Author: Zoe Zatz

My Future CSDT Plans

Because I will be finishing up my senior thesis next semester and moving on to getting my master’s, next semester will be my last on the CSDT research project. I will continue using my CSDT blog for analytic memos and senior thesis updates throughout next semester but will stop posting sometime in May. The blog will still be available as a reference to future CSDT researchers and to show I can do social science research.

My graduate work will be available on this blog.

I (Kind Of) Know What I Did Last Summer

This past summer was quite busy, and I was quite bad at keeping track of it. During the summer, I participated in three separate events for CSTEM; a teacher professional development workshop (July), the Black Arts festival in Albany (August), and the 4S conference in Boston (August-September 1).

Professional Development Workshop

For this workshop, a bunch of teachers from around the Capital District came to RPI to learn about applying culturally responsive computing to their teaching. They split into groups based on which areas were most interesting to them, and a few teachers came to Cornrow Curves (I don’t remember how many). The teachers worked on a project that would use the pH concepts that the summer interns came up with. One of the teachers decided to combine programming LED lights with pH sensors, using CSnap as the programming language. Over the course of the workshop, I spent quite a bit of time with the son of one of the teachers. He was quick to understand the Cornrow Curves software and made some great designs – I did let him play Minecraft on my computer for a while.

For the pH sensor/LED lights idea, I was supposed to set up a pH sensor to work with CSnap, but I couldn’t get it to work. I liked getting the chance to breadboard again; I haven’t done that since I was in high school.

IMG_20170718_144933770

Black Arts Festival (August 5th)

Starting up for the Black Arts festival was a bit difficult. As soon as we (a few other undergrads, Bill, Mike, and I) got there, it started to drizzle. Then it started to drizzle a little harder. Then it started to rain.

Then, thirty minutes of torrential downpour in gale-force winds.

Thankfully, we were able to save the (very expensive) 3D printers, sensors, computer monitors, and some other materials. The paper posters didn’t fare so well. I was thoroughly soaked, so much so that it took the rest of the day for my hair to dry. My breakfast and computer were still warm and dry.

Once the rain stopped and we got everything up & running, the event ran smoothly. I set up a Cornrow Curves program with an infinite loop and talking to passerby was both illuminating and not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Talking about the research and how everything works was a good exercise for an introvert like me, and I valued the experience.

The Black Arts festival itself was vibrant with a great sense of fun. We were next to a small stage (one of three at the event), and this small stage hosted a fashion show, dance crew, and a display of the work of the students at the cosmetology program we work with. All in all, it was a good day.

IMG_20170805_152550130_HDR

4S (Society for Social Studies of Science) Meeting (August 29-September 1)

4S is a huge STS conference in Boston every year, and this was my first time going. It was a little overwhelming (I am still an introvert), and there was a ton of interesting stuff going on. I visited at least a couple of panels every day, and learned about some new ideas I may want to incorporate in future work. Later in the week, I went to Mike’s panel and Ron’s panel.

I presented at the Making and Doing session on Thursday, which was a three-hour poster session. Our (Mike, Bill and I) presentation was interactive, and I got the chance to explain generative justice and talk to people about the research. Over time, my discussion followed an informal script that covered pretty much everything and allowed me to show a Cornrow Curves program in an infinite loop. A few kids were there, so I had them guide me through changes to the little program that was running. I was in heels the entire time but I was still ready for more.

I don’t have a picture for 4S, but the general feeling could easily be captured by imagining you’re an introverted penguin who doesn’t like being touched in this picture:

16088441522_d152dc03cc_z

photo credit: David Stanley

This was certainly an interesting summer, not all of which I talked about here. I learned a lot and had some great experiences.

The Prime Minister’s New Socks

I grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s, so I remember JT meaning Justin Timberlake. He was/is a great entertainer, and in 2001 he sported a lovely and iconic full-denim suit. As an entertainer going to awards shows frequently, it is no surprise that Justin Timberlake’s fashion choices were analyzed. However, there is a more recent fashion phenomenon surrounding a different JT, who is not an entertainer but a politician – Justin Trudeau. That’s right – we are hearing news articles about the fashion statements of the Prime Minister of Canada.

