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Posts Tagged ‘news’

I’ve gotten increasingly interested lately in how people are getting their news: where they’re looking, what they’re reading, and who they’re listening to, sharing with, and commenting on.

012309NewMediaMonitorThe Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) tracks weekly the most and least-discussed topics by citizen bloggers as well as by mainstream media. Its “New Media Index” for June 29th to July 5th  revealed a schism between mainstream media and the blogosphere. Few of the online commentators were talking about Michael Jackson’s death Michael-Jackson-9_580189awithin a few days of that event (this was before the service), but instead had focused on the death of ubiquitous pitchman Billy Mays, billy-maysalong with marking the thirtieth birthday of the Sony Walkman. Meanwhile, mainstream press devoted 17% (17 percent!) of its content  to the Jackson story over the course of the week. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan (the pullout in Iraq and the launch of a major new offensive in Afghanistan) accounted for about 5-6% of mainstream content and didn’t show up significantly on the blogosphere, although bloggers were discussing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor that week.

 

I don’t have PEJ’s figures for the past week yet, but I’ve made some anecdotal observations about stories that dominated and those with staying power. I’d guess the numbers will reflect activity on the pre-Independence resignation by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, sarah-palin-fishalthough interest waned as it became apparent there are only so many ways to keep speculating as to what she’s going to do next. 

Of course, as anyone within spitting distance of a switched-on television knows, Tuesday, July 7th was all about Michael Jackson’s all-day memorial service, what with anchors installed in LA as if it were a state funeral and reporters (including the Wall Street Journal, for chrissakes!) blogging in real time about what was going on every single minute.

Meanwhile, other underemployed reporters rushed to Nashville in order to figure out how many details they could wring out of the sad story of NFL quarterback Steve McNair’s shooting death by his unhappy McNairgirlfriend, who then killed herself.  I did notice, on several news aggregates  a few scattered stories on the economy, focused on the reluctance of bailed-out banks to lend money, although they have no problem raising bank fees. GM caused a little flurry of blog excitement over its plans to release a plug-in SUV

Comcast, my current Internet provider, redid its home page. Now, in keeping with many other major server home pages, you can catch up on this week’s important stories and assume it’s all about whether Lindsay Lohan’s career is over. Good luck locating anything about President Obama’s African trip. It’s there, but not exactly prominently placed.President_Barack_Ob_588023a

Why do particular stories seem to rate endless coverage? Mainstream media curates the news; the editors and producers presumably try to give readers/viewers what they thinks that audience wants. Are these outlets off-base? On-target? Did we ask for or indicate we wanted so much attention paid to celebrity and so little paid to, say, international news or even the economy? Online, we have access to more information.  And yes, we consumers presumably do the selecting. But is the blogosphere an improvement? If you look at consumer news aggregates – Digitt  and Reddit and Topix and such – you see stories categorized as to what’s controversial and what’s hot, which may involve a story about renewed violence in Iraq or Britney Spears’ supposed disappearance. It’s not really  equivalent – or is it to most news consumers? What makes the front pages of these news aggregates is what the readers say they like and the more they say they like or are interested in a story, the more they’ll see it featured. The favorites become more favorite; the other news may languish. 

A close friend is concerned that access to information falsely gives us the sense of being informed; that is, we’re not making distinctions between what’s important for us to know and what’s just distracting. True enough: The only way we’ll get exposed to a variety of stories if we make the effort to cast our gaze wide and deep.  It’s our responsibility to stay informed; in fact, it’s on us to understand why it’s critical.

20090707_mjmemorial_190x190On the other hand, Michael Jackson’s memorial service was a once-in-a-lifetime event, whereas certain stories, like plans to overhaul the health care system or try to resolve Mid-East problems, seem to be ongoing and without end.

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TwitI am not the most backward person I know when it comes to technology but neither am I in the vanguard. Some of that relates to my skill set (not innately tech-focused  and my age (the dark side of fifty). I also find the immediacy of certain kinds of high-tech communication leaves a lot to be desired in the in-depth department. Texting is fine when you are running late (or L8) and sending a tweet that says “help” when you’re sinking in quicksand might make sense, but as for reporting (not to mention analyzing, deciphering, dissecting or opining on) the news, I want quality, I want depth and I want complete sentences.

