July 17, 2013

Attack of the Cute Young Guy

Apparently, this Rolling Stone cover is causing a stir on Twitter and Facebook:

TSARNAEV_cover

Twitter and Facebook are ever aflutter with the petty outrages of the current 15-minute moment. And, typically, this petty outrage is fueled entirely by emotional reactions. OMFG!!! Rolling Stone is Glorifying a terrorist!

Exactly how?

Now, don’t even attempt to answer that with any argument that isn’t grounded in cogent rhetorical and ethical analysis. For example: Exactly how, as a rhetorical expression, does the cover glorify the guy? You’ll need to define glory both textually and visually. You’ll need to identify it specifically on the cover and differentiate it from other reasonable interpretations. And you’ll need to demonstrate an intention on the part of Rolling Stone to do any such thing. Without intention, well, I think in cases such as this: no rhetorical harm / no rhetorical foul. You remain free to interpret it as you like and get upset about it. (Failing intention, I’ll accept demonstrating that RS has failed cultural sensibilities, but then you’d have to defend those sensibilities as more than mere emoting or mass hysteria.) It wouldn’t hurt if you could also deal with other uses of this image and explain in detail how they differ rhetorically from this use.

I am a subscriber to Rolling Stone, but I am traveling and will not be able to read the article until next week. But the description on the cover sounds like exactly the kind of reporting we should want about this guy. Who is he? What factors led to his decision to bomb the Boston Marathon? And, what’s really important here, what do answers to these questions (and others) say about the future of such acts in the U.S.

I have no idea if the article will live up to this promise, but the cover seems to me a very good start. We get to stare into the face of domestic terrorism and see that it can look like the cute guy who lives next door. Public served, IMO.

Glory? They call him a “monster.” That is infamy.

UPDATE: Mass hysteria continues as America suffers a total breakdown in critical thinking.

UPDATE: Rolling Stone responds:

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.

Exactly. Sounds like a cover story to me.

 

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April 7, 2013

Social Media And The Damage Done

I like social media as much as anyone else. I use Facebook and Twitter. I consider them excellent professional tools. And these services offer much entertainment. Facebook, Twitter, and other such services are natural products of the interactivity made possible by the internet and multimedia devices.

Plus, it’s hard to beat being able to easily stay in touch with people you enjoy. I tell my students about reuniting with two old friends from college a few years back. We’d lost track of each other because it was easy to lose track back in the day. All it took was one lost phone number or one move with no forwarding address. They can hardly believe such a thing was possible. Today, you can hardly shake someone even if you want to.

One of the fun things we do with social media is share interesting stuff we find on the internet. This desire to share interesting stuff is exactly the urge that gave birth to blogging. And cat memes.

I’ll continue stating the obvious by noting that all this interactivity and sharing also carries an ideological trap — getting suckered into sharing hoaxes that either have the ring of truth or that you fervently wish to be true. That ring is a function of the content conforming to ideology, not conforming to discernible facts. Two recent examples from Facebook:

ScreenHunter_08 Apr. 07 09.52

ScreenHunter_09 Apr. 07 09.54

Both of these are nonsense and utterly false. Checking with Google took seconds. And checking the links for the telltale signs of bullshit took only a few more seconds (biggest clue among many for both: no primary source links). I suspect the one about the Pope was an April Fool’s joke (tip: never share anything on 1 April). And yet these were shared as if true.

Who doesn’t enjoy a funny website? Here’s one you should check out: Literally Unbelievable — a site dedicated to highlighting posts on Facebook that take stories from The Onion seriously.

Har dee har har, right? Well, wrong. Such credulity — enabled by the refusal to do even minimum checking — is a hallmark of the our failing culture’s canon of invention. We have drawn cultural, political, social, economic, and religious battle lines and refuse to seek stasis, i.e. common ground where we agree about the content of disagreement.

I have no doubt there are people in this country today who believe these two false stories. The damage done is clear.

How do we stop it? Step one: Pass along nothing in social media until you’ve spent at least a moment checking it out. And don’t be enamored of the source. Credible news organizations and learned people have been suckered, too. I’m guilty, too. I’ve passed along nonsense, too. I’m embarrassed, too.

I’m now arguing that the discipline of verification is more than an essential practice of journalism. It must now be an essential practice of citizenship in the social media age.

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October 2, 2012

Feeling A Bit Gay?

