Posts tagged media literacy

I came to the US some 49 years ago, a young refugee, lucky to have fled an Eastern European communist country. I felt that I must earn my American citizenship by working hard and perfecting my English. My girl friend, a genuine girl from Brooklyn, N.Y. Said to me: “You wanna speak good English? You gotta read the New York Times. Every day. O.K.”

William Pavlov, now a long-time NY Times reader who is an attorney in Miami Beach, left that comment on the new Times Insider, a new behind-the-scenes Times Premier feature.

Times Insider came along with Times Premier, one of a set of new subscription plans and offerings launched last month that offers readers who are willing to pay $45 a month services like Times Insider (a behind-the-scenes look at how big stories are reported), TBooks (single-subject compilations of past articles), family access and more.

Pro Tip: The idea behind Insider is to create a more informed readership. While all that sounds appealing, if you’re not a big-time fan like William and not trying to pay for Premier, you can always read excellent news about how the news was made over at CJR and especially IJNet, while also diversifying your news diet.

We need news organizations to help our curiosity by signaling how their stories fit into the larger themes on which a sincere capacity for interest depends. To grow interested in any piece of information, we need somewhere to “put” it, which means some way of connecting it to an issue we already know how to care about. A section of the human brain might be pictured as a library in which information is shelved under certain fundamental categories. Most of what we hear about day to day easily signals where in the stacks it should go and gets immediately and unconsciously filed: News of an affair is put on the heavily burdened shelf dedicated to How Relationships Work, a story of the sudden sacking of a CEO slots into our evolving understanding of Work & Status.

But the stranger or the smaller stories become, the harder the shelving process grows. What we colloquially call “feeling bored” is just the mind, acting out of a self-preserving reflex, ejecting information it has despaired of knowing where to place.

Alain de Botton, The Future of News, The Week.

The piece is an excerpt from his new book The News: A User’s Manual, which we’re currently reading and will have thoughts to tumble about soon. In the meantime, it’s an important conversation to have. Here’s a take on some key points from a review in The Guardian:

These are all worthy areas, to be sure. They are what intelligent, concerned citizens ought to want to know about the world that surrounds them. Perhaps, two centuries ago, the general populace could manage without The News most of the time. But now it’s omnipresent, inescapable and, on this thesis, stuck in too many arcane ruts, pandering to fear and pessimism, relishing disappointment.

Yet you can’t make the whole journey merely by playing the dissatisfied consumer. 

[…] News starts with you, your family, your interests, your street. It expands via TV, captured by the people and lives you see on screen. (It was more interested in foreign coverage when it seemed the cold war could destroy us all at the push of a button). It is a box of fragments you try to assemble for yourself, rather than a finished jigsaw. Which means that it can’t be pinned down in a handy user’s guide. But at least it’s worth thinking about constantly, fine, frisky, philosophical minds applied. For the construct is you.

And so, to our year of bungles: the New Jersey waitress who received a homophobic comment on the receipt from a party she had served; comedian Kyle Kinane’s Twitter beef with Pace Salsa; the Chinese husband who sued his wife for birthing ugly children after he learned she’d had plastic surgery; Samsung paying Apple $1 billion in nickels…

…These all had one thing in common: They seemed too tidily packaged, too neat, “too good to check,” as they used to say, to actually be true. Any number of reporters or editors at any of the hundreds of sites that posted these Platonic ideals of shareability could’ve told you that they smelled, but in the ongoing decimation of the publishing industry, fact-checking has been outsourced to the readers. Not surprisingly—as we saw with the erroneous Reddit-spawned witch-hunt around the Boston Marathon bombing—readers are terrible at fact-checking. And this, as it happens, is good for business because it means more shares, more clicks.

This is not a glitch in the system. It is the system. Readers are gullible, the media is feckless, garbage is circulated around, and everyone goes to bed happy and fed. BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti admitted as much when explaining, that, when he’s hiring, he looks for “people who really understand how information is shared on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and other emerging platforms, because that is in some cases as important as, you know, having traditional reporting talent.” Upworthy editorial director Sara Critchfield seconded the notion. “We reject the idea that the media elite or people who have been trained in a certain way somehow have the monopoly on editorial judgment.”

Luke O’Neil, Esquire. The Year We Broke The Internet.

Or as Ryan Grim, Huffington Post Washington Bureau Chief, told The New York Times, “If you throw something up without fact-checking it, and you’re the first one to put it up, and you get millions and millions of views, and later it’s proved false, you still got those views. That’s a problem. The incentives are all wrong.”

The FJP’s thoughts on fact checking? You can find those here.

