come to that class knowing the basics and more of the craft of journalism, so it’s my job to help them practice their journalism skills for multimedia presentation. So it’s a hybrid media-journalism class.

I’m ready to have an entirely different introductory conversation:

Person: What do you teach?

Me: Multimedia convergence, media ethics, and journalism with a rhetoric focus.

Person: Waaaaaa?

OK, yeah, that needs work.

I can title myself almost anything within reason, I suppose. Technically, because of the name of my department, I am an Associate Professor of Media, Journalism & Film. But the film part just sticks out there because, frankly, I know nothing about film beyond what one learns watching movies. So here are a few ideas:

  • Associate Professor of Media and Journalism
  • Associate Professor of Media and Rhetoric
  • Associate Professor of Journalism and New Media
  • Associate Professor of Media Ethics and Journalism
  • Associate Professor of Media Ethics, Rhetoric, and Journalism
  • Associate Professor of Media Ethics, Rhetoric, Journalism, New Media, and Media Convergence
  • Associate Professor of Whatever The Hell It Is I’m Teaching This Year

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October 31, 2011

Journalism and Poverty: The Draft Essay

My recent essay about poverty and journalism is ready for Rhetorica readers to review. Here’s the link to Google docs.

I rely heavily on a criticism made by sociologists Herbert Gans and Michael Schudson — that journalism routinely fails to offer citizens “actionable” information. I largely agree with their assessments. So perhaps it is interesting that providing the poor and working class “actionable” business and economic coverage is exactly what I think newspapers should do to correct the (middle)  class bias of journalism.

Take a look. Let me know what you think.

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October 7, 2011

Rhetorica Update

Just a reminder to loyal Rhetorica readers: I will not be covering the presidential campaign the way I have done in the past, i.e. examining the rhetoric of the press-politics relationship. I am out of the politics game — at least on the national level. It remains to be seen if I use my space here on Rhetorica for state and local press-politics coverage. I’m still thinking about it.

Due to other commitments (especially regarding the sites I run for my classes — Ozarks News Journal and Reflections in the Screen), blogging on Rhetorica will continue to be a low priority. Exception: This will be the primary space for sharing my academic work. I am finishing my peer-review draft of my case study on journalism and poverty now (deadline early next week). I’ll post my results and thoughts as soon as the latest draft is complete.

Most of my blogging effort is going into Carbon Trace now — my blog about bicycling and walking for basic transportation. I’m having a much greater impact on the world with this local blog. The whole point of writing a blog (for me) is to make some difference in the world, to apply rhetoric to an exigence for the purpose of persuasion and, thus, to  create the world I want (see here and here).

I suggest that you subscribe to Rhetorica’s RSS feed so that you’ll be alerted when I post new content if you remain interested in Rhetorica.

I’m also thinking about a re-design. Hmmmm… if you have thoughts on that, please leave a comment.

Rhetorica isn’t going anywhere. I have too much important work represented here to close the site. Further, as Rhetorica approaches 10 years of existence, it is one of the longest-running blogs on the internet. That’s reason enough to make sure that I keep it going.

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July 30, 2011

Update: Journalism and Poverty

My essay for the American Political Science Association conference and the Journal of Poverty & Public Policy — a case study in reporting about poverty — is coming along nicely. The conference is in early September. I began the writing phase last week.

I found myself wanting to come up with something practical.

I have written/published these academic essays concerning journalism:

  • the ethics of pre-primary presidential campaign coverage
  • the role of identity in the ethics of writing ombudsman columns
  • the politics of community improvement programs
  • the ethics of identity in who is a journalist
  • the structural biases of journalism
  • the shifting definition of “losers” in the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

All of these essays had their beginnings here on Rhetorica, either as blog essays (re: bias and campaign coverage) or as questions I asked of my readers (re: ombudsman and “losers”). All these essays share something with many other essays written by professors in the humanities and social sciences: There is very little here that can be put to immediate use.