Justin Trudeau has a deep love of novelty socks. Personally, I quite enjoy fun socks (I am wearing snowflake-covered ones at the moment). However, it makes no logical sense for news organizations to focus on a political leader’s socks rather than their policies. Justin Trudeau’s socks have been featured in not one, not two, but three separate New York Times articles. Granted, two of them were in the Fashion & Style section, but why are we seeing a political leader in the fashion section of the Times? Don’t they have celebrities to cover? I hear Kristen Stewart has frosted tips now – maybe cover that instead. I was under the impression that when discussing political leaders, we should be discussing their actions, not their accoutrements.

So, let’s take a look at these bad boys.

Here are his Eid-themed socks:

Here he is rocking maple-leaf socks:

27otr2-master675

Here he is in NATO socks:

And, of course, the very famous Star Wars socks:27otr3-master675

Wow, the man really likes his silly socks. Coverage of his socks extends to the Washington Post, Vogue (who attributed statement-making abilities to Trudeau’s socks), and even across the pond to feature in two posts at The Guardian. Elle, a fashion magazine like Vogue, posted an article about a week ago about Justin Trudeau hugging a puppet unicorn. You heard that right – a puppet unicorn. Elle starts out by saying that Canada is “actively trying to ascend to a higher, more magical spectral plane.” All this from giving a puppet a hug. The Vogue article is actually on the front page of Vogue’s website.

Screenshot 2017-06-29 18.47.52

However, Canada’s own newspapers are much less enthralled by the Prime Minister’s socks. CBC, one of the largest – if not the largest – news organizations in Canada posted an op-ed about Trudeau backing away from his campaign promise to replace the current voting system. The Chronicle Herald, another popular Canadian news site, shows this when you search for Trudeau’s socks, and the Calgary Herald shows no results at all:

Screenshot 2017-06-29 18.45.48Screenshot 2017-06-29 18.46.29

But why care about the PM’s socks?

What is notable is Teen Vogue’s coverage of Justin Trudeau’s presence at Pride in Toronto. They point out that Trudeau’s love of novelty socks wouldn’t be bad if he actually backed up his pageantry. The teen fashion magazine has become quite the politically active magazine, and I want to give them kudos for that. They frequently cover news stories about pressing topics such as LGBT rights, racism, and feminism. When many magazines that claim to be hard news fail to cover LGBT topics, Teen Vogue is there to pick up the pieces and run with them.

I am inclined to agree with Teen Vogue. In his op-ed discussing Trudeau’s attendance at Pride, Pablo Mhanna-Sandoval states that “last April, his government also approved export permits as part of a multi-billion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a country infamous for their repressive crackdowns on the LGBTQ community.” In fact, Trudeau has a history of friendliness with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, both of which are oppressive towards their LGBT citizens. He also points out Trudeau’s failings to equitably treat Canada’s indigenous communities.

I now turn to the TrudeauMeter from polimeter.org. On this site, I found 4 campaign promises that Trudeau broke which are troubling and revolve around environmentalism and/or justice with First Nations. The first is Trudeau’s continuation of fossil fuel subsidies – rather than phasing them out as promised, Trudeau has actually “locked in one recent liquefied natural gas subsidy until 2025.” In his campaign, Trudeau promised additional funding for postsecondary education for indigenous students – but did not do so. Even more troubling is his failure to back up his promise to guarantee First Nation communities veto power over natural resource development in their territories. He has also failed to lift the two percent cap on funding for First Nations programs.

According to the National Observer, it is unclear as to whether Trudeau wants to stand up for the Paris Climate agreement. TIME magazine reports that Trudeau has broken his promise to reform the country’s electoral system, which has been called a betrayal to his own Liberal Party as the “current first-past-the-post voting system, which generally benefits conservatives who vote in a block for the Conservative Party of Canada, and leaves out smaller and more liberal parties.”

 

In searching for Canadian news about Justin Trudeau’s socks, I came across an op-ed in The Star, a very popular Canadian news site. This hilarious op-ed has much of the same sentiment as me. The author, Vinay Menon, is tangibly annoyed at the prevalence of Justin Trudeau’s socks. Here is a snippet from the op-ed:

Canada, we have a problem on our hands.

And that problem is on Justin Trudeau’s feet. The endless obsession with the man’s socks — his socks — has tiptoed past the point of annoying and is now getting dangerously close to someone-hold-a-pillow-over-my-head.

