Informing the Public in the Internet Age

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April 16

The profusion of low-cost media production and distribution has led to the rise of an alternative citizen-led media sector. Is this a passing fad of enthusiastic amateurs or the beginning of a fundamental restructuring of the way media and news are produced and consumed? Will the current trends lead to more information, better information, and better informed people or to an infinite stream of unreliable chatter? Will it lead to a more politically engaged populace or to an increasingly polarized society that picks its sources of information to match its biases and ignorance?


Optional Readings

Videos Watched in Class


Links from Adobe Connect Session

Explanation of Robots.txt :

The Berkman Center's robots.txt file:

Here's a recent article about the e-mail privacy question:

Trailer to WarGames with Matthew Broderick:

Hacker Kevin Mitnick was once accused of being able to launch nuclear missiles by whistling into a phone:

Map of the various federal circuit courts:

Orrin Kerr at GW Law (Andy's alma mater):

Background on the hacker Sabu:

One take on the Northeast Blackout of 2003:

The New York Times Public Editor is Margaret Sullivan. Here is her blog:

The front pages of major newspapers from the Newseum:

Man in the Cowboy Hat at Marathon:

The news headline map:

Class Discussion

Please remember to sign your postings by adding four tildes (~~~~) to the end of your contribution. This will automatically add your username and the date/time of your post, like so: Asellars 15:29, 21 January 2013 (EST)

I tend to agree with the gist of the Miel and Faris, Berkman Report that argues there is a merging of traditional media reporting and online independent blogging. For instance, today at around 2:45 the terror attack occurred in Boston. At 3:15 I saw a notice on twitter and googled it to see what was happening. None of the first page of google links were to major media resources, they were all to minor blogs that were carrying the story which is where I got my information. So for breaking news it can be quite often a minor blogger or on facebook/twitter where a story breaks for the first time. Conversely, I've noticed a marked decline in the online stories of the traditional Canadian Newspaper sites. I often go to CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) to browse the news and I've noticed quite often that they revise their online stories continually to add a fact here and there like a blog. In doing so they often make mistakes in their haste and it seems as though their articles are of no higher quality than an independent bloggers... Joshywonder 20:59, 15 April 2013 (EDT)

Like everyone else, I can't stop thinking about the tragedy in Boston today. The event was particularly timely for a class about journalism, because it is a pretty telling case study about informing the public in the Internet age. Indeed you could see many of the positive and negative effects of public participation in media, as presented by the Berkman report from Persephone Miel and Robert Faris and the FCC report from Steven Waldman.

I initially heard about the explosions on Facebook from a post by a friend based in NYC who was watching a live stream of the event. Then I immediately searched online to find out more information from a reputable news source. Even though social media broke the news for me, I still needed a journalist for verification and confirmation. But the New York Times and Boston Globe only had basic, incomplete information at this point. So I jumped back over to social media, where information was readily and rapidly flowing. However, finding credible information and assembling a coherent report of what had happened turned out to be incredibly challenging. Twitter became a hot bed of misinformation (i.e. of alleged perpetrators), insensitive scheduled tweets, graphic images I wanted to avoid, general shock, speculation, retweet hoaxes, and conflicting reports. It felt like a highly visible news room flooded with all the crap that usually gets filtered out. One tweet even read, "everyone just chill for a sec until confirmed reports come in."

So right away, I could see the advantages and disadvantages of participatory media outlets and traditional news outlets. I needed professional journalists to confirm information for me, to give me an objective and authoritative source. But the news outlets moved too slow. So I turned to social media to give me updates and reactions, even if they were inaccurate. For me, any information was better than none at the time. Ultimately, I found myself glued to CNN while perusing Twitter and Facebook and texting everyone I knew. It felt as though the participatory and traditional media were working in concert with one another, satisfying different needs. Looking back now, I think there is a place for both traditional journalists and community driven-news so as long as each focuses on what they do best (news outlets: slower but accurate reports, social media: speedy but not always accurate reports) and not try to serve the function of the other. The Banyan Project seems like an interesting hybrid. Anyway, my heart goes out to the victims on this sad day. Asmith 00:37, 16 April 2013 (EDT)