We’ve Found the One Thing Elon Musk Doesn’t Understand: How the News Works
theatlantic:

Arguably the brightest innovator alive, Elon Musk took to Twitter a couple of days ago to ask the world a question:
"Why does a Tesla fire w no injury get more media headlines than 100,000 gas car fires that kill 100s of people per year?"
Good question. Why do the "unjust" headlines so misrepresent the facts?
Saying he feels “pistol-whipped” by the recent coverage, Musk joins a long tradition of accomplished CEOs who bristle about the “illogical” behavior of the news media. Those bristlers have usually mastered the specific logic of their own field—say, business, law or science—and have unconsciously come to believe that the logic of their field can and should be applied universally. Often faced with public criticism for the first time in their careers, they tend to reject news logic as irrational, and view the negative reports as "unjust" personal mistreatment.  Some spend their entire careers fighting against the laws of news, while others eventually learn to use those laws to their own advantage.
So, what are the laws of news logic that explain why a Tesla fire does indeed get more headlines? Here are the top five.
Read more.[Image: Reuters]

FJP: Because, news logic.

We’ve Found the One Thing Elon Musk Doesn’t Understand: How the News Works

theatlantic:

Arguably the brightest innovator alive, Elon Musk took to Twitter a couple of days ago to ask the world a question:

"Why does a Tesla fire w no injury get more media headlines than 100,000 gas car fires that kill 100s of people per year?"

Good question. Why do the "unjust" headlines so misrepresent the facts?

Saying he feels “pistol-whipped” by the recent coverage, Musk joins a long tradition of accomplished CEOs who bristle about the “illogical” behavior of the news media. Those bristlers have usually mastered the specific logic of their own field—say, business, law or science—and have unconsciously come to believe that the logic of their field can and should be applied universally. Often faced with public criticism for the first time in their careers, they tend to reject news logic as irrational, and view the negative reports as "unjust" personal mistreatment.  Some spend their entire careers fighting against the laws of news, while others eventually learn to use those laws to their own advantage.

So, what are the laws of news logic that explain why a Tesla fire does indeed get more headlines? Here are the top five.

Read more.[Image: Reuters]

FJP: Because, news logic.

But the most important question for this “family album” will be to what extent we can enlarge our notion of family. If viewed as happening to the “other,” then much of this imagery—whether joyous or painful—will be ignored by those not directly affected. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as mutually dependent, both happy for each other’s successes and attentive to each other’s welfare, then even the harshest imagery created by communities of their own distress can serve a purpose.

Fred Ritchin, professor at NYU and co-director of the Photography & Human Rights Program at Tisch in an article for TIME LightBox on Hurricane Sandy, One Year Later.

He discusses the growing practice of and potential for communities to portray themselves through photography, be it professionals having access to a larger audience through the web, or amateurs using their mobile phones to capture events.

Instagram, for example, allows professionals and amateurs alike to immediately upload images; during Hurricane Sandy last year, ten photos tagged to the storm were uploaded every second; 800,000 pictures were uploaded in all. In contrast, the monumental, multi-year Farm Security Administration program created during the New Deal that focused on American rural poverty with photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Arthur Rothstein and Ben Shahn, produced roughly 250,000 images total.

While Instagram as a photographic and journalistic medium has its critics, one of its positive features is the fact that users can see only one photo at a time on their phone, which, Ritchin points out, provides the viewer a type of respite from the visual chaos of the web. At a time when increasing numbers of citizens around the world are documenting everything from war to human rights atrocities to their daily lives, a coherent way to filter this imagery is missing. Not all disasters are the same, he writes:

Whereas Hurricane Sandy was a catastrophe that those in the Northeastern United States suffered through together, sharing each other’s vulnerability, other circumstances may be more problematic. What might have been the result if those trapped inside the World Trade Towers on September 11 had possessed cellphone cameras? Would it have been enlightening for others on the outside if they were able to distribute images of their terrible predicament, or would large amounts of such first-person imagery have provoked an ugly voyeurism amounting to re-victimization? Would these images have further increased the trauma for a horrified, largely powerless public to even more intolerable levels, and with it the calls for vengeance?

Our task is two-fold: 1) “to develop practical applications for this abundance of imagery” and 2) to find ways to make this “family album” that stretches the world over accessible to us, in our media consumption cycles as something other than an overload of imagery lest it cause “an even greater distancing from events” due to our inability to process the abundance. 

All that in mind, view the photo essay "Hurricane Sandy, One Year Later: Self-Portraits of Communities in Distress" here.

Instead of seeking an engaged audience — that’s a metric better suited for movies and prime-time TV — we in news should be seeking an informed public, using new tools to make them better informed with greater relevance and more efficiency. Instead of measuring our success by how much more time we can get them to spend with us, we should measure it by how much less time they need to spend with us to reach their own goals.