 

As far as I can tell, Trudeau’s socks are now running the country. Bow down, citizens, and pledge fealty to your new woolly overlords that come in one-size-fits-all. I mean, why are we even paying taxes? Should we not just divert this money to the bespoke unit at McGregor to help pay for Canada’s future sock diplomacy?

 

It is fine that Trudeau has fun socks – I am of the belief that fun socks make for fun walks. However, using socks to cover up unfulfilled campaign promises and the continued environmental racism towards First Nations scalds the good name of the fun sock. When we see the fashion choices of a political leader plastered everywhere we look, there is almost definitely something shiftier going on. I’ve got my eyes on your socks, Trudeau. Keep them walking in the right direction.

Lessons Learned

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” – Thomas Jefferson

This has been an interesting and rigorous course. At the same time I was taking this class, I was also taking a class at another university and doing research, so I was incredibly pressed for time. Class discussions were interesting, and there were three people in the class that regularly shared their thoughts and opinions. I didn’t always agree with them, but that made for some interesting and much welcome discussion.

This post is my summary post – in this post, I will list four things I have learned in class and two suggestions to improve the New York Times.

Structural Biases

This was very interesting, as it shows how the internal structure of journalism operates. My experience as an automotive journalist gave me some unique insight into how these biases actually work, and I can pinpoint times in my work when I felt pressure from these biases. I have listed the structural biases and their explanations below.

  • Temporal
    • Journalists print stories that have occurred recently or have recent relevance.
  • Bad News
    • We get pretty much universally bad news; this is where we get the saying “no news is good news.”
  • Commercial
    • Journalists have to write stories that will earn money for their newspaper, in place of stories that may have more significance.
  •  Expediency
    •  Journalists will write about something that is quick and easy, such as in access journalism, instead of something that will take longer and need more effort.
  • Visual
    • Journalists will show more of something if it has an interesting corresponding visual aid, and placement within a website or newspaper makes certain articles stand out more than their peers.
  • Fairness
    • In trying to be nonpartisan, journalists can show a false balance, such as in climate change ‘debates’ on TV news broadcasts.
  • Narrative
    • Journalists want to tell a story with an exposition, conflict, climax, and perhaps resolution – this makes articles easier to read.
  • Glory
    • Journalists want to be the first one to write about a story.

 

The Times is Missing A Crucial Part of a Good Newspaper

One blaring mistake on the Times’ part is its exclusion of the most important part of a newspaper. This is the comics section. Growing up, the first thing I did with a newspaper was look at the comics. If it doesn’t have Calvin and Hobbes, is it really a newspaper?

The Propaganda Model

News passes through filters put in place by the “dominant elite,”, that depend on these five characteristics:

  1. How big and powerful the dominant mass media firm is
  2. Advertising as a primary source of revenue
  3. Reliance of the media on information provided by the government, businesses, and other experts
  4. Flak to discipline media that doesn’t align with the views of the dominant elite
  5. “Anti-communism,” or the creation of a common enemy, as a national religion and control mechanism

Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press is the only career-specific amendment to the Constitution, and it’s the first one. The government cannot stop you from saying something, unless it is libel or defamation. Libel is a written form of defamation, and defamation is false information about a party that is spread with malicious intent. The government cannot silence a hatemonger. However, if I were to, say, break their nose, I would not be infringing on their freedom of speech. It would, however, be assault and battery and therefore illegal.

News Effects

(Post 1 and Post 2)

  • Social Continuity Effect
    • If the news is being printed, then social life is going on as it always has. Journalism helps democracy function.
  • Insider Effect
    • While the point of journalism is to inform an audience, that audience chooses when it wants to be informed.
  • Legitimation and Control Effects
    • To give a platform for someone or something to express itself in journalism is to give it legitimacy.
  • Effects on Opinions
    • Journalism can sway the opinions of its audience. After coverage of a brutal murder, support for the death penalty goes up
  • Effects on Activities
    • In some circumstances, journalism can suggest changes to behavior, such as copycat suicides
  • Messenger Effect
    • Covering an event may lead to repercussions, like covering police brutality helping to pass legislature in favor of civil rights

And last, but certainly not least:

The Times Does Not Use Oxford Commas

This may sound nitpicky, but I get truly annoyed when a publication does not use oxford commas. In fact, the utter lack of oxford commas is one of the first things I noticed about the Times. This annoys me to no end; when I find a scholarly article that does not have oxford commas, I usually try to find a different source.