Let me now revise that.

protestIn the space of a few days, Twitter, that ubiquitous and previously irritating form of communication favored by second-strong celebrities, has become a force for real revolution: the kind that allows ordinary (or extraordinary) citizens a voice even in the midst of a government crackdown on communications. Of course I’m referring to Iran, where young protesters are broadcasting minute by real-time minute about their protests in a way that CNN has been absolutely unable to do.

There are a number of reports that talk about this new use for this new medium, including today’s New York Times and a recent post by Andrew Sullivan online at the Atlantic Magazine.

But what I’m most excited about is not just the on-the-spot, heartfelt reporting (one demonstrator sent a tweet that proclaimed “Ahmadinejad called us Dust, we showed him a sandstorm.”) but also the response of the other social networkers around the world. They are providing support both emotional (a large Facebook group as well as a number of followers around the world plugged in to “listen” to the opposition reports) and practical (supplying proxy server addresses for Twitter accounts when the government shuts down local Internet access).

Think about it: a democratic uprising takes place in one part of the world and people all over the globe can mobilize world opinion and perhaps more in a nanosecond. Are there young people in North Korea who, drawn to the social power of Facebook or Twitter, will also be drawn to protest1the power of freedom? What about Cuba? What about Saudi Arabia? Moreover, what does the involvement of twitterers say about the potential to interest an entire generation in the politics of communication and the possibility of change?

Twitter will still be used for inane reports about the breakfast habits of wanna-be A-listers and as a cruelly simple way of engineering a breakup, I suppose. But the idea that it can be used to sustain a social democracy movement has me as excited as I’ve been in years. I’m ready to open an account if I can sustain the required manual dexterity; I want to keep up. peace

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I’ve always gone out of my way to see all sides of an argument, even if I might favor one side. After all, the best way to win over one’s enemies (or so I believe) is to try to understand why they think as they do and then persuade them to your way of thinking.

Then again, I might have a different idea of what it means to argue. I believe the purpose is to persuade, while others might think the purpose is to win.

War is the ultimate argument – over geography or politics, over belief or self-determination, over control or freedom. War can be calculating or passionate, based on an attempt to address ancient grievances or modern entitlements. The goal of warfare in all cases is to win, which is what makes attempting to find solutions to war’s argument so frustrating.

In the case of the ongoing Middle East crisis, as we always refer to Israel’s battles with its unhappy neighbors, what is left to say? War and threat of war seem to be permanent conditions in that part of the world. The arguments concerning this latest outburst of violence tragically echo the recriminations of fighting boys – “He started it!” “No, he did!” But this isn’t just about power or control; those may be desired outcomes but they mask the larger goal, which seems to be destruction of the other.

Every analysis I’ve ever seen posits that Israelis see themselves as always and evermore in danger of being targeted for extinction. Nearly everything they do seems to derive from their understanding of and belief in the constant threat of annihilation. This is not to excuse every action the government and its army takes, only to try and understand it.

Likewise, Palestinians see themselves as always and evermore in danger of remaining as refugees, without rights, without opportunities and without a homeland, pushed around by a small country with a large and powerful friend. Many have been raised to believe it is uniquely Israel that stands in the way of their liberation  and so Israel must be destroyed, which, of course, confirms Israel’s worst fears. Again, not justifiable nor even perfectly logical except perhaps as a means of trying to see it with another’s eyes. Each side  feels defensive, even when on the offensive.

It seems so absurd the cycle can’t be broken – agree to a two-state solution and agree Israel has a right to exist  – but how?  There’s a trust issue involved and who’s supposed to go first when so much is at stake? There are those with political reasons to support continued instability in the region and mostly there is, among the rest of the population on both sides, all that fear.

Fear doesn’t resolve an argument; it escalates it. There may be a military victory here and a political or public relations triumph there but there won’t be a winner until what becomes more important than the fear is the absence of it.

