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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fact-Checking and Vetting Missing in Fringe Journalism

The Newsroom's creator and writer, Aaron Sorkin, is an amazing talent. His HBO series, "The Newsroom" is a must-see for anyone interested in trends in the news business. One trend, made possible with today's social media and cell phone culture, is citizen journalism. 

One view is positive and here is a TED Talk that I share with students each semester:Paul Lewis and Crowdsourcing the news.

Sorkin's view is equally compelling, although very different:

The Newsroom segment on Citizen Journalism's flaws

P.S. One of the reasons Sorkin's work fascinates me is that he uses fiction to portray real events. Here is a link to video of Jimmy Kimmel interviewing a website editor about fact-checking and vetting that are non-existent in gossip-type websites about celebrities:

Kimmel hosting CNN Larry King on Citizen Journalism

Friday, September 26, 2014

Information Overload

Students this semester are doing a great job of exploring media theorists Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman and George Gerbner, and their views about information today, in the middle ages and in pre-alphabet societies. 

As we embark on the Semester Service Learning project and dig deeper into communications topics, I've begun asking myself what might be the ABC's of handling the overload of information in this new digital age. Here is a first draft: A = attention, B= Bias, C= Control.

Think about how we are exposed to information. It's both intentional and accidental.You set out to learn about a topic less frequently than being exposed to it via (social) media or a conversation in person. So the ABC's are about what to do in the case of accidental, unintentional exposure to an idea or concept. 

A = Attention (This is a yes/no step)

Giving attention means paying for it in some way, usually with time and energy that is irreplaceable. Not giving attention to a media message means you can give it to something else. New ideas, projects, dreams, who knows. Young people have a larger storehouse of expendable time and energy, but it is also finite. Deciding what to devote time and energy to is a skill that can be learned. I find it helpful to remember there are strong commercial forces battling for my time and energy. Advertisements in (social) media make profit or gain power by winning my time and energy by trading them for ratings, subscriptions, followers, likes, etc.  

B = Bias

Studying a message for its bias is the bread and butter of media literacy. Knowing who originates a message, what techniques are being used to attract someone's attention, considering how others would perceive the message, examining the lifestyles, values and points of view present or excluded in the message and why the message was sent (profit or power) are tools for examining bias. We each have biases and practice in sorting them out is critical for handling messages and their content. 

C = Control

Information curation is incomplete without control of what we do with information we choose and understand. The management of information is as important as its selection. I once listened too closely to a professor from University of Texas, Stanley Donner, who advised us to not hoard files and sheaths of notes, but to focus instead on learning how to access research. 35 years later, I am still thankful to Dr. Donner for his advice, but I think I would benefit from training in file management in the digital world. My computer storage experiences with photos this past decade have been less than successful. What I'm aiming for now is a balance between paper and digital file management.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Why a bidet?

Five reasons why my life would have been significantly improved and different had I lived in a country like Italy that has bidets in every bathroom.

1.  A bidet allows for the fact that humans have anatomies that sometimes require a nice warm, or cool if your bottom prefers it, refreshing cleansing in the middle of the day, when a whole shower is inconvenient, for instance before an exam in Statistics class or before a job interview.

2.  A bidet makes what are often the toughest times of the month for women even just a little bit easier and more comfortable, and who amongst us would not see the benefit of that?

3. An invitation to be sexually intimate might have been even yet more inviting if a bidet had been handy. Maybe doesn't occur to some, but that's just me, so I'm listing it.

4.  A bidet in the bathroom tells the world there's time and attention provided for comfort and refreshing coolness in a woman's private parts, which take a lot of heat and pressure in work stress and related rushing around.

5. A bidet feels good on your bottom. It helps to remind me I have a body!  I'm too much a resident of the attic chamers of my brain if I'm not reminded frequently that my self is more than a head perched on a meat-and-bones locomotion device. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lessons Learned From A Year of Risk-Taking Teaching

Ten things I've taken to heart after initiating a semester service learning project in my Introduction to Mass Communications sections at Northwest Vista College.

1. Real is powerful.  Non profit agencies and the students both enter into a signed agreement with set meeting dates and deadlines to see the project through inception to reality.  Students spend about two months in and out of class creating a media product or a social media effort to support a local non-profit agency. A media product is real and so is the client's approval. It may be more real to some students than a grade based on other assignments. A media product selected by a client, when approved, is  based on its merits as a real communication product to be used by the agency in its work in the community. This is real-world-concrete and work in this realm is evidence of having what it takes to succeed in communications inside or outside of the academic setting. 