If I had been looking around the internet and not been in this class, I would have avoided much from the Times purely because of this annoying habit of theirs.

Gaps in Education

One of the assignments for this class is to look at an editorial from the New York Times. For this assignment, I chose to read “Another Sign of Retreat on Civil Rights,” which discusses changes to discrimination policies in public schools. In looking for this article, I found that editorials are short and usually don’t have much to respond to – I was interested in an editorial about the New York City subway, but my comments would not have been thorough.

 

According to the editorial, several civil rights organizations and some members of Congress are worried by happenings at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. This office plays a crucial role in:

  • Protecting rights for transgender students
  • Protecting victims of sexual assault
  • Forcing school districts to use fair disciplinary policies that do not disproportionately affect minority students

Candice Jackson, the assistant secretary for civil rights, backed away from a policy that requires investigators to look for systemic problems when civil rights complaints emerge. The editorial claims that this will discourage staff from starting new cases at all. Investigators currently have years’ worth of data to determine if discrimination, harassment, and/or other problems raised in a complaint indicate a systemic problem. This data was used in 2014 to show that minority students were subjected to excessive disciplinary procedures in every grade in public schools. For example, minority four-year-olds are four times as likely as their white peers to be suspended.

By cutting back on this data-collecting policy, the Department of Education is preparing to abandon its role in prohibiting discrimination. According to the editorial, three groups have been visibly worried. The United States Commission on Civil Rights, a nongovernmental agency, called for an investigation into the administration’s retreat from its anti-discrimination policy. Senate Democrats have demanded that the department furnish information about how investigations are being handled and why the policy was changed. A bipartisan group of House members asked the department to maintain Obama-era guidance for combating sexual violence in schools.

 

A troubling country-wide phenomenon is the gap in educational attainment between black or Hispanic students and their white counterparts. In this interactive post from the New York Times Upshot, every school district is analyzed for educational attainment. The article was published in April 2016, so it would be interesting to see how or if the data has changed. In Los Angeles, white students are 1 grade level ahead of their black peers. In New York City, this number is 2.3 grade levels; in Washington, D.C. the number is a whopping 4.9 grade levels. My hometown, the first in the country to voluntarily desegregate schools, has a disparity of .5 grade levels.

The difference in educational performance could be due to many factors, including teacher and student expectancy, a lack of economic access, and failing public infrastructure. Teacher and student expectancy is my personal favorite out of the reasons, purely because it is an interesting phenomenon. Teachers expect their minority students to not do as well as their white students, and the minority students pick up on this. This unconscious effect leads teachers to be more harsh when grading work from minority students. Other terms for this are biological determinism and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Links to studies that back this up are here and here. Another Times article in the Upshot echoes my sentiments about teacher expectation. It discusses a small trial program in Broward County, Florida where screening tests for gifted students were changed and more black and Hispanic students were found to be gifted. Sadly, that program was cut in 2010 due to budget cuts.

 

By backing away from discrimination prohibitions, the Department of Education is opening the gates for further discrimination against minority students. Doing so will only further harm minority students. Then again, with a voucher system, teacher salary cuts, and widespread budget cuts, one may think that Betsy DeVos, who is now in charge of the Department of Education, is actively trying to hurt both teachers and students.

Freedom of Speech

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” – Noam Chomsky

 

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” — Voltaire

One of the topics that came up a lot in class was freedom of speech. The first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States ensures that the federal government will not pass any law restricting freedom of expression or freedom of the press. As uncomfortable as it is to hear abhorrent opinions, such as those from Alex Jones, those who hold those views are – and should be – still legally allowed to express them. As we saw in the Noam Chomsky video “Manufacturing Consent,” Noam Chomsky is a big supporter of free speech. In the video, Chomsky defends a Robert Faurisson’s right to express his views. Logically, there is no way Chomsky would agree with the ‘findings’ of this Holocaust denier. No Jewish person with a memory – especially one born in 1928 like Chomsky – would agree with Faurrison. However, as Chomsky pointed out in a written statement, Faurrison does have a right to voice his opinions. As we saw in the video, people sometimes mistake support for freedom of expression with support for the views expressed. This written statement was published as a foreword in the denier’s book without Chomsky’s permission. People mistook this as Chomsky supporting Faurrison and probably thought this might be a case of legitimation. Having Noam Chomsky’s name on the foreword of his book gives Faurrison more legitimacy as Chomsky is an internationally renowned academic. This could be somewhat similar to Megyn Kelly’s interview with Alex Jones – people who would normally ignore this content may be exposed solely because Jones got an interview or Chomsky’s name appears on the cover.

