It is the responsibility of scientists and journalists to work together in stopping such empathy fatigue, because empathy is the primary human quality that fuels our instinct to protect human rights around the world.
Jamil Zaki, Empathy Fatigue and What the Press Can Do About It, The Huffington Post.
Circa 2009, I geeked out over Zaki’s article because, well, hearing a psychologist weigh in on the objectivity-is-perilous-in-journalism debate is refreshing. No one’s really arguing anymore over the fact that objectivity is a tricky, nuanced, sub-standard ethic for journalism, but a new, better ethic hasn’t quite emerged. A singular sterling standard probably won’t.
Last fall, some of the best and brightest in media sat down to talk about it all and thanks to Poynter, this book emerged. Really smart people all over the world are creating and debating around accurate and value-creative reporting. You can explore our ethics tag for past coverage of some of those conversations.
Zaki, who is on the science side of things, very much heeded his own call to action and today I’m geeking out over his newest project, The People’s Science, a digital public space where scientists and the public can meet, share, and talk about science.
The site’s purpose is to encourage scientists to write posts about their research in easy-to-understand language and for the public to have conversations with those scientists directly.
In Zaki’s words (via NPR):
In an ideal world, I think TPS could provide a platform for scientists to feature their work to a broad audience and describe why they find it exciting and relevant. For non-scientists, I hope that the site can provide an insider’s perspective on how scientists think, and a way to go beyond the “punchlines” of a given study and understand the process that went into it. I also think the public should be able to use this to vet other media sources, testing claims made by reporters against scientists’ own descriptions. Finally, I’d like the site to be a true forum: instead of each “pop” abstract serving as a static document, I’d like non-scientists and scientists alike to be able to ask questions and engage in discussion about the work posted here. At the highest level, my dream for this site would be to help scientists and non-scientists into more dialogue, which I believe can only be a good thing for our culture at large.
FJP: We agree, obviously, on very many levels. It humanizes the researchers behind academia’s impenetrable walls by thrusting them into the social sphere. It’s a gold mine for science reporters to have easy and direct access to emerging research and scientists. As someone who (in my non FJP life) works for an academic journal and deals quite regularly with the incomprehensible abstract and insanely long paper title, it’s wonderful.
Now go explore the site and ask questions.—Jihii
Recently came across this, a 2009 guide for media and advertising folks on how to avoid perpetuating ageism in the media, which is in itself a nuanced conversation. But it’s worth having a look at and thinking over for those who like to consume their media with wider, kinder, eyes. Here’s Senior Planet’s summary and cheatsheet on the document:
“Media Takes: On Aging,” a 53-page style guide for journalism, entertainment and advertising, lays out the many subtle ways in which older people are ignored, stereotyped and demeaned on a daily basis and recommends language that is respectful and inclusive.
You might not agree with every one of its recommendations, but as the guide’s introduction states: “Media do oftentimes perpetuate ageism, even if inadvertently. Still, they have the best forums and opportunities to offer redress and to ensure that they are providing accurate depictions of older Americans.” In other words, you can use online commenting features as a way to demand fair representation; when you see the invitation to comment, do so! Most important, the guide is worth reading because it can help us to more clearly parse the media we’re consuming and see the less obvious messages that they carry.
- Fewer than two percent of prime-time television characters are age 65 and older, although this group comprises 12.7 percent of the population.
- Research shows that people who watch large amounts of television believe that older people are in poor shape financially and physically, have no sex lives, and are closed-minded and inefficient.
- Approximately 70 percent of older men and more than 80 percent of older women seen on television are treated with little if any courtesy, and often with reason – because they’re perceived as “bad.”
- Twice as many older people portrayed on TV are men, while in reality older women outnumber older men; and television portrays women as “seniors” at a younger age than men, who are more often portrayed as productive professionals.
- When older guests are booked for late night shows, they are often asked to make silly cameo appearances, rather than sit down and talk.
- In its representation of older people, much of the media focuses on those who are infirm, ignoring the 80 percent of us who are healthy enough to engage in normal activities.
- Conversely, now that there’s a growing population of active people 60 and up to market to, we’re seeing a surge in images of “Woofies” – a term coined to describe the Well Off Older Folks whom advertisers are trying to reach. This surge underrepresents less well off older people and affects how as a society we think about programs like social security.
Current events really only matter to the extent that they can fill this cultural standing wave that’s looking for a particular kind of content to fill it. It means that what’s driving our fascination is more primal or emotional or cultural than it is actual.
