Thanks

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While scrolling through my old blog posts, I decided that the most significant thing I’ve learned in this class is not some mass media concept, but a way of thinking. Looking at everything through the lens of a potential blog post taught me to read a story, do some research, give it an extra five minutes of critical thought and finally, form an opinion and argument.

Obviously this is something I’ve learned throughout my college career writing papers, but doing it on a regular basis allowed me to form a habit and look at everything around me with a more critical eye. As you can tell from the rest of my blog posts, this may have made me a bit more cynical about the world we live in, but I think that’s alright. The ability to analyze information and form an opinion, cynical or hopeful, is crucial in the real world where I imagine ignorance is not bliss.

On a related note, this class (the blog posts specifically) taught me how much I like to write. As opposed to the press releases and case studies I’m used to writing, this blog allowed me to develop my own creative voice. I learned what I like to write about as well as how I like to write about it. I’ve successfully used my blog as a writing sample for jobs, giving potential employers a better idea about who I am. So to the next class, all of whom I’m sure will read this post, learn to like your blog. You might not believe it on the first day when Professor Robinson says his previous classes enjoyed having a blog, but at least in my case, it’s pretty true.

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Politically Incorrect

Media and politics have been intertwined for as long as they’ve both existed, but it seems like neither group really knows what they’re doing just yet. Perhaps I’m paying more attention now as a voter and a journalism student, or maybe I’ve been watching too much Jon Stewart, but it seems like both have a lot to learn.

For example, the two recently announced Republican presidential candidates have already made media blunders, both within the first week of their respective announcements. Unbeknownst to many, Ted Cruz and his digital team didn’t have the foresight to buy his domain name, meaning tedcruz.com looks like this. On the first day of Rand Paul’s campaign, the presidential candidate mishandled several interviews, drawing plenty of negative media attention. I’m not saying this to promote any liberal agenda, I’m sure once the Democratic candidates are announced, they’ll embarrass themselves in the media as well. Hillary Clinton hasn’t even announced her candidacy and she’s under fire for not only having a secret email account, but for deleting emails from it, a potentially huge public relations mistake.

When it comes to political reporting, the news media is not perfect either. Political campaigns give the media an opportunity to fulfill their role as a public informant, both providing unbiased information as well as acting as a watchdog that scrutinizes both candidates and parties. Instead, news media often spend inordinate amounts of time analyzing issues like Obama’s birth certificate that are not only ridiculous accusations, but inform the public about the wrong sorts of issues. In my opinion, this is worse than political candidates making media mistakes because the news media provide information that ultimately helps to form voter decisions.

In terms of finding solutions to these problems, my first thought is that political candidates need better marketing teams. More importantly, the news media itself has some reforming to do. I don’t trust the American public enough to seek out a variety of sources and opinions to become truly informed voters, so maybe the media should be doing this. Alternatives to Fox News and MSNBC must exist to give voters an unbiased and not-so-personalized view of political issues if we want the most informed decisions to be made.

The 24-Hour News Cycle

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In four and a half minutes, Saturday Night Live perfectly captured the way I’ve always felt about 24-hour news channels. In a sketch mocking CNN, actors exaggerate the ridiculous interviews, reenactments and graphics that are frequently used by these channels to report the news. Understandably, plenty of Americans have expressed frustration with the journalistic effects of a 24-hour news cycle, but I’m going to take a break from being cynical and play devil’s advocate for a moment.

The CNN effect is a theory that applies not only to CNN but to all organizations creating media in real time. The term comes from CNN’s live coverage of events like the Gulf War, during which the news channel brought photos, video and commentary to the American public that may not otherwise have been seen. This consistent coverage increases public awareness and potentially leads to quicker and increased action by the government, policymakers and even the general public.

On the other hand, 24-hour news coverage has become a competition for viewers, leading channels to resort to entertainment and bias in order to retain audience attention. Journalistic values of accuracy and objectivity can quickly be abandoned in the attempt to keep up current coverage directed at a specific audience.

Understanding the pros and cons, I think there is a time and place for 24-hour coverage. While the metaphor comparing Ebola to ISIS was overdone on every channel, during an event like 9/11 in which everyone is glued to their TV for ongoing coverage, 24-hour news is appreciated. Perhaps the advent of Twitter and its ability to relay real-time news in 140 characters or less makes the more dramatic elements of broadcast news channels seem ridiculous. It’s even possible that Twitter and other social media platforms will make CNN irrelevant in the next decade, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Last Week Tonight with Edward Snowden

“I did this to give the American people the chance to decide the kind of government they want to have,” said Edward Snowden when asked why he leaked top secret NSA documents. John Oliver, who interviewed Snowden on last night’s episode of Last Week Tonight, goes on to point out that the American people may not have responded to the leaks in the way that Snowden hoped.

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Oliver complied a scene of interviews asking random Americans if they’ve heard of Edward Snowden. Many say no and others confuse him with the “WikiLeaks guys”. Snowden doesn’t seem too disheartened by this and understands that the technical nature of the leaks may confuse some. Oliver goes on to question Snowden about government surveillance of nude photos, a topic he’s sure Americans will find more interesting than foreign or even other types of domestic surveillance. Unfortunately, he’s not wrong. Further interviews, which granted were chosen by his team to make this statement, show a group of Americans much more concerned with surveillance if it means that the government can easily find any nude photos they may have sent.