When I read the assignment summary/description for this week which included a reference to the alternative, citizen-led media sector and asked, "Is this a passing fad of enthusiastic amateurs or the beginning of a fundamental restructuring of the way media and news are produced and consumed?", my instinct was to answer with the one word: both. And when I say "both", I mean that what we are seeing happen with media as a whole is the inclusion of enthusiastic amateurs as well as a fundamental restructuring of the way media and news are contained. One only needs to look at the number of direct references in the so-called mainstream, traditional media to social networking. The initial coverage of yesterday's bombing of the Boston Marathon including repeated use of amateur (presumably cell phone) video and still shots by the mainstream media as well as repeating twitter posts. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that as the old, traditional media begins to enjoy less consumption (Newsweek gave up its print edition this last December and long gone are the days of the three main news media TV channels - ABC, CBS and NBC, who have all lost their share of the market to the likes of CNN, FOX, MSNBC and online sources) while relatively new media (or at least new compared to the traditional sources) such as Drudge, Huffington Post and any of the millions of bloggers continue to enjoy large and in some cases constantly increasing shares of the market. As the Miel and Faris article states, "The distinctions between professional and amateur are blurring, and the definitions of commercial, public, and community media are shifting." It's no longer one or the other, but how much of each component does anyone news/media source choose to use in order to attract information consumers. I would even throw the spectrum of hard news versus opinion in there. I also think the Miel and Faris article summarized it well when they said: "Understanding these trends requires a broader and more holistic view of the media environment than isolating new or participatory media, terms that are losing value as meaningful distinctions."

The Jones article stated that, "Scholars and commentators have been closely monitoring this decline for several years, and much has been written about the ways in which the demise of traditional mainstream media might negatively impact the flow of information to the public, and ultimately undermine the strength of our democracy." I disagree. Information consumers must simply learn to adjust their understanding of the sources of the information they receive. It is absolutely essential to be critical of every source of information and attempt to analyze it objectively and without personal bias if the truth is ultimately the goal. It's not as if the traditional print media was immune to bias or inaccuracies. Facts are obviously of value. Opinions are also of value if they are viewed as such. The internet and "citizen journalists", bloggers and individual producers of information have value in that they bring all of these to the table and therefore it becomes critically important to discern what they have to offer before properly consuming it. The most important (and critical to democracy) things that can happen is to be able to draw a distinction between hard news (i.e. what happened) and opinion/editorial pieces. Very often today we have people wearing two hats - they are both consumers as well as producers. And sometimes one effects the other.CyberRalph 09:42, 16 April 2013 (EDT)

One cannot deny the influence of mass media in all walks of life. Whether we examine the domestic or international political landscape, consumer trends, economic development, social change, celebrity gossip, humanitarian disasters, or anything else in our modern surroundings, media shapes our thoughts and actions. Our readings and the video this week draw attention to our current media world: everyone is a reporter, an author, and an editor.

A few months ago, I read an interesting political science article by Matthew Baum titled: Sex, Lies, and War: How Soft News Brings Foreign Policy to the Inattentive Public. Soft news is defined as entertainment-oriented news, much of what we see on late night T.V. Baum sheds light on an important aspect of news interpretation and analysis, highlighting education as the nucleus. He notes that soft news diminishes as respondents move up the education ladder. In other words, as people become more educated, they consider preferences, question validity, and make decisions based on a broader universe of options when presented with new data (they don’t believe everything they read, hear, or watch). Brendan Nyhan's video about fact-checking is somewhat associated with this logic. I’m not implying that those with lower educational levels believe everything they hear and avoid checking facts; nor am I saying that highly educated individuals cannot be influenced by the subtle nuances of mass media. If false claims are repeated enough, noted in Nyhan's video, people will tend to believe those claims, whether educated or not. I do think, however, that examining media-interpretation from an educational slant is an interesting way to approach this analysis. Does education increase motivation to confirm facts? Does education change one's interpretation when obtaining news from social media or other news outlets? What are your thoughts about the role of education in our high-choice media environment?