Jeff Jarvis, Maybe News is Just More Efficient, BuzzMachine.

FJP: Jarvis goes on to discuss a hypothetical news service that accomplishes this task of efficiency by serving the public news that uses a (very) smart algorithm to bring each reader a hyper-personalized news stream. An obvious issue with this is selection bias, and the possibility that one will end up consuming a very narrow slice of the perspective pie (read about the perils of algorithmic curation here). Also see the comments below Jarvis’s article for some interesting points made by readers.

Journalism & Games: News Literacy Edition
ProPublica’s Sisi Wei just wrote a piece for PBS MediaShift on how to create compelling newsgames, that is, games that seek to reach, inform and engage news readers by involving them in the issues at hand. For example, you can play a game to experience being part of the sweatshop system and thereby potentially experience owning the consequences of the system:

This feeling of owning consequences is what’s at play in a game called Sweatshop. It simulates the life of a sweatshop manager, and in the face of the daily pressures, the player’s moral compass begins to lose its bearing. Betsy Morais wrote, in her New Yorker piece about playing Sweatshop, that “as I continued to play, I began to skip past … the interjections of a child worker who popped up at the bottom of the screen to plead for decent treatment. …The longer I played, the more each moving part — workers, children, hats — became abstracted into the image of one big machine.”

Or, you can involve yourself in the complexities of making budget decisions:

In 2008, American Public Media published a popular simulation newsgame called “Budget Hero,” which asks players to build a federal budget that can stay balanced over the next 30 years. The game is kept up-to-date regularly — for example, it takes into account the January 2013 fiscal cliff — and if you play the game without making any budget changes, the game displays a real projection of how current federal spending affects the budget over the coming years.

Read on for some best practices and tools to create newsgames of your own, which, apparently, aren’t technically much harder than creating interactive graphics.
FJP: While these games deal mainly with news readers viscerally experiencing the issues reporting in the news, another sort of newsgame that’s been on my radar for a while is what the folks on the Committee of Concerned Journalists and the Reynolds Journalism Institute partnered up to create in the 2011 series Elements of Verification. It’s the same concept as most newsgames, except it puts you in the shoes of the journalist or news consumer to weigh creation and consumption decisions for yourself.
Granted, the news lit games are really simple and they’re not visually fantastic. But, they’re incredibly important to democratic education. They put the average citizen in j-school for a couple of minutes. Coupled with Sisi’s recommendations and the visual and storytelling perspective of interactive news designers it would be fantastic to build more such series. —Jihii
Background/Bonus Reading: Sisi Wei reminds us that there’s a difference between gamification and games (gamification being the practice of adding game-like elements to activities that aren’t truly games, i.e.: Foursquare) (but the words tend to be used interchangeably anyway). Here is a paper that explains the how’s, what’s and why’s of gamification in education, which is a pretty good primer on the potential and debates around using games in education. It was co-authored by Joey Lee, a professor at Teachers College who is doing some pretty interesting work around real-world impact games. There’s also an annual conference around social impact games which features some pretty incredible work. In my non-FJP life, I worked on a video about it which you can see here.
Image: Screenshot from the School Tragedy portion of the Elements of Verification game series.

Journalism & Games: News Literacy Edition

ProPublica’s Sisi Wei just wrote a piece for PBS MediaShift on how to create compelling newsgames, that is, games that seek to reach, inform and engage news readers by involving them in the issues at hand. For example, you can play a game to experience being part of the sweatshop system and thereby potentially experience owning the consequences of the system:

This feeling of owning consequences is what’s at play in a game called Sweatshop. It simulates the life of a sweatshop manager, and in the face of the daily pressures, the player’s moral compass begins to lose its bearing. Betsy Morais wrote, in her New Yorker piece about playing Sweatshop, that “as I continued to play, I began to skip past … the interjections of a child worker who popped up at the bottom of the screen to plead for decent treatment. …The longer I played, the more each moving part — workers, children, hats — became abstracted into the image of one big machine.”

Or, you can involve yourself in the complexities of making budget decisions:

In 2008, American Public Media published a popular simulation newsgame called “Budget Hero,” which asks players to build a federal budget that can stay balanced over the next 30 years. The game is kept up-to-date regularly — for example, it takes into account the January 2013 fiscal cliff — and if you play the game without making any budget changes, the game displays a real projection of how current federal spending affects the budget over the coming years.

Read on for some best practices and tools to create newsgames of your own, which, apparently, aren’t technically much harder than creating interactive graphics.