In the interview, Rushkoff gives voice to so many of the things I have been feeling about news consumption: that making sense of news events is increasingly difficult because newspapers don’t fit the bill and live-blogging is confusing as ever; that Facebook invites misrepresentation; that the NY Times consumption experience is becoming increasingly frenetic because they have so many different versions of it. The Wall Street Journal (and I agree here), on the other hand, stays better anchored in time:
The Wall Street Journal has held onto a lot of what the nightly newscast provides, shockingly even with Murdoch at the helm. There’s this sense that they understand. There’s a periodicity to what they’re doing, so they stay anchored in time. The New York Times, on the other hand, it’s so hard to even comment on them, because there are so many New York Timeses happening simultaneously. It’s schizophrenic. I don’t even know how to consume it anymore.
The larger point is this (summed up by Mathew Ingram):
Rushkoff isn’t the only one to notice this: for me, the tension between those two modes of information delivery — the real-time stream and the fixed-in-time reservoir — was best described by Robin Sloan, author and former Twitter staffer,in an essay about what he called “stock” and “flow.” Those terms come from the world of economics, where people are used to talking about stored value (such as cash and other monetary instruments, or physical resources) and the real-time fluctuation in the value of those things: i.e., the trading of currency or the sale of goods.
Sloan said at the time that the idea of stock and flow was “the master metaphor for media today,” and I think he was right. We are all caught between the stream and the reservoir — because we want to be part of the real-time flow, but we also want to capture the value that comes from taking the time to analyze that flow.Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal wrote about this challenge in a recent piece on the life of a digital editor, but it is something we all struggle with, whether we are theNew York Times or just someone trying to keep up with the news.
FJP: Finding a path through the media madness is a pretty enormous life goal of mine. Looking forward to reading the book.—Jihii
The 10th anniversary this month of the invasion of Iraq will remind most people of a divisive and dubious war that toppled Saddam Hussein but claimed the lives of nearly 4,500 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians.
What it conjures up for me is the media’s greatest failure in modern times.
Major news organizations aided and abetted the Bush administration’s march to war on what turned out to be faulty premises. All too often, skepticism was checked at the door, and the shaky claims of top officials and unnamed sources were trumpeted as fact.
Vivek Wadhwa recently wrote:
Women are primed to lead in this new era. Girls now match boys in mathematical achievement. In the U.S., 140 women enroll in higher education for every 100 men. Women earn more than 50 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and nearly 50 percent of all doctorates. Women’s participation in business and MBA programs has grown more than five-fold since the 1970s, and the increase in the number of engineering degrees granted to women has grown almost tenfold.
With that in mind, today being International Women’s Day and its theme being The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum, we were going to put together a top ten list of women in media tech. So we started compiling. And then we stopped. Because, really, this doesn’t do any good.
It leaves people out, it’s arbitrary and there’s more that can be said. So instead, here’s a slightly wider net that includes things to read by, about and for women in media tech:
So, with the caveat that no list is adequate, we hope that clicking through and reading about the individuals found here leads to searching out many more who inspire.
In particular, do seek out those who work in and on smaller spaces and places. There are many and learning what they do and how they do it is oftentimes beautifully humbling.
Meantime, happy Women’s Day. — The FJP.
We in the newsroom should have no illusions. Our entire purpose is to fill the “news hole,” which is the space left over after the advertisements have been placed on the page.
Theodore Daws in The Fall of Journalism, American Thinker.
Dawes, a long-time journalist, criticizes idealism and naivete in young journalists (in other words: those who think the industry is something other than a business that needs to make money), as well as j-school and false understandings of journalism ethics:
Of course, everyone overvalues the academic training they’ve received. It makes the debt, hassle, and spent time seem worthwhile, or at least less futile.
And imagine the thrill of using “lede,” which is the new spelling of lead, as in the opening sentence of a story. Its use provides the pleasing sensation of possessing specialized knowledge, knowledge well beyond the ken of the average Joe.
That is particularly pleasant to those who know so very little about everything else.
For example, I always ask job candidates a second question: “What is the difference between regulation and legislation?
Only one j-school graduate has ever known the answer. That was because, he sheepishly provided, he had worked as a legislative assistant the summer prior.
Tell me, please. How do you prepare a student for a career as a “government watchdog” and fail to provide the most fundamental instruction in how government works?
As befits their lofty status and lofty purpose, journalists work under a lofty ethical construct. Unfortunately, it is as flawed and juvenile as their journalistic purpose.
On occasion the ethical imperatives are simply incompatible, for example: 1) saving the world and 2) journalistic objectivity.
This illustrates perfectly an important fact: journalistic ethics weren’t arrived at philosophically or accidentally.
As is the case with many codes of ethics, the ethics of those in the journalism industry have as one of their primary purposes the maintenance of the status quo, particularly the economic status quo.
FJP: Would love to see a rebuttal to this.