Primary news and social media news are two distinct information-generating avenues. When evaluating primary news sources, information about the world often comes from "political elites," i.e., those who own and manage large entities that provide news. Although the primary networks (NBC/CBS/ABC/CNN/FOX) provide more clear-cut data than other news sources or entertainment equivalents, we obtain information through filters, making us secondhand consumers. The telephone game is not necessarily the best analogy, because information can often be presented consistently, across media platforms. However, to some degree, all information about the world is slightly skewed, based on the translator who shares the information and the number of touch-points the information travels through before we receive it. This is the reality of traditional primary news.

On the other hand, social media news is very different, because it's not automatically filtered through the eyes of "elites"—the information we obtain often comes from a direct source. In the article From Cold Calls to Community Building, an interesting quote merits attention: "Social media creates a new layer of vulnerability for a reporter compared with what we do traditionally, which is less personal....Trust is a huge issue, especially when you think about [it] on a sourcing level. A lot of people aren't going to trust a reporter they don't know or a publication they don’t know....[P]eople are much more willing to trust each other" (LaFrance, 2012). We trust others alike and those who have direct experiences with a topic of interest; this is the change that we’re seeing with social media. We're moving from a filtered news-generating world, to a streamlined information-gathering reality, i.e., those closest to the news who are impacted the most (the real reporters) provide the best information.

Miel and Faris support this claim stating that, "members of this growing audience [i.e., the Internet] are not only consumers of the news—many are shaping the news agenda for themselves and others: selecting, combining, and commenting on stories as well as creating their own. It is driven by the rapid expansion of the number of people and organizations newly engaged as authors, editors, and publishers" (Miel and Faris, 2008). The final statement of this quote illustrates an important aspect of this week's thesis. We are all reporters and through social media avenues we now have the potential to share our stories surrounding countless topics, to mass audiences.

What do you think about this transition? Will we lack factual information as more non-experts transmit news? Or, will news be better-off as information emerges from diverse sources, across unique platforms, from unfiltered perspectives? Zak Paster 10:35, 16 April 2013 (EDT)

Interesting readings for this class, and in particular the Miel and Faris article. I would tend to agree with our classmate, Joshywonder that noted that future of news would rely upon new major media resources as twitter, Facebook or diverse blogs. I myself, heard about Boston attack thought-out the posts and comments of those social media arenas. Members as myself tend to rely on consumers of the news that “identify areas where core journalists functions in a democracy” which make a potential thread of a new environment of a networked digital media. In my view, sources like Twitter and Facebook give audience a chance to be involved (by commenting, posting/ liking) in operation of what is happening in a series of tweets of information. In my view, this exchange of information raises the social medial in a gathered emergence of new ecosystems. Diverse organizations are being more hostile towards theses new tools of information. In my view, audience is being more inclined to see comments on Facebook and posts by twitter and other forms of social media as valuable adjunct to traditional media. user777 12:38, 16 April 2013 (EDT)

It was good to see that this week’s readings touched on issues that are fundamental to good public policy: a strong press, and a public education system that trains a country’s people in, as Jonathan Zitrain put it “ The sets of skills that comprise the western enlightenment”. (1:02:17 to 1:02:34) If newspapers are written above the average level of the high school graduate in a community, it’s not hard to understand why they are not being widely read. However, if the average high school graduate is reading at a 6th grade level, the quality of the press for that city is not going to be high if it is not geared to (as the Banyan Project website puts it) the upscale and elite. Finally the point that FOIA requests and much of the abuses of local and national governments are dependent on investigative journalism and the deep pockets of the organizations that employ them (Litigation, Legislation, and Democracy in a Post-Newspaper America) is important, but what is also important is a populace who can understand the issues raised in such a story. If the majority of a country’s citizens cannot read and think critically, these stories will be of little use or interest to any other than the upscale. It would also be helpful if the majority of the population were familiar with our type of government (a republic) and the documents it is based upon (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers.) Raven 15:19, 16 April 2013 (EDT)