FJP: While these games deal mainly with news readers viscerally experiencing the issues reporting in the news, another sort of newsgame that’s been on my radar for a while is what the folks on the Committee of Concerned Journalists and the Reynolds Journalism Institute partnered up to create in the 2011 series Elements of Verification. It’s the same concept as most newsgames, except it puts you in the shoes of the journalist or news consumer to weigh creation and consumption decisions for yourself.

Granted, the news lit games are really simple and they’re not visually fantastic. But, they’re incredibly important to democratic education. They put the average citizen in j-school for a couple of minutes. Coupled with Sisi’s recommendations and the visual and storytelling perspective of interactive news designers it would be fantastic to build more such series. —Jihii

Background/Bonus Reading: Sisi Wei reminds us that there’s a difference between gamification and games (gamification being the practice of adding game-like elements to activities that aren’t truly games, i.e.: Foursquare) (but the words tend to be used interchangeably anyway). Here is a paper that explains the how’s, what’s and why’s of gamification in education, which is a pretty good primer on the potential and debates around using games in education. It was co-authored by Joey Lee, a professor at Teachers College who is doing some pretty interesting work around real-world impact games. There’s also an annual conference around social impact games which features some pretty incredible work. In my non-FJP life, I worked on a video about it which you can see here.

Image: Screenshot from the School Tragedy portion of the Elements of Verification game series.

Laughing at those who read about Miley Cyrus is America’s second-favorite pastime, right after reading about Miley Cyrus.

New York Magazine, Final Tally: Americans Were 12 Times More Interested in Miley Cyrus Than Syria.

Background: Outbrain, the content discovery platform, crunched numbers across its network of publishers to compare reader interest in stories about Syria versus those about Miley Cyrus:

Globally, there were almost 2.5 times as many available stories on Syria as there were on Miley Cyrus. Yet consumption of those Miley stories outpaced Syria by a factor of 8-to-1. And in the United States? 12-to-1!

Before those outside the States start casting their serious news stones, take stock: “Interest in the starlet significantly outpaced Syria in England, Australia, France, Germany, and every other nation in Outbrain’s analysis — except Israel and Russia.”

We just happen to fetishize her a bit more.

Catching Up on Syria

Earlier this week, a friend asked me what the best way to get caught up with what’s going on in Syria is. I’m not a fan of most cable channels because they tend to make one feel compelled to have an opinion, jump in on the debate, or pass judgement before being fully informed. So here’s a reading round-up:

The Basics:

And then there’s Mother Jones’ guide to the debate, which is always an easy, and comprehensive read, the Washington Post’s 9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask, and Children’s BBC, which, yes, is for children, but for those trying to catch up, helpful.

Diving Deeper/Interesting Tangential Thoughts:

If you want to spent some time digging into the past, present and future coverage on the issues, go to directly to Syria Deeply, and/or the NY Times Crisis in Syria page, from which some of the above links were selected.

Googling Longform

The News:

When big news breaks, readers clamor for updates — but they also yearn for context. For example, when word got out Monday afternoon that Jeff Bezos had spent $250 million to become the new owner of The Washington Post, there was suddenly a demand for all kinds of information. Who are the Grahams? How long have they owned the paper? What kind of leader has Bezos been at Amazon? What’s the status of other historic newspapers — have any others been purchased recently?

Some of this information would have been clear after a quick Google search, but piecing together a full portrait of the significance of what happened would likely have taken a combination of queries and resources — maybe a Wikipedia article, some breaking blog posts, a couple of company biographies — to put it all together.

Google wants to change that. Today, they announced a new search feature that aims to put in-depth and longform coverage of people, places, events and themes at your fingertips.

Why It Matters:

One possible result of the new search might be that more eyes are turned toward content produced by journalists in newsrooms rather than the aggregators we have come to rely on when looking for background information — Wikipedia, IMDb, or WebMD. It also suggests that Google is aware of an information gap that others are also trying to fill, a centralized hub for background and context on an issue. 

Thoughts on the potential of this sort of search engine:

As a journalist and seeker of content-specific longform, this is a dream come true. When writing a story, you want to know what’s come before, you want to know what excellent journalists have grappled with in executing stories before yours. Digging through the archives of publications and asking people for recommendations should not be the only way to discover this content.