Legitimation is not the only effect in journalism (I discuss six of them in the past two posts); the messenger effect is another. In the textbook, one of the conditions under which journalists participate in the messenger effect is when they depict an event so as to maximize its attention-getting quality. This is related to the visual and narrative structural biases – visual bias brings more initial eyeballs to the story, while storytelling retains those eyeballs.

This brings us to the main point of this post: the New York Times posted a story in the Insider about free speech and its publishing of a 1960 advertisement titled “Heed Their Rising Voices” calling for people to donate to support peaceful protest against racism in the South. The ad can be viewed here.

The advertisement declared that thousands of black students that were demonstrating nonviolently in the South were “being met by an unprecedented wave of terror,” making charges of police brutality against law enforcement. Some of the incidents listed in the ad did not actually happen, so L. B. Sullivan (police commissioner in Montgomery) sued the New York Times for defamation on behalf of the police department, and sought the equivalent of around four million dollars. While Sullivan won in Alabama, the case eventually went to the Supreme Court, who decided in favor of free press.

This is the case in which the Supreme Court decided that malice had to be attached to misinformation in order for language to be defamation. In this article, the Times quotes Justice William Brennan saying that because the Times did not fact-check the advertisement, it could not have been malicious as there was no intent behind it.

 

I suspect that if the advertisement had been published today, the advertisers wouldn’t present any false information – the institutional racism in the justice system of the United States is extremely well-documented, and the availability of visual evidence would make the ad all the more persuasive. When a journalist reports on police brutality today, it is still not defamation, even when visual and narrative structural biases are employed to gain larger readership, unless they are doing so with malicious intent.

 

My final comments on free speech come after comments from comedian Trevor Noah:

In America, I find a lot of the time people conflate freedom of speech as consequence free. But really, freedom of speech means that your government won’t come after you. …I grew up in a country where the government could come after you if you said something. You are free to say what you like, somebody may still punch you though.

If someone were to spew Holocaust denial or say the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, the government cannot stop them. However, if I were to, say, break their nose, I would not be infringing on their freedom of speech. It would, however, be assault and battery so it would still be illegal.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger: How the News Affects People, Part 2

In my last post, I discussed three news media effects: the social continuity effect, the informing effect, and the legitimation and control effects. In this post, I will discuss the next three: effects on opinions, effects on activities, and the messenger effect.

I am extending my previous post and using this one as a makeup post.

Effects on Opinions

Gans[1] states that journalists try to report on events that will be of interests to their readers and that audience attention steers coverage. However, people’s opinions are influenced by so many things that singling out news media as a specific source is difficult. Most of the news audience pays too little attention to the news for it to have much of an effect on them. However, it does have an effect. Coverage of memorable events, like disasters or especially brutal crimes, are likely to have an effect on people’s opinions. The example Gans gives is that a particularly brutal crime can raise public favor for the death penalty. An example of this in the real world (not one of Gans’ thought experiments) comes from Canada – eight years ago, a man with undiagnosed schizophrenia beheaded a man on a bus in Manitoba. Afterwards, media outlets called for greater restrictions on those who have mental illnesses[2]. The news reinforces cultural stereotypes by using them to provide the context for the events presented[3].

Gans claims that when journalists express overt opinions, they express mainstream or centrist views, and that this likely reflects the opinion of their audience. On page 76 of the textbook, he says that the news media is only rarely able to express more deeply or permanently held opinions. In this statement, Gans is neglecting to take structural bias into account. Journalists have to make their articles economically feasible, and, in conjunction with people paying more attention to disasters, this means that journalists end up writing about bad news almost universally (which is another structural bias). Editors of news media choose which articles are put where, giving some more inherent importance than others – this may not show overt opinions, but it certainly shows where the priorities of publishers lie. In the effort to appear centrist, many journalists will create a false balance – in class, the example we used was discussion of climate change.

Gans then claims that “if and when the news media have an informational monopoly, they can affect opinions” (Gans, p. 77). This sentence seems to negate his points earlier on in the subsection, though providing the press around Vietnam War makes for a good example. I disagree with Gans on this one. The press is used by the government to spread information to the general public. This was especially evident in the Bush administration’s Message of the Day. Congress is keeping journalists away from the AHCA primarily because they know that journalists will publish information about it and that people will become outraged at the major setback to public health.