Our classes eerily coincide with national news. Through the lens of yesterday's tragedy, these articles have made me consider how both emotional investment and the means through which information is generated influence fact. Brendan Nyhan discusses several psychological factors that determine how individuals delegate truth. For instance, the "Illusion of Truth" phenomena, in which individuals construct truth based upon familiar narratives, particularly resonated with me. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon, threads of suspicion emerged, including accusations against a "darker-skinned or black male" with "a possible foreign accent." Despite the lack of evidence necessary to suspect anyone, the most news-making terrorists to attack America share aesthetic characteristics with this "darker-skinned or black male" with a "possible foreign accent." In the case of the Boston Marathon tragedy, where much uncertainty still remains, we attempt to apply the truth of the past, which foolishly promotes blindness to and over-simplification of our truly ignorant present circumstances. In tandem with our collective social-historical structures, social media and technology enable us to seek and create truth ourselves. Every Facebook status is an op-ed, and every mobile upload is proof. Everyone is a journalist now, yet without the requirement to comply to journalistic principles. Personal blogs may feature publicly meaningful information couched within an author's bias and lack of fact-checking. While the influx of social media reporting allows readers to seeks information from a spectrum of sources,inaccuracy and personal context may taint these writings, and distract from mainstream news outlets (occasional) adherence to journalistic principles. Jax 14:57, 16 April 2013 (EDT)

The readings were interesting but I really enjoyed the lecture by Brendan Nyhan. The biases that exist in today's media is remarkable. No matter what the topic the way the news is reported can influence elections, business transactions, and really everything in our world. These biases and misinformation are crippling without the financial resources to challenge the media flawed content. This allows for much of the momentum and influence to come from the weight of these misstatements and the ability for those who challenge or fight the misinformation to effectively eliminate the inadequacies of the information. An example of this would be if there was a witness who saw a middle eastern man near where the explosion occurred in Boston and then the media attacked the story that this attack was terror related from an Islamic extremist , the media could start to engage in these biases to influence a reaction when in fact there is nothing to substantiate these claims. So it is very interesting on how the media could shape the world with misinformationInterestingcomments 15:56, 16 April 2013 (EDT)

In reading Cold Calls to Community Building, it did strike me that the crowdsourcing premise is not all that different than the public squares, speak easies, water coolers, or any other of the gathering spots that humans go to connect and be heard .... but having said that, the technology surely makes it faster! It seems that with fast we have given away accuracy - and I suggest that we need to bring back sober second thought that allows facts to be sifted away from fiction and where journalism really is a craft not just a series of conversations. It's with that it mind that we should read through information. Who, what, where and why are the foundation of a good journalistic piece --- opinion is just that -- and further slanted through the prism of the writer. Looking for sources to augment the subject in a writing piece is long and often gruelling work - social media allows for an instant community on the topic in which you are researching - but the craft of journalism has been diluted down to sound bites and 140 characters on a Twitter feed doesn't help that. We crave accuracy but for some reason are no longer willing to play the long game in achieving it -- so we get what we knee jerk towards which is the quick hit. Caroline 16:14, 16 April 2013 (EDT)Caroline

I remember the mocking of the USA Today format as info-tainment due to their colorful information graphics and short, bottom line up front text. Now, those critics are eating their words as the internet swallows up their 20th century hard copy newspapers. This is a positive development for sorting through news, as a consumer may now use companies such as Google to sort through global news sources on every topic. Now, instead of a long meandering article, style moves more toward a strong image or graphic, a strong source of information, and brevity of the point before the consumer moves on. The main providers of news having moved online has given gravitas to online reporting. Now, the old journalistic sources mix it up with start-up online news services. Ultimately, journalists fight for control of opinions while selling advertising. The journalists also need to receive clicks and kudos to increase their reputation in a shrinking job environment, competing against journalists who provide news for free. Paper newspapers and magazines will continue to decline relative to the access of digital readers that allow for ease of use for those less technologically savvy. As smart phones get larger and easier to read and use, and cheaper, at one point most people on the planet will have access to a computer with internet access each day. This will force paper based news further into oblivion. However, if locals and national outlets for news continue to provide entertaining and relevant news with advertisers who wish to dominate a smaller market, the lifespan of the hard copy newspaper will outlast even their most ardent critics of the current time. Daniel Cameron Morris 17:46, 16 April 2013 (EDT)

After last nights class thought I would share this article that came out today: Caroline 15:06, 17 April 2013 (EDT) Caroline