That’s OK on one level: Our primary purpose is to try to come to some understanding of how the world works and why it works that way from the points of view of our various disciplines. But it’s not at all satisfying from another role we academics should play — the role of public intellectual.

Take my primary campaign essay for example. It began as a blog essay entitled The Press-Politics of the Presidential Primary Process. My writing on this topic for Rhetorica and for an academic audience created an idea for the improvement of political journalism: Tell a different storytell the story of citizens’ experiences with governance.

Simple, right? Just change your whole point of view.

But that’s what professors so often do. We come up with stuff that has very little practical application because the institutions we hope to influence do not want to be influenced. The collective mind of an institution wants to survive and reproduce itself. Telling a different story of politics would change the entire game — a game that the establishment of journalism is very happy with as it is (despite occasional grousing on the pages of the Columbia Journalism Review).

That’s not to say “tell a different story” isn’t important or shouldn’t be used to improve political journalism. This is a change in point of view that would improve the ability of journalists to fulfill their primary purpose and come close the meeting the demands of their press-politics mythology. I stand by it as necessary, but I suffer no delusions that anything will ever change in regard to it.

With this new essay I set myself to a practical challenge: Say something interesting about how journalism (using the Springfield News-Leader as a case) covers poverty and point the way to better practice without costing the newspaper time, money, space, or personnel. In other words, take away the usual excuses for not making a change. These are, by the way, really good excuses. Much of what we all know would improve journalism costs the very things today’s corporate product has so little of:  time, money, space, or personnel.

Since I am studying one newspaper, I did a little field research and met with the editor, David Stoeffler. We’ve had two conversations about this essay, one formal and one informal. Those conversations have led to a breakthrough. Based on my examination of two months worth of issues of the News-Leader, I think I have discovered something that hits all the hot buttons.

Well, you’ve read this far, and this is where I leave you hanging. The conference is September 1-4. So I must have this thing written by 31 August. That’s when I’ll tell Rhetorica readers all about it.

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June 17, 2011

The Heroic Graphic Me

One of the first things I wrote for The Rhetorica Network almost ten years ago was the Media/Political Bias page. It’s still a work in progress, yet it has brought me and this weblog more attention that anything else I’ve written.

You will find the latest mention in Brooke Gladstone’s new book The Influencing Machine. It is a graphic, non-fiction book about the media. Here’s one of my panels in the chapter about bias:

Last fall I did a segment with Ms. Gladstone for On The Media about crisis reporting. We were chatting before the recording began, and she told me that I was in her forthcoming book. I made some wisecrack about hoping the artist drew me in a properly heroic fashion. And now you can see the results.

Now compare to the real things. Pretty close I guess :-)

I’ll start reading the book soon and write a review. A quick flip through it demonstrates that despite its graphic approach the book is thoroughly serious. Hmmmmm… do I have an anti-graphic book bias?

Oh, never. There’s nothing about a graphic approach that suggests a lack of seriousness. We’re still talking words here. But more, just take a look at the panel above. Notice what you can read in drawing. The hunch of my shoulders and the tilt of my head suggest that I think I’m stating the obvious but am baffled why no one seems to get it. I’ve got a steady hold on that rocking boat of bias and a steady gaze because, by gum, I just know I’m kinda sorta in the ballpark with this whole bias thing. And, perhaps, the hunch of my shoulders also betrays my being disconcerted that my little gem of obviousness — everyone’s little gems of obviousness in a rolling sea of motivated obviousness — is making Ms. Gladstone hurl.

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April 27, 2011

Journalism and Poverty

I’m working on a conference essay for the American Political Science Association. I have a question (or a bunch of them). Perhaps Rhetorica readers can help me.

Does one serve an audience by treating it as an object of reporting?

This question brought me to a stop as I was considering my topic — a case study in how a newspaper covers the poor (especially the working poor) in a town with a high percentage of its population working minimum-wage service jobs and living below the poverty line. If the primary purpose of journalism is to give citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing (Kovach & Rosenstiel 2007), does this suggest that such information is the same for all socio-economic levels?

