Sunday, June 7, 2009

Media Conversations Journalism

So, the second day of Media Conversations 6 began with a session Media Education and the Future of Journalism moderated by Cynthia Walker of Saint Peter's College. Neil Hickey started things off talking about the importance of the relationship between democracy and a free press, and the challenges posed by what he identified as 4 screens: 1. television; 2. computers; 3. mobile phones; and 4. e-books (e.g., Kindle from Amazon). He expressed concern, as so many other did, that opinion has replaced fact as the emphasis in what passes for news these days, especially on television and the internet, and he brought up the idea that government should step in to support newspapers rather than letting them go under.

Alex Wright continued with a history of information technology, noting that online journalism mixes together the print mode, i.e., articles, with an oral mode that includes blogging, leaving comments, and other forms of interaction, suggesting that that two do not quite merge or work together well. He pointed us to a very interesting feature they've been running at the New York Times online, in their Living With Less section which is about the recession/depression, where readers get to vote on keywords, which are displayed with size reflecting the number of time selected. It's a visual display of emotion related to one of the major issues of the day, and I guess you really have to see it for yourself, so just go ahead and click it: How Do You Feel About the Economy? -- Interactive Feature -- I have to say this is pretty cool looking, and certainly gets across a sense of emotion, although I'm not sure how it works in terms of factual reporting. Oh, and he also mentioned that, in addition to the New York Times' presence on Facebook, individual reporters are now on Twitter!

Alan Hayakawa talked about his experience with mid-size regional newspapers, and how badly they were affected by the financial crisis, and how we still need journalists to help us to identify what is important and deal with information overload. Drawing on his background in general semantics, as the son of S. I. Hayakawa, he talked about how journalism is all about mapping the territory, and serving as a check against how others map the same territory, about the need to balance immediacy with reflectiveness, about the need to maintain an extensional orientation, ignoring the labels and sticking with description, and striving for objectivity even if it can never be absolutely achieved. In regard to journalism education, he noted that schools tend to focus on reporting, and need to also emphasize editing and presentation, especially digital skills to work with the new media. And he concluded by suggesting that reports about the death of the news are greatly exaggerated.

My colleague Beth Knobel then returned to the problem of not distinguishing between reporting and opinion, and again stressed the need for journalists today to know both the fundamentals about journalism, including critical thinking, research, and interviewing (knowing who to interview and how to interview); and also technology skills, especially digital editing.

Finally, Donna Halper voiced her concern that people are not exposed to different points of view, just seeking out their own for reinforcement, and that television news talk programming amount to shouting matches. She reminded us that we used to be able to tell who the news people are, that is the reporters, and who the opinion people are, but no longer. Bringing in the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas who wrote about ethics and the other, she argued quite forcefully that talk radio in particular violates his ethical principles, replacing facts with stereotypes.

And this has been Lance Strate, reporting live from Media Conversations 6, here on Blog Time Passing, or maybe not live since is a report of a session that happened two days ago, and maybe not reporting exactly because I just picked out some points that I found noteworthy as I was taking notes, but hey, it's still be, your humble blogist, giving you some sense of what when on, and we'll pick up form here in the next blog entry.

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