June 23, 2006

Does Jon Stewart make young voters more cynical?

This from Richard Morin of the Washington Post:

Two political scientists found that young people who watch Stewart’s faux news program, “The Daily Show,” develop cynical views about politics and politicians that could lead them to just say no to voting.

The study apparently measured students’ attitudes about President Bush and Sen. John Kerry after watching episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. A control group watched The CBS Evening News.

The results may be found in American Politics Research, Vol. 34, No. 3, 341-367 (2006). Here’s the abstract:

The Daily Show Effect
Candidate Evaluations, Efficacy, and American Youth

Jody Baumgartner
Jonathan S. Morris

East Carolina University

We test the effects of a popular televised source of political humor for young Americans: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. We find that participants exposed to jokes about George W. Bush and John Kerry on The Daily Show tended to rate both candidates more negatively, even when controlling for partisanship and other demographic variables. Moreover, we find that viewers exhibit more cynicism toward the electoral system and the news media at large. Despite these negative reactions, viewers of The Daily Show reported increased confidence in their ability to understand the complicated world of politics. Our findings are significant in the burgeoning field of research on the effects of “soft news” on the American public. Although research indicates that soft news contributes to democratic citizenship in America by reaching out to the inattentive public, our findings indicate that The Daily Show may have more detrimental effects, driving down support for political institutions and leaders among those already inclined toward nonparticipation.

You’ll find the full text in .pdf format here.

It seems to me that Baumgartner and Morris could have also tested for Saturday Night Live. And I’ll bet the results would have been the same. I wonder how significant this is. Young people have always participated least in the electoral process. It’s difficult to imagine that The Daily Show has any real effect on that one way or the other. Perhaps they could make the claim that political satire in general, as opposed to soft news, tends to make young people more critical of politicians, politics, and the news media. Does it make them more cynical? What are the cause-and-effect relationships, if any, between these and lack of participation?

I stand by my earlier contention that The Daily Show offers the best media criticism on television today.



June 21, 2006

Journalists can get lost in their rules of usage

I’ve attended a few panels over the years in which academics and journalists discussed language. And it’s always rather amusing because journalists get stuck on their own rules of usage (which far too many mistakenly think are rules of grammar).

One of the difficult things about teaching journalism is expanding upon the utility of the particular rhetoric of journalistic discourse. And, obviously, by calling it the “rhetoric of journalistic discourse” I’ve given away my position. Well, actually, I’ve stated it many times on Rhetorica: Journalists are trained to reproduce one textual representation of English that is too often confused with some mythical standard of English. Because good journalists are usually pretty good at reproducing their textual conventions, they too often assume they know something about language. What they really know is how to reproduce the conventions of their particular discourse.

Silliness arises when editors confuse their discourse with a standard as Language Log demonstrates:

As readers of the New York Times now know, we here at Language Log enjoy “coming down hard on rules that ignore linguistic facts,” as Michael Erard put it. And an arbitrary ruling against the word stricter is just about as ignorant of linguistic facts as it gets. But we also seek to understand the basis for even the most capricious fiat about language. Perceptions about “proper” usage, no matter how misguided, can still tell us a great deal about how we seek to structure our linguistic consciousness.

Read the whole thing. It’s a response to a question by a reporter whose editor told him “stricter” isn’t a word. Tell that to these guys.

What irks me here isn’t the linguistic error; I leave that to the experts at Language Log to explain. Instead, I find it annoying that an editor should spout such nonsense as if it were of great importance compared to the real damage that journalists can do to civic life by not practicing a discipline of verification or acting as custodians of fact.

The profession of journalism demands that journalists learn the professional discourse. So I must teach it; they must learn it. But the forms of this discourse are not important outside the context of what the discourse is designed to do (i.e. form and function). The editor who thinks “stricter” isn’t a word and bothers to flog a reporter with that ignorance is stuck on form.


June 20, 2006

Rhetorica podcast: Springfield Bloggers meeting

Another meeting of the Springfield Bloggers. The sound quality on this one is a bit rough.

UPDATE: I’ve removed the .mp3 file because the quality is poor. I’m not sure what went wrong. Better luck next time.