 

Effects on Activities

Gans saliently points out that people are always being bombarded by suggestions, whether they be ads, subliminal messaging, or word of mouth. I will admit that I was easily swayed by Dunkin Donuts to try their new frozen coffee (it’s just okay, I still prefer my percolator). Gans says that news stories occasionally change the way people vote, and that exposés can send politicians to jail.

According to Gans, “…the most dramatic behavioral effect of the mass media is imitation, when news stories about murders, suicides, and now school shootings are followed by other such acts” (Gans, p. 77). Copycat suicides are a documented problem. An article from the British Medical Journal[4] discussed a series of copycat suicides in Hong Kong in 1998. A newspaper published a story about a suicide that showed both the method of suicide and the person’s corpse. As a result of the article, a slew of copycat suicides started popping up around Hong Kong. Even though the University of Hong Kong published guidelines for responsible reporting of suicides, suicide by charcoal burning is no longer a novelty and suicides are depicted in digitally created reenactments on websites.

More recently, the Netlix show 13 Reasons Why has sparked some controversy. While not news media, this is still media of some sort. Someone committed suicide after seeing 13 Reasons Why and an article from the Scientific American[5] discussed the possibility of suicide spreading and that there are phenomena through which it spreads. Putting aside the fact that 13 Reasons Why is a terrible (and simplistic) depiction of suicidal tendencies, there is a history of copycat suicides dating back to Shakespeare and Goethe. There may be validity to the idea that copycat suicides can be influenced – however, the author of the Scientific American article says that it “cannot be concluded whether fictional portrayals of suicidal behavior on film and television increase its incidence in the population.”

 

The Messenger Effect

The messenger effect is whether, or to what extent, repercussions follow from events or the news stories about them. According to Gans, journalists play a role in the messenger effect in two conditions:

  1. When they are the messengers of news that would otherwise not be known, i.e. investigative reporting and exposés.
  2. When journalists depict an event so as to maximize its attention-getting quality: story placement. length, or highlighting of a story’s most dramatic portions

Gans provides coverage of police brutality against protestors in Selma in the 1960s as an example of the second condition; this coverage may have helped hasten passage of legislature. Gans doesn’t provide much to respond to in this subsection, but a contemporary example that mirrors Selma could be news coverage of bombings in Syria. News coverage of Syria is heartbreaking and graphic – like Selma, this causes a kind of political rift. While some Americans want to welcome refugees to the United States to be humane, others want to bar refugees, claiming that they will bring terrorists with them.

[1] Gans, H. J. (2010). Democracy and the news. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. pp. 71-78

[2] Whitley, R. (2017, February 17). “Is the Media Getting Better At Portraying Mental Illness?”. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/robertwhitley/media-portraying-mental-illness_b_14798608.html

[3] Stuart, H. (2006). Media Portrayal of Mental Illness and its Treatments. CNS Drugs, 20(2), 99-106. doi:10.2165/00023210-200620020-00002

[4] Parry, J. (2010). MEDICINE AND THE MEDIA: Can depictions of suicide influence copycat acts? British Medical Journal,341(7775), 705. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/25738317.pdf?refreqid=excelsior:57a1f320db598bd51724860f0db3e5a8

[5] Devitt, P. (2017, May 8). 13 Reasons Why and Suicide Contagion. Retrieved June 13, 2017, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/13-reasons-why-and-suicide-contagion1/

If It Bleeds, It Reads: How the News Affects People, Part 1

For this post, I chose to focus on a specific section within our third textbook, Democracy and the News, written by Herbert Gans. The section within Chapter 2 is called “How the News Affects People.” The author admits that this section is mostly speculative, as it is hard to determine what news media is doing by itself because of confounding variables. He says people who make a living dealing with words, pictures, and other symbols (like sociologists, journalists, and media critics) pay more attention to the news than the general population. He states that lab studies systematically overestimate the effect of news, and many of the potential effects of news media never occur. This section goes over the different kinds of effects that may happen.

This post deals with the first three effects; the next post will deal with the next three effects.