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My mom used to tell me there were glass half full kinds of people and glass half empty kinds of people but sometimes it seems out of our control. You get the good news from your doctor, followed by the no-so-good news from your employer. You connect up with one friend and inadvertently start a fight with another. The sun comes out, you walk outside and the skies open up, drenching you in a downpour. You have good days and bad days. It seems as if the cosmos gets to decide just how full the glass is, not us.

 

This month has been particularly stressful despite the adrenaline rush of the election. The days are getting shorter, there’s a lot going on in the world and really, how much can one guy be expected to do? But if you try, you can locate uplifting stories out in the world or in your own backyard. Or sure, some of us have a tendency to feel grumpy this time of year. But we can fight it, yes we can. So, in the interest of promoting the positive, I’ve collected various stories from here and there that surely must count towards a fuller glass:

 

  • According to a recent NBC report, the number of new cancer cases worldwide is down.
  • “Stocks Mostly Rise As Financials Gain on Fed Plan”  – we’ll take it!
  • The Giants and the Jets are both playing very well.
  • Post-Thanksgiving sales on so-called “Black Friday” may not be so bad.
  • There is good going on in the world, promoted not only by individuals but also by governments. For only a sample, look at what at Search for Common Ground‘s recent award winners are doing to promote understanding and good-will.

 

Btw, if you want your news delivered sunny-side up, you can actually go to a website that delivers only positive news stories. Sure, you may be missing something but it’s worth it for the feeling, however temporary, that the world will not only survive but also thrive. And for that we can all be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

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As early as the second grade, I had an idea what I wanted to be, or rather I had two ideas. Having visited the United Nations on a previous trip  to see my grandparents, I was certain I wanted to be a translator. My mother put me immediately into French classes. In retrospect, Farsi or Russian or Mandarin would have been far more useful, which is to say I didn’t have a prayer of working at the UN. Probably just as well and in any case I can now order off the menu in a French restaurant with reasonable confidence.

The other career I wanted to pursue was in journalism. Then again, I grew up in an idealistic time, in the era of Woodward and Bernstein back when they acted like journalists and the New York Times published “The Pentagon Papers” instead of erroneous stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Those were the days but my desire to work in that “noble” field has disappeared faster than you can say “reporter.”

These days, our news delivery system is chaos, all noise and bluster and so falsely “fair and balanced” that every opinion and every story carry equal weight. In a world where we are all so enamored of our own opinion that listening to others or even sharing the same viewpoint as others is less important than getting noticed, the bizarre proliferation of opinions spewed across cyberspace (some backed by some sort of intelligence, thoughtfulness or consideration, others apparently backed by nothing other than anger, agenda, an ax to grind, what have you) become news. These opinions are given equal time and, worse yet, equal weight. The media mavens grab a story from the blogosphere, work it to death and regurgitate it back into the web. The same story gets recycled over and over again, skewing opinion even more. For example, Obama’s relationship with his ex-pastor Reverend Wright continues to be a hot topic but John McCain’s with another religious leader and supporter, Pastor John Hagee is not (Wikipedia carefully states that Hagee “has incurred some controversy for his comments regarding Catholicism, Islam, homosexuality, women, blacks, and hurricane Katrina.”). Good journalists, by the way, are caught in the middle.

Actually, I care less about who the candidates are hanging out with (yeah, yeah, I know, goes to judgement and all that) and more about their plans for health care. No I haven’t heard enough or I don’t understand it well enough. I’d like the media to help me but apparently, the media isn’t in the business of helping us stay informed anymore.

There are other people making noise about the state of the news, thank goodness. For starters, catch Elizabeth Edward’s op-ed piece on what the media does and doesn’t cover (for those of you with really, really short attention spans, she’s the wife of the “third” Democratic candidate, John Edwards, who dropped out of the race). Seriously, go read it; she makes some hugely important points about corporate control of media outlets and what kinds of stories those outlets chase. It’s depressing but worthwhile. Then read this article by Michael Ventre that addresses the John Stewart issue. While “traditional” media critics and “real” journalists have been lamenting the fact that the under-thirty set have been getting their news from a comedian, said comedian, apparently aware of his influence, appears to be putting more thought and, yes, analysis into his interviews and “reporting,” displaying more than a rudimentary understanding of the issues at hand. If he brings a certain detached irony to his delivery (he is, after all, still out to entertain), that is far better than the gonzo showings of some of more “esteemed” mainstream media colleagues these days (yep, I’m referring to the Democratic debates on ABC).