After reading this item in HuffPo and this news article, I thought it possible that the press was getting scammed (similar to the blonds-going-extinct joke that suckered the press in 2002). But I did a (very) little checking with Google and Whois and discovered Children of Mary may be a real, if a bit obscure, organization. So here’s the video:

Call this the rhetoric of nonsense made possible by the ease of amateur video production and publication. And if you’re just crazy enough, well, you’ll get a bit of attention in the press because novelty is a news value — especially in its online iteration.

I feel no need to point out why this is nonsense.

Oh, and if it turns out to be a joke, then … bravo! :-)

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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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February 19, 2012

Dragging the NYT Into the 21st Century

Art Brisbanes’s public editor column this week is LOL funny. I mean, who’s heard the word “portal” in the same sentence as “web” or “internet” or “newspaper” or “journalism” since about 2002? The concept has changed, become more sophisticated, to be sure, but it still represents a basic assumption of interactivity, i.e. feeding the medium what it demands.

I’m not criticizing Brisbane (I’ll do that in another post later). Instead, I’m fascinated that he’s pointing out this failure to use the medium well at this late date. It cannot be that the collective mind of The New York Times does not understand the interactive, socially-driven, (multi)medium of the internet. It must be that the collective mind of the Times does not care — it (the mind) being The (by God) New York Times.

Brisbane’s advice — be a transparent, interactive portal — was sound in 2002. Today, it reads like the proverbial yellow clipping found stuffed in an old wall — a curious, archaeological find.

There are many things the Times does very well on its web site. And I’m impressed that, so far, its pay model seems to be working. But its web product still holds readers at arm’s length. It is still a lecture rather than a conversation.

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April 2, 2011

My Talks at the MCMA Conference

The Missouri College Media Association is holding a conference in Springfield today sponsored by journalism students at MSU. I’m giving two talks (from the program):

Blogging For Journalists: Bringing an Audience, Bringing a Brand

The presentation will acquaint participants with two important reasons to begin blogging while in school: today’s news organizations want you to come prepared with an audience and a brand. The session will also discuss best practices.

Everyone is Now Multi and Meta

This presentation introduces multimedia skills and theory for web publication. Special attention will be paid to the Ozarks News Journal site — a multimedia journalism project at MSU.

I’ve prepared a short Prezi for the first presentation. You may see it here. For the second, I’ll be using ONJ as a source of examples of what to do and what not to do — we manage both :-)

What’s kinda cool — given my first talk today — is that Rhetorica turns nine years old later this month (I mistakenly claimed nine years last year … duh). That makes it one of the oldest, continuously-published weblogs in the world. And if you count (which I do) my early proto-blog Timeline (part of the old Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2000 site — a student project of mine — archived here), then that makes me one of the longest running bloggers in the world. None of that is a claim to expertise. I’ve simply been around long enough to be a curiosity.

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January 25, 2011

Live Blog: State of the Union Address

Note: Live blogging is not conducive to cogent analysis. Instead, it’s merely a social way to enjoy the speech. My thanks to my two participants. Getting back to Rhetorica’s roots, I’ll post a more formal analysis soon.

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November 30, 2010

Metergate In Springfield

On the New York Times op-ed page today you’ll find a plea against anonymity in online forums. I’ve been commenting on anonymity for a long time now — the latest iteration here. My belief now is that newspapers ought to offer tiered service. Anonymous users get a low level of service; people who are open about their identities get a high level of service.

I believe there is still a (small) place for anonymity.

But that doesn’t mean I like it (anymore). The excuses I read/hear are mostly the same: “I can’t post under my real name because [world-ending calamity would occur].

If true (and I wonder), then perhaps it is not ethical for such a commenter to be commenting in the first place. (I wonder the same thing about anonymous sources in journalism, but that’s a matter for another post.)

No newspaper owes any citizen space online or in print. It’s simply a good idea and one important way to fulfill the primary purpose of journalism: To give citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing.

Want to rant into cyberspace and be anonymous? Start a blog.

It’s time for newspapers to stop enabling anonymity. Implementing service levels is a good way to do it.

In that post I linked above I talk about the new policy at the Springfield News-Leader (Gannett-wide I’ll bet) of having reporters participate in the online discussions of their stories — a good idea. But I’m also cautioning against getting sucked into arguments with trolls — typically anonymous. A former student of mine called me recently to chat about the comments on one of his stories. I call it “metergate.”