It appears that plenty of Americans do have something to hide after all. Perhaps these Americans didn’t know the extent to which the government could watch them or perhaps they just didn’t care until it directly related to their personal photos. Interviewees reject the idea of a program that can see their nude photos, not realizing that pretty much every program leaked by Edward Snowden could do just that.

I find it pretty ridiculous that America doesn’t have the capacity to have this conversation unless it’s directly related to their own nude pictures, but if that’s what it takes to get our citizens involved, then John Oliver used a perfect example. Obviously this is a humorous show attempting to make a joke, but I think it’s evident of a potentially larger problem about the education of Americans. Edward Snowden risked his life to make this information known, but some Americans still have no concept of the potential consequences. Perhaps when a topic comes up that is technical and broad like government surveillance, the media should not only report on it, but better describe it in a way that will lead Americans to both understand and take action.

Monica Lewinsky and The Price of Shame

Plenty of scandals have taken place since Monica Lewinsky’s in 1998, making hers old news. However, Lewinsky is back in the media, using her story to advocate against cyber bulling and the “culture of humiliation” that has been created by the digital revolution.

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In a recent TED Talk, Lewinsky remembers her scandal and the speed with which it became international news. Her story, which she says was “brought to you by the digital revolution”, was the first instance of digital media having a larger role than traditional media. The Internet allowed her to go from a private figure to a public one overnight, and with that status came the first real case of online cyber bullying.

Lewinsky cites plenty of negative comments in the form of photos, TV clips, rap lyrics, news articles and more. The online cyber bulling, both by media publications and individual trolls, led to over a decade of seclusion for the humiliated 22-year-old. She emerged from this seclusion to cite more recent incidents of cyber bullying, some with endings more tragic than hers. To fight this, Lewinsky says we need an Internet intervention that changes beliefs and eventually behavior online.

Several things from Lewinsky’s story stood out to me. First was the role that media played in her bullying. The media, whose job it is to report on events and scandals like this one, played a major part in branding Lewinsky with the reputation that she will always live with. I wonder if the scandal had occurred in today’s media landscape, in which it seems more acceptable for publications to have personalities, opinions and political affiliations, a media organization would step up to defend Lewinsky? With the massive number of opinions circulating on the web today, it seems easier to find an argument for both sides of any story. This could potentially have given Lewinsky some hope and reassurance.

Second, I wonder about the effect of social media on a scandal of this size. I’m sure her story would have spread faster and the individual trolls would have had more opportunity to comment on it. Social media seems to still be working out how to handle cyber bullying and Internet threats, meaning the existence of social media in 1998 would likely have made Lewinsky’s situation far worse.

The most important point made by Lewinsky is the need for change. Regardless of the scandal, people continue to capitalize on the public shaming of others, and the Internet only allows this humiliation to spread. Changing this attitude and the ease with which users can hide behind a screen are crucial two steps in ending the culture of humiliation.

Facebook’s Diplomacy

A recent Belgian study found data backing up something that we all sort of know to be true: Facebook is placing cookies on our browsers and tracking us all the time, regardless of whether or not we are logged in.  More shocking than the data itself is that this is in direct violation of a European Union law. The law states that websites must have the permission of the user before placing cookies on their browsers.

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While Facebook obviously denies this claim and has been fairly cooperative in its willingness to prove its factual inaccuracies, it makes me think a bit about the diplomatic effects that our mass media organizations may have. The government has already gotten in trouble for invading the privacy of other nations, and I wonder if data collection by mass media companies might create similar problems?

I doubt Europeans feel comfortable with powerful American media corporations having all their data, potentially leading them to abandon such platforms. Additionally, these practices might make global organizations hesitant to engage in business with us for fear of data tracking, legal violations, ethical standards, etc. Either way, I think more than our privacy is at stake when this data is collected.

Additionally, if Europeans are criticizing this practice and passing laws about it, why is the same not being done in America? Obviously data-collecting companies like Facebook have their critics here in the states, but are our government entities too consumed with the money made from advertising based on this data to think about the larger potential implications? I don’t know the details of American laws surrounding personal data collection and I certainly haven’t read Facebook’s Terms of Service, but it seems like Americans, myself included, could be more thoughtful about the larger potential implications of these common data collection practices.

Women in Technology

With the recent trial of Ellen Pao, I’ve been thinking a lot about women in the technology industry. There are many facets of this topic: sexual harassment, unequal pay, lack of female leadership, etc., but I’ve been considering the topic in terms of its portrayal in the media.

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Sure Mashable and other sites dedicate entire news categories to the subject of women in technology and that’s great, but I think that in order to educate and make real change, the media is going to have to reach a different demographic: teenage girls. At a young age, girls should be taught to have a vested interest in science and technology, and they should view it as a reasonable career path. One way to do this is through the media.

Silicon Valley is a show on HBO that I don’t think is criticized enough for its lack of women. A show about technology and success in Silicon Valley featuring six male leads is not the sort of media that will make representation changes. One great example of media use is Google’s Made with Code. It frequently partners with celebrities that are popular among teenage girls in order to build awareness for its work motivating young girls to consider technology.

Teenage girls are obsessed with media: TV, social platforms, music, etc. I think there’s some responsibility here to incite change among the next generation of women and get them excited about technology. Imagine the impact of a show like Silicon Valley featuring six female leads, or at the very least, an equal number of male and female leads.

I’m sure creating these types of media is easier said than done, but I think it’s a major part of our responsibility as soon-to-be influential media makers if we want to see change in the male-dominated industry.