It’s small comfort, but comfort nonetheless, to know that I’m not alone in my despair over the way news is made, made important and then delivered. As much as I might like the sound of my own voice or the appearance of my own words, I really do want to hear what others are thinking about a particular subject. If they are as upset as I am or as I hope you readers will be, even better, especially because lately I’ve been feeling alternately isolated, afraid and mad as hell.

 

 

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It really does seem as if the definition of “newsworthy” has been blurred beyond recognition…or perhaps simply swallowed whole by the insatiable beast that is today’s insta-news. Really, how do you fill all that cyber-space and give all those talking heads something to say? You create stories out of nothing or do what my dad used to refer to as “making a mountain out of a molehill.” Take the story that circulated last week about Candidate Clinton’s Cough. Breaking news story, complete with portentious music lead-in. Puleeze, it wasn’t consequential enough to warrant the effort. Then there are the stories that feel recylced; indeed they are, with minor revisions.  My favorite? “Winter Heating Costs Could Rise As Much As 10.5 Percent.” Maybe the numbers have changed but I could swear we’ve seen that story every winter for decades.  Then there are the stories that trumpet the results of some study or other. After awhile, even media outlets get a little skeptical about whether a study that shows eating high-fat foods can lead to weight increase or children who exercise are healthier is news. I mean, duh. Sometimes you get stories that seem like retreads, even if they aren’t precisely. Headlines about Iraq and Pakistan begin to feel that way; someone even said to me about the latest natural disaster in Bangladesh – “again?” 

Yesterday’s news about Barry Bonds’ indictment  felt like an old, tired, unsurprising and even recylced story. Whether you think it’s consequential, i.e. newsworthy, probably depends on whether you see it as a cautionary tale of one man’s pursuit of a coveted record or our pursuit of an umblemished hero.

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As everyone knows, news is not really new. That is to say, in our 24/7 environment, we get information immediately, which is then overtaken by other information even more immediate. Not only are stories instantly distributed, they are also instantly dissected, analyzed, reworked and commented upon, all of which impact how we receive the news or perhaps even what we consider to be newsworthy.

With so many things happening in the world and so many outlets competing for attention and market share, it’s distressing to find that the most lead Internet news sites appear to run virtually identical stories hour after hour. That strikes me as singularly lacking in creativity; I’m not even sure it’s smart marketing.  Why wouldn’t MSN offer a different take on what is newsworthy (okay, beyond certain monumentous events) than, say, Yahoo? Do they assume the same customer demographic? And if so, why? The short answer is that the outlets are all interdependant, what with this network owning that cable company or this conglomerate producing that news show. Nevertheless, it’s boring to see the same things repeated over and over again.  But then, on a rainy, gloomy day, comparing top stories becomes the Internet equivalent of a parlor game for the temporarily uninspired scribe. To spot a unique story is to imagine some likewise uninspired drone sitting at his or her cubicle and deciding which stories we millions will read.  Of course, it’s probably all electronic and random at that, but it’s fun to think about the possibility of a deviant human touch. Herewith, a list of top stories spotted on various sites at around 1 PM:

MSN listed the Chilean earthquake, a story about foreclosures, the FBI report on Blackwater’s role in Iraq, NY Governor Elliot Spitzer’s dropping of the controversial immigrant drivers’ licensing plan and Pakistan President Mushariff’s alleged intention to resign as army chief at the end of this month. 

Yahoo featured  the Mushariff and Chilean earthquake stories as well as one on Catholic Bishops instructing voters to follow church doctrine, and Chevron’s being required to pay for its part in the Iraq oil-for-food scheme. You gotta love Yahoo for  highlighting a study on why some species eat their newborn – I might need that information – and for considering the upcoming nuptials of Google co-founder Larry Page a top story.

Google has quite a comprehensive news site but the earthquake in Chile and the FBI report on Blackwater dominated.  Surprisingly, no mention of Larry Page’s engagement.