 

The Social Continuity Effect

The social continuity of news media arises from its daily appearance as scheduled, showing that social life will go on as before. This is an unconscious effect brought on by the routine nature of many news items. This also makes the news more important or visible in times of crisis, with journalists reporting recovery efforts and the return to normalcy. In this subsection, Gans says that everyday routines would be interrupted but the government could function for a while through interoffice communication. Americans may be happy without political news for a while, but will come to rightly suspect government corruption due to lack of communication Gans also warns that without journalism, democracy cannot properly function due to an uninformed populace.

An interesting point from this subsection is that “…the absence of news practically guarantees the arrival of rumors to supply information when people need it” (Gans, p. 73). I wonder how the growing popularity of Twitter would affect this thought experiment. Twitter is used to spread information quickly and globally, and the trending section shows what people are talking most about. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people got quite a lot of their news explicitly from Twitter.

 

The Informing Effect

The point of journalism is to inform an audience – usually the general public. Gans says that people in the audience choose when they want to be informed. This makes sense, but the constant bombardment of information coming from Facebook and Twitter is involuntary, as are mandatory government warnings that come screeching and blaring onto a TV or radio station during a weather-related emergency. Gans makes an interesting point when he says that people acquaint themselves most eagerly with information they need for their daily lives or can use for emergencies. I don’t entirely agree with it; while it should make sense, it doesn’t account for the popularity of sports journalism (I know I seek out hockey news even though it doesn’t affect me personally).

A Pew research study in 1986 found that most people do not follow most news very closely. I suspect that a replication of this study may find something similar, especially with the increased bombardment availability of news due to social media. People do pay close attention to disaster, however. Many people get their news from something other than news media. The author points out the Daily Show as a news source. More recently, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal seem to be filling that role.

 

Legitimation and Control Effects

This section starts off with the statement that journalists treat the subject of their reporting with respect and earnest. I doubt that this is always the case, especially with political journalism and exposés. The author mentions that covering an individual gives them legitimacy. In class, we discussed Megyn Kelly’s interview of Alex Jones. A valid criticism of the interview is that Kelly is giving legitimacy to Jones’ views (which are abhorrent, to say the least). By showing him on national television, she is giving him a platform through which to gain more followers and spread his conspiracy theories (such as calling 9/11 and the Sandy Hook shooting hoaxes).

Gans says that advertisers are not big content controllers, but I do not see a lot of merit in this claim. Advertisers are not nearly as stuck to news media as Gans would believe; they can gain publicity through program television, social media, and billboards. The Internet makes advertisers even less beholden to news media; they can simply take their ads elsewhere. There is more pressure on news media outlets to be ad-friendly than for advertisers to be medium-friendly. Gans mentions that journalistic patriotism after 9/11 was a reaction to consumer pressure, and may have unintentionally helped the government reduce disagreement with its policies.

This subsection discusses how disasters and emergencies get more attention than routine stories. This brings us to September and October of 2001, some of the most memorable months in my entire life, and probably for many other people as well. Two major terror attacks occurred in the United States during this time; the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11th, and the Anthrax scare that took multiple lives beginning on October 18th. According to Gans, both stories were followed very closely by the entire country (and for good reason). 9/11 was especially huge on the East Coast, and was followed closely by 74% of respondents of a specific survey (Gans, p. 74). As the Anthrax scare was national rather than in a specific city, it was followed by 78%.

[Cover of the New York Times after 9/11]
Cover of the New York Times after 9/11
I was five years old at the time, but I remember a disturbing amount of what happened. I am from a town in New Jersey almost directly across the river from New York City, so I experienced the brunt of 9/11. 9/11 was during the second week of kindergarten, and because we were so close to the city we were sent home early that day; on the way home, I could see smoke in the distance and the fear in my father’s eyes. The news coverage of 9/11 brought the fear even closer, with images of destruction and the President calling the attackers evil. Gans was right about the influence of journalistic patriotism after 9/11; as a child, I was quite supportive of the American military and their fight with “the bad guys” who did 9/11. (I did know, however, that Bush was lying about weapons of mass destruction.)

 

There are examples backing up Gans’ claims about the effects of the news media, but I don’t think he quite hits the nail on the head – especially once social media gets involved. I will discuss more news media effects in my next post.