What kind of journalism do the working poor need? What kind of journalism do the working poor want? What kind of journalism makes any particular group visible to the audience in the way that group understands itself? What type of journalism leads to political/economic visibility and efficacy?

To see where I’m going with this, check out these quotes from Herbert Gans from a Q&A at the Nieman Journalism Lab:

Multiperspectival news reporting is more diverse. It seeks news about other subjects that are newsworthy for the variety of audiences in the total news audience; it obtains news from many other sources, including ordinary citizens, and it reports a variety of political, ideological, and social viewpoints (or perspectives).

Here’s my favorite example. Poor audiences need business news like everyone else, but not about investing in the stock market or the latest newsworthy acts, legal or illegal, by corporate bigwigs. They need to know about the businesses in which they can afford to shop and the ones that will hire them, as well as the charitable and public agencies that can help them when they are jobless and in need.

I find the idea of journalists as representatives [of citizens] intriguing, in part because the U.S. is an upscale democracy, the politics of which is dominated by corporate campaign funders and the upper-middle-income population that votes and participates more actively than the rest.

As a result, U.S. politics does a poor job of representing the remainder of the citizenry, especially those earning below the median income and various numerical minorities.

Journalists are not elected officials and they cannot be political representatives or advocates but they can represent people in a variety of other ways, for example by turning their experiences and problems into news, and by asking politicians and other authoritative sources questions to which unrepresented and poorly represented citizens need answers.

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April 22, 2011

On (Teaching) Web Journalism

The spring semester is winding down, and that means that Ozarks News Journal has reached the end of its first school year in publication. I publish the site for my JRN378 Multimedia Journalism class.

Publishing on the server of the College of Arts & Letters at MSU presented certain difficulties — mostly technical/procedural. As the deadline to get a site running rapidly approached, I made the decision to publish ONJ myself (including paying for it) using the same hosting company I use for Rhetorica and Carbon Trace. No big deal as far as I’m concerned except that my kiester is on the line if anything goes wrong.

I’m very pleased with the work ONJ reporters did this year. They did what I wanted them to do most: Take the site seriously as a news organization. Not long after our coverage schedule began, I could hear them on their cell phones in the ONJ newsroom talking to sources and referring to themselves as reporters for Ozarks News Journal.

Reality is the best teacher. My job is to push them into it.

The ONJ reporters have one more feature package assignment to do before the semester ends (deadline 2 May). And they will continue to write their blogs through 4 May.

So what happens this summer? Well, I’ll be doing some blogging for the site. We have an audience now, so it’s important not to let ONJ simply go dark for three months. Further, I need to stay ahead of the curves — and, yes, there are several. A transparency curve. A web journalism curve. A how-do-I-use-the-latest-new-tool curve. The social media curve.

Furhter, any ONJ reporter is welcome to continue contributing. I hope some of them will do so.

Each student will complete a synthesis paper assignment in which they assess their work and what they think they learned. But just as important, they will tell me where this thing needs to go. I’ll be paying very careful attention to their comments and suggestions. They are the future of journalism. They understand that the web (and multimedia reporting and story-telling) will largely be that future. I see very few students now in our print/internet journalism track who assume they will be going to work for print-only news organizations.

We cover a lot of bases in the Department of Media, Journalism & Film. One of them is web-tech skills. A group of students is doing a project for one of our web classes to develop an ONJ iPhone app and a new WordPress theme designed to meet our needs and look snazzy.

So things are moving forward rapidly.

Once again, I’ve arrived at the point in a post in which I ought to actually discuss what the headline promises. And once again, I’m bailing out. I don’t know what it all means yet. This I do know: If students continue to improve the site (and their reporting), ONJ will soon become an important news organization in Springfield. Our public affairs focus — following from our university mission — will give us a unique and complementary niche here. Then, I think, we’ll be in a position to learn something.

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