Here’s the offending sentence from his news story about Black Friday:

By Friday morning, the line outside Best Buy had stretch for several hundred meters.

And here is the problem as described by an anonymous commenter (with 8 recommends):

Yards and feet have meaning to me here in America – meters do not. I am not sure if the writer is European or just trying to be elist.

This is a real eye-roller in my opinion. But it is illustrative of a certain kind of socio-political non-thinking that is infecting our civic discourse. This appears to be trollish behavior to me and ought to be ignored. I think it would have been entirely appropriate for a commenter to ask why the reporter used “meters” instead of the more commonly-understood “yards.” (The AP Stylebook provides a little help here. Basically, since a metric measurement is not “relevant” to the story, it should have been changed to “yards” by a copy editor. A copy editor should also have taken care of  “had stretch”.) What would have been so wrong with simply asking? Well, it’s not effective trolling. Someone asking such a question may actually want to understand the use of the word rather than want to deal an ignorant socio-political zinger.

In this case, I happen to know that the reporter is biased to the metric system, but for reasons that have nothing to do with European elitism. Here’s the reporter’s respectful reply:

Oh, I didn’t mean to cause confusion. A meter is roughly the same as a yard. Eight years of military service has left me metric-minded.

Well handled.

He could also have mentioned his two tours in Iraq as a sergeant in charge of a combat unit. Not quite a European elitist.

I consider his commenting on metergate a waste of a good reporter’s time. Such time-wasters are going to continue as long as the News-Leader (and other newspapers) continue to run open commenting and forum systems.

The time has come for a tiered system to elevate civic discourse, enhance  the primary purpose of journalism, and save reporters from time-wasting trolls.

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November 14, 2010

Wow! That Was Easy!

So The New York Times published a do-it-yourself federal budget balancing exercise today. In about five minutes I fixed the country — easy.

The following is my formula that achieves balance for both the 2015 and 2030 models.

Cuts:

  • Cut foreign aid
  • Cut farm subsidies
  • Reduce military to pre-Iraq War size
  • Cancel or delay some weapons systems
  • Reduce number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Raise Social Security age to 68
  • Reduce Social Security benefits for people with high incomes

Taxes:

  • Return estate tax to Clinton-era levels
  • Return tax rates to Clinton-era levels
  • Allow Bush tax cuts to expire for income over $250,000
  • Some extra tax above $106,000
  • Enact “millionaire’s” tax
  • Eliminate tax loopholes and keep rates up
  • Carbon tax
  • Bank tax

Done! One balanced federal budget without touching Medicare.

I ought to run for public office ;-)

But, really, I find this exercise a rather interesting thing for a newspaper to publish. What happens after we try this ourselves? What are citizens really willing to do once they actually have to make a choice? What compromises might we be willing to make? How much common ground is there?

Granted, this exercise is simplistic. But I’m thinking there’s great potential in interactivity of this sort as a way to inform and foment debate.

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November 3, 2010

The Whole Blogging Thing

As announced recently, the focus of Rhetorica is now on the rhetoric of opinion journalism. It is the topic that has increasingly piqued  my interest. And as I mentioned last week, the next two subjects will be Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof.

I realized something today that I have been blocking or avoiding: I have come to loathe political journalism as practiced in the U.S. today. I’m slogging my way through the election coverage by The New York Times today and hating every moment of it because our so-called newspaper of record is a shining example of how broken this beat is from top to bottom. Political journalism is actually doing more harm than good. It is a failure of craft and ethics on a massive scale.

But I don’t care anymore.

Now, on to more practical matters. Averting my gaze from political journalism means that I can do something that I have been wanting to do: Offer fewer but (I hope) better posts on a particular topic. The whole trying to blog everyday on Rhetorica thing hasn’t been working for a long time now. I’ve finally faced up to why that is: I dislike the original topic, and I’ve had very little (zero?) impact on press-politics

If you’re one of the thousands out there that just absolutely must read something from me almost everyday, then you’ll need to read Carbon Trace, my blog about walking and bicycling for basic transportation :-) I’ve come to realize that it is important for my blogging to have an actual impact. This local blog has an actual impact on my world.

I would also encourage you to follow Ozarks News Journal — the local news site for my JRN378 Multimedia Journalism class.

Rhetorica soldiers on. But I’ll be following something like the Jay Rosen model of blogging. Watch for my immediate commentary on Twitter.

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