 

Works Cited

Gans, H. J. (2010). Democracy and the news. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. pp. 71-78
[Front page of the New York Times on September 12, 2001]. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2017, from http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_display=archive-date&tfp_region=USA&tfp_sort_by=state&tfp_archive_id=091201&tfp_show=all&tfp_id=NY_NYT
From the Newseum

Evergrowing Evergreen

My desire to learn more about Evergreen State College continues – for this post, I looked at two news sources: The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Washington Post. The Chronicle article was written on June 2nd by Chris Quintana, and the Post article was written the same day by Susan Svrlunga and Joe Heim. The Chronicle is a well-regarded newspaper pertaining specifically to postsecondary education, and the Post is a left-leaning news site that covers a myriad of topics. My previous comments on the situation at Evergreen State College can be found here and here. Before going in and reading these topics, I have some hypotheses about what I will find. Because the Chronicle is read by professors, deans, administrators, and the like, it will focus more on the college administration. Because the Post is somewhat “trendy” and left-leaning, it will give some focus to students.

My goal here is to compare how the situation is handled in the Chronicle and Post as compared to the Times and Wall Street Journal. The Times and the Wall Street Journal were both supportive of biology professor Bret Weinstein, who protested when organizers for the yearly Day of Absence at Evergreen asked that white students and faculty leave campus for a day. According to Weinstein, “On a college campus, one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be based on skin color.” Weinstein’s protest led to students of color rising in outrage and calling for his dismissal from the institution, calling him a white supremacist and racist.

The Chronicle article uses the word ‘brouhaha’ in the first sentence, which made me like it right off the bat (I like silly words). The author states that someone threatened to come to campus while armed, and it was unclear whether the caller had any connection to recent student protests. According to the article, different media outlets have called the situation an extreme case of political correctness. The article uses Evergreen professor of economics Peter Dorman as a source for the story, but neglects to hear from students. According to Dorman, the reality on campus is more complicated than just being an extreme case of political correctness: “It’s fair to say there’s a lot of polarization on campus…. No one was required to do anything; it was all about invitation…A lot of the behavior on all sides has been unhelpful.” Quintana focuses on the college president’s response; he was willing to listen to student complaints and was being responsive. The Chronicle seems to be somewhat supportive of the college administration at this point. The Chronicle includes a bit of information that other news sources I read neglected to mention – organizers asked white people to voluntarily leave rather than telling them. This article cited a student representative, and they said that “a professor chose to misrepresent the nature of the events” and then called on the president of the college to publicly condemn Professor Weinstein. The main source of this article is Dorman, who says that the faculty is divided in their opinion of the situation. A good quote from this article is:

“Bret Weinstein’s decision to take his case to Fox News was regarded as quite negative, probably by most people on campus. We have a sense that the people Bret talked to and who took advantage of his comments are people who don’t wish us well and don’t want to see us succeed in any event. There’s a bad feeling from that.”

As I suspected, the Chronicle focuses more on the administration and faculty of Evergreen, which is not surprising given the nature of the publication. I didn’t learn much from this that I didn’t already know, except that faculty are divided.

The Post article started with the same set of information about the threat to campus. They summarized the situation well:

“Last week, students of color confronted a professor who had objected to a request by school officials that white people consider avoiding campus on a day of discussions about race. They called him racist and angrily demanded that he be fired.”

The Post includes a YouTube video of students protesting. This has not appeared on the other news sources I’ve looked at, which makes it a nice and welcome change. In the video, students kept talking over one another and who I assume to be some kind of Dean. When the college faculty person asks students to give him some privacy due to his claustrophobia, they refuse and one student adds that “students of color have to work in grinding environments every day.” The video is hard to watch because much of it sounds like whining – though this could be my white privilege talking.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yo-BGLoCDZU&w=560&h=315]

The authors then discuss backlash against both the students and the school; either the school supports racism or the students protesting should be expelled. One student involved with the protests wrote that “our movement against police brutality & campus racism got co-opted by an angry white man.” Students demanded that the school fire several people, including Weinstein, who – according to the article – earlier in the year had criticized the school’s equity action plan for not being beneficial enough to students of color and is now being deemed a racist.

The Post did something none of the other news organizations did – it used a student as a source. This particular student said that she didn’t think Weinstein’s email had racist intent and that media coverage saying students took over the school are conflated.

We finally see some facet of the perspective of the students! It’s still not quite enough, as I think that the video shown may have been edited to make the students look bad. I would be interested to see what exactly the student leaders of the protest are saying about this situation, and what will happen at Evergreen in the future.