UPDATE: Well, I figured out what went wrong with the podcast. I stuck the microphone in the wrong jack. Doh!

June 20, 2006

CNN falls for cheap drama in archipelago story

Need another example of the silliness caused by the narrative bias of journalism? Read this from CNN.

CJR Daily has it right:

And that was CNN’s controversy–a bold act of selfless preservation of an entire ecosystem by mankind means that eight fishermen will be forced, after five years, to fish somewhere else. That’s not a controversy. If anything, it’s a tiny spritz of dissent in an ocean of unanimity.

There’s probably a good story to be told about those fishermen, but simplistic drama of them-‘gainst-the-prez ain’t it. And it’ll require actual work.

BTW, the entire Rhetorica staff is thrilled that President Bush has protected the archipelago known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Bravo!

June 20, 2006

Rhetorica update…

A few things:

1. Again, I have closed the comment feature/link on Rhetorica because spam attacks were causing 500 server errors. I’m terribly sorry about this. I have, however, placed a feedback link in its place.

2. I’ll be using a new headline style beginning with the next post. I’m dropping the ellipse. And I’ll be writing headlines that are a bit more descriptive of the content rather than writing cryptic headlines to amuse myself.

3. Springfield Bloggers meet tonight at 7:00 at the Patton Alley Pub. I’ll be podcasting the first 20 minutes or so as usual.

June 20, 2006

The false value of unity…

The drama of disunity playing out in the news media regarding the Democrats’ multiple positions on Iraq is an excellent example of the constraining hand of narrative bias. The fact that various politicians would have various positions on a complex topic has to mean something beyond the apparently mundane observation that even generally like-minded people may disagree.

This is silliness of a high order and damaging to civic discourse.

(Republicans have suffered similar dramatic disunity by virtue of the narrative bias.)

The press is not entirely to blame. The [disunity]-thus-cannot-lead enthymeme is a popular one in political discourse. But the press is entirely to blame for allowing itself to be duped by such a simplistic rhetorical tactic.

My spelling this out should embarrass journalists who’ve been reporting the surface scum of this recent drama (but it won’t): The reason for deliberation is to work out the kinks of making civic decisions. Yes, it can be dramatic. Yes, it can be messy. Drama and messiness are certainly reportable to a point. But it is entirely unreasonable to suppose that any political faction will achieve anything like unity–ever. So disunity is not, and almost will never be–an indication of anything other than like-minded people disagreeing. It is almost never a sign of an inability to lead.

The counter to this is nearly impossible to achieve because it would require journalists to look more deeply into the hues of a situation that feels more comfortable in dramatic black-and-white. Plus, there’s a deadline in 10 minutes…



June 20, 2006

Hmmmmm…a quiz…

Need to waste five minutes? Take the Coulter versus Hitler quotation quiz. Amusing. I got 10 correct!

June 20, 2006

Citizen-j in Oaxaca…

Check out this interesting example of citizen journalism from the teachers’ strike in Oaxaca, Mexico. Click here to see my feeble efforts.

June 19, 2006

Rollin’ the ball…

Now let’s take a look at those questions Jay Rosen asked regarding “Users-Know-More-Than-We-Do Journalism.” These are quick, first answers and are not meant to be exhaustive or even particularly erudite:

1. What kinds of stories can be usefully investigated using open source and collaborative methods?

Any. I say that because it seems to me that any typical news situation offers at least the possibility of using collaborative methods simply because journalists–pros or citizens–ought to be looking for ways to expand sourcing beyond the usual suspects.

2. Which user communities are good bets to be interested enough to make it happen?

That’s the $64,000 question. I don’t have an answer of equal value. But I think we can at least point to successful (def.: ?) collaborative efforts and say: “Those folks.” In terms of local communities, I suspect we may find that Daniel J. Elazar’s theory of political subcultures will play a role in who feels empowered enough to be interested enough to make it happen.

3. What will it take to start running some real world experiments that could yield compelling and publishable work?

Hmmmmm…I need to give this more think time than I have available right now.