Comcast led with the Mushariff, Spitzer and earthquake stories also seemed to find Matt’s ascention important, along with some news about Microsoft fixing a bug (yawn), President Bush promising to rebuild the Justice Department (yawn), the possibility that O.J. Simpson hearing may end today (thank god!) and that Matt Damon was named People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” (well good for him!)

And AOL, home of the free, the brave and some of the nuttiest, looniest and downright most insane posts I’ve ever seen, pretty much went its own way with its top stories.  ·   Texas Border Mayors Want Wider, Deeper River ·   Democrats’ Report Details ‘Hidden’ War Costs ·   Four Get AIDS Virus From Organ Donor ·   Georgia’s Governor Leads Prayer for Rain ·   Alligator Kills Fleeing Burglary Suspect .

Now this is what I’m talking about!

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Burning Questions

I’m watching NBC Nightly News (which probably marks me as old-fashioned but I’m also on the Internet so I’m technically straddling old and new media). Anyway, I’m following the stories about the fires in and around San Diego and Los Angeles with morbid fascination as figures come flying at me: driest season on record, biggest peacetime evacuation, of people from their threatened homes (dwarfing Katrina), one of the worst fires in California history. It’s nature at work, right? Just like this fall’s tornadoes in Michigan or the drought in Florida? It’s impossible not to ask: is there a connection between what’s going on and global warming? It’s also impossible to say definitively after only one strange autumn. The warm autumn of 2001 prompted similar questions – as did last year’s warm winter. But if you’ve been on the planet long enough (say 40 years or more), you can tell something’s afoot and it’s not just that the hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, ice storms, disappearing shorelines and fluctuating temperatures are being covered and reported like never before. No one’s proved to my complete satisfaction that there is a relationship between individual efforts at energy and resource conservation and the fires in California. Still, I turned off the TV, unplugged the coffeemaker and began to swap out my old bulbs for the new funny-looking, energy-efficient ones. Because it’s impossible not to believe it could make some sort of difference, no matter how small.

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Some people yell at the television, especially during sports events. I yell at the newspaper. This kind of venting is supposed to be good for you, although I’m not so sure. The stories in today’s paper, which I was reading at breakfast, gave me ample opportunity to release my frustrations. For instance, when I read that millionaires in Silicon Valley still felt poor and struggled to “get by,” I said very loudly, “More? You want MORE?” (from the musical “Oliver”), which I thought was clever. I mean, come on people. Anyway, I felt momentarily better but then I read that new rules designed to reduce the practice of earmarking money for pet projects in Congress has instead increased it because our representatives are competing for our tax dollars for their districts and even bragging about snagging the extra dough buried in some appropriations bill or other. “Everybody over to the trough, free pork!” I shouted at the newspaper and shook it a little for good measure. When I got to the piece about about the changed domestic surveillance bill passing despite serious misgivings, I found myself yelling, “Then why pass it?”. By the time I had perused the other headlines (forclosures up, stock prices down, healthcare still insufficient or out of reach for most, elite child athletes are seeing sports psychologists for heaven’s sake!), I was inflicting serious damage to the paper and I hadn’t even finished my first cup of coffee. That’s no way to begin the day so I balled up the front section, along with business and sports sections (I’m cranky about Barry Bonds’ pursuit of my beloved Hank Aarons’ home run record), took a deep breath and with a sigh, picked up the arts page where, by avoiding any references to pop culture celebrities without talent, I was able to sooth my troubled soul and finish breakfast.

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I was reading the Huffington Post this morning and thinking about whether to jump into the comments section in order to inject a reasonable note into the back and forth of name-calling and insulting. I could have directed the passionate mud-slingers to my recent post on “Uncivil Society” but decided instead to check out sports, noting that the Mets’ uneven season and the wide-open Tour de France could drive even a casual fan crazy. I went to check my mail and read the lead stories: the Dow has passed 14,000 , Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal may soon be owned by Rupert Murdoch and Bin Laden is again making threats against the U.S. Oh boy! Meanwhile, the rain forecast has been upgraded to strong storms and it’s only four days until we find out whether Harry Potter lives or dies. Who knew summer could be so stressful?

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