As a news consumer and citizen of the world, my relationship with literary and longer form stories has been entirely serendipitous; I’ve relied on the magazines and journals I love to read great stories, and more recently, on apps like the one by Longform to find writing and writers I don’t know of. But if one is looking to learn about a topic, get lost on the internet, or deep dive into the life and times of their favorite celebrity, search engines pointing to great writing (as opposed to say, the Wikipedias of the world), has the potential to change consumption culture. Granted the content isn’t guaranteed to be great, but it could help us discover more “writing” as opposed to more “content,” which has the potential to get us used to reading and experiencing longer, well-thought-out, well-researched stories again. And that is something that really excites me, because that’s the sort of world I want my kids to grow up in.—Jihii

 

Luckily, now, truthinews is here to usher in a new standard of broadcasting. First, we ask you what you think the news is, then, report that news you told us back to you, then take an insta-twitter poll to see if you feel informed by yourself, which we will read on the air until we reach that golden day when we are so responsive to our viewers, that cable news is nothing but a mirror, a logo and a news crawl.

Stephen Colbert, The Word, June 24, 2013.

FJP: Colbert essentially speaks of cognitive dissonance—the distressing state we experience when we’re faced with opinions that don’t fit with what we already believe. If interested in what this has to do with news consumption, we recommend reading Dean Miller’s chapter (entitled Literacy after the Front Page) in Page One, the companion book to the (somewhat glorifying) documentary about the NY Times. Miller is the director of the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University. Here’s an excerpt:

Merely teaching people how to find reliable information is inadequate if they can’t open their minds to new information. Advances in neuroscience have documented the fragility of memory, the suggestibility of perception and the extent to which our own biases can prevent us from hearing or remembering discomfiting facts, much less seeking them out. The more we learn about these reactions to cognitive dissonance, the clearer it becomes that if we don’t challenge Americans about what they believe—and how they reach conclusions—they’ll never know what they don’t know.

If you watch people shop in a grocery store, 95% of the time they are scanning the shelves for the packaging, making the choices on that before they turn the bottle around and look at the nutrition information. People choose their media that way too. So you can have a piece of media with the exact same nutritional value in it with different packaging and the consumer is going to choose the one that appeals to them most.

Upworthy’s Editorial Director Sara Critchfield, as quoted in this Nieman Lab article on Upworthy’s social success.

FJP: Today’s must read. It’s a thought-provoking piece on social curation and media packaging that not only breaks down a successful curation methodology, but also sheds light on the fact that the way we consume media is not unlike the way we consume food (see: Clay Johnson’s The Information Diet).

We get stories much faster than we can make sense of them, informed by cellphone pictures and eyewitnesses found on social networks and dubious official sources like police scanner streams. Real life moves much slower than these technologies. There’s a gap between facts and comprehension, between finding some pictures online and making sense of how they fit into a story. What ends up filling that gap is speculation. On both Twitter and cable, people are mostly just collecting little factoids and thinking aloud about various possibilities. They’re just shooting the shit, and the excrement ends up flying everywhere and hitting innocent targets.

Farhad Manjoo, Slate. Breaking News Is Broken.

FJP: Two things here — Adopt a slow news diet or pay very close attention to how you follow breaking news. Else, as Farhad suggests, take a long walk.

News Is Bad For You

Apparently, the more mobile devices you have, the higher your perceived value of media is. According to BCG’s recent study, Through the Mobile Looking Glass, when you get a second mobile device, there is a 41% increase in perceived media value, a 40% increase when you get a third, and a 30% increase when you get a fourth. 

Which makes sense, if you’re spending your days juggling four mobile devices and consuming media on all of them. What could be more important than the information nuggets you’re eating all day long?

Hopefully a lot of things, considering that the nutritional value of all the information we’re consuming could be very low.

The Guardian’s Rolf Dobelli explains:

In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.

Dobelli goes on to provide illustrative examples of the following:

  • News misleads.
  • News is irrelevant.
  • News has no explanatory power.
  • News is toxic to your body (literally).
  • News increases cognitive errors.
  • News inhibits thinking.
  • News works like a drug (you begin to crave it).
  • News wastes time.
  • News kills creativity.

Dobelli wants us to go without news. To be clear, he’s not arguing against ALL journalism. He supports investigative journalism, long-form, and books, but for the last four years has entirely removed the consumption of other (shorter) news from his diet. He’s since experienced: “less disruption, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more time, and more insights.”

FJP: Firstly, journalists simply can’t afford that kind of lifestyle and anyone active on a social network can’t avoid it. And great, illuminating, informative, well-reported, well-presented journalism is out there. But if we set aside the details of his argument (over which we could debate at length), Dobelli’s larger point (that our news consumption habits aren’t very healthy), coupled with the fact that we of the mobile generations perceive the value of media so highly, raises the most important question of all for people living in 2013: How can we construct healthy, anxiety-free, informative, enjoyable news diets that help us live better lives and understand the world better? News literacy. Just like we ought to do with food, practice consuming with balance and intention.—Jihii