4. What needs to be invented for this kind of journalism to flourish?

The good citizen. I’m not being flip. I’m completely serious. A public of the sort that wants open-source and collaborative journalism must be invented by the competent, ethical, and effective practice of journalism by open-source and collaborative methods. Good citizens emerge, then, by recognition–by identifying (inventing) themselves in the journalistic product. (Hmmmmmm…sounds like what the old-media professional product needs, too.)

5. What tools already exist, and how can we adapt them?

Read: The Elements of Journalism. Do what it says.

6. What attempts have already been made to do this kind of journalism and what can be learned from them?

To be answered by someone who is walking the walk…

7. What are the practical problems that will surely arise and what fixes exist for them?

“Circulation.” See #4.

8. If we hired you to prove that, properly done, readers-know-more-than-I-do journalism can work, how would you do it?

In regard to the professional product, my first step would be to undermine the status quo and expediency biases. These biases are largely responsible for the notion that sources should be entrenched power and that news springs from entrenched power. I would issue each reporter a new pair of Oxfords (or appropriate footwear for the ladies) and require that they wear a hole in the sole in 30 days. I don’t have a similar metaphor for using the internet wisely, but you get the idea. Ah, but what does “work” mean? Who gets to be pleased with the product?

As I mentioned earlier, Doug McGill, Jeremy Iggers, and I will be wrestling with the question “Who is a journalist?” for the Media Ethics Colloquium to be held in Minneapolis in October, sponsored by the Journal of Mass Media Ethics.

UPDATE (6-20-06): Sisyphus is the first to send feedback by the new system–asking me to do some more thinking and writing about undermining the status quo and expediency biases:

“Journalists are telling each other stories about themselves that are making them sick. So the remedy is to tell a new story about journalism that will help make journalism healthy again.” – James Carey

“The development of communications education is one of the singular achievements of the century, make no mistake about that, and it led to a body of intellectual work of continuing importance. But that development has not necessarily been good for journalism or journalism education, for journalism education must respect three axioms that students of communications all too easily ignore. Let me state the axioms simply and without elaboration. [read the rest] – James Carey

One of the stories journalists tell themselves is that democracy exists because of journalism. Not true. The causality is in the other direction. Democracy can exist without journalism, but not the other way around. I’m convinced that democracies have an interest in the health of journalism practiced “in society,” much as the analogy of the old miners’ interest in the health of the proverbial canary. The canary analogy made me think of Weldon Berger’s analogy of the rhinoceros in the china shop and knowing the press has its politics right when the “bodies start piling up.” Rhinoceros is probably a good trope for arrogant, ignorant, out-of-touch journalism. The difference between the canary and rhinoceros is also informative.

I’m busy finishing a final draft of an essay–due on 1 July. I’m planning to write more about Jay’s questions and the BloggerCon discussion this week and early next.

June 17, 2006

What can/should citizen journalists do?…

As I mentioned earlier, Doug McGill, Jeremy Iggers, and I will be wrestling with the question “Who is a journalist?” for the Media Ethics Colloquium to be held in Minneapolis in October, sponsored by the Journal of Mass Media Ethics. So I’ll be especially interested in the BloggerConIV discussion about “Users-Know-More-Than-We-Do Journalism.” Jay Rosen will be the discussion leader.

His preview of the discussion offers some interesting questions regarding method, i.e. what can/should open-source and citizen journalists do in order to break news? The questions:

  • What kinds of stories can be usefully investigated using open source and collaborative methods?
  • Which user communties are good bets to be interested enough to make it happen?
  • What will it take to start running some real world experiments that could yield compelling and publishable work?
  • What needs to be invented for this kind of journalism to be flourish?
  • What tools already exist, and how can we adapt them?
  • What attempts have already been made to do this kind of journalism and what can be learned from them?
  • What are the practical problems that will surely arise and what fixes exist for them?
  • If we hired you to prove that, properly done, readers-know-more-than-I-do journalism can work, how would you do it?

I’ll be awaiting some interesting answers. But before that happens, I’ll make the attempt myself early next week before the discussion begins. The panels is scheduled for June 23, 10:30-11:45 a.m.

The BloggerConIV people are trying to work out details for streamcasting and/or podcasting. If you’d like to help ($$$), click here.

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