2.  More is more.  The assignment is to create a series of the same media product, such as a flier, a brochure, a brief video or visual presentation, with at least two samples for clients (agency representatives) to review and approve. Here's what's great about doing more than one version:  At the conclusion of their efforts many students reported being surprised that their own creative alternate ideas and efforts in design or organization were selected over their initial, client-originated/directed efforts. What could make a teacher's heart swell more than to see a student learn of their own ideas in writing and design being selected for "real life" application in a non profit agencies promotion or awareness campaign? They expressed surprise that their own ideas and approaches pleased the client more than the approach they prepared under the client's guidance during the course of the project's numerous planning meetings. This kind of learning is a most valuable discovery of their own creative gifts and potential which builds their confidence. My guess is this experience gives some students their first experience working as equals among professionals who will actually use their work.

3.  Not all students think they are ready, but with support, they usually are.  The bad news is in some sections there was too much attrition. The good news is I've got a plan to avert that next semester by redirecting faltering students' efforts early enough to help them stay in and succeed despite their not having completed a semester service learning project. Those who did persist, whether working alone or with group support, generally reported in their reflection summary of skills mastered that the semester service learning media production experience taught them skills they never knew they could use, let alone master: preparing to listen during an interview, preparing questions and researching prior to interviews for profile assignments, using purpose statements to organize projects, starting with why, following Simon Sinek's TED talk. There also were some surprising insights, like learning they enjoyed working with their partners or groups and learning about the work of their selected non profit agencies. My favorite was surprise expressed at being able to make a difference with their skills and time for a cause larger than any one of us.

4.  Mistakes make magic.  Anne Lamott wrote about the "shitty first draft" as being a necessary first step toward reaching a better final draft. It's an inelegant but important lesson that college students frequently have not yet learned about either good writing or design. Students spoke with surprise in their presentations about the huge improvements their final versions of their brochures or short videos were in comparison to their first drafts, due earlier in the semester. It's an illusion so many of us are prone to believing: that first attempts are representative of how well we can or should do. Not even Picasso or any of the great masters succeeded without support and thousands of mistakes to gain their mastery. Yet when we think of the creative process, it's tempting to only see the framed piece hanging on the wall of the museum rather than the years of disciplined exercises, copying and experiments full of flops that preceded it.  Same for me as their professor. The second time around I timed the project earlier, which helped and focused more on the profile writing assignments, which deepened student research, learning and gave them authority on their topic, in every sense of the word.

5.  Have a skill, lend a hand. Need help with skill? Ask!  Asking for help is part of creative collaboration.    The students in my sections also practiced the art of asking for help from their colleagues during class sessions and on their own time. Few of us can be experts at many skills, but we can all get more done when we share our know-how and know when it's time to get some help to move forward. I had the classes post their technological skills from drawing and design to software help, photography, researching databases and proof-reading. This bank of skills was a demonstration that we each possess different interests and skills and that sharing them makes not just sense, but magnificence.  My colleagues at  Northwest Vista College are generous and imaginative. I am so grateful for help from Kelly Blanco and Melissa Monroe-Young, and particularly for Migdalia Garcia's lists of local non profits, numerous classroom visits and a great constructive criticism feedback session at the start of this semester. Great feedback during two hours of helpful notes on improving the project: starting earlier, probably the most important. I also thank the students from the first semester who dropped by or stopped me in the hall to touch base about the project.

6.  Start where you are, bring what you've got. Students often disregard or undervalue their own gifts and interests and how they can be useful in their college work. They often overlook their love of drawing, using apps or specialized software to manipulate and post photos to social media, shooting videos of skate-boarding or even web-surfing to explore new music or ideas. Taking on a project with deadlines and requirements set by the client can seem outside their comfort zones, but using existing skills to step onto new ground helps build confidence. They may remember or discover their uncle or sister who has a job in a local non-profit organization who might be the ticket for the course's requirements, but more importantly, they make the connection that each of us, from the rich and powerful to the ants in the bushes, have to start with what we have near in order to get somewhere else. We can often barter or gain leverage with skills we have some familiarity using to move forward an idea or project, or even the occasional rubber tree plant. 

7.  Kissing frogs is part of business of ma$$ media.  Not all non profits are going to be the right fit for the semester service learning project.  Some are too busy to supervise college students, others are simply too understaffed. Students vary, but there are always those who act quickly upon hearing of the assignment to partner with a non profit to create a media product. Some get lucky, but others aren't. There are those who look too hard for just the right matching interest, such as children or animals. Others are more pragmatic and start close to home with relatives as contacts to local churches and organizations.  Some students learn the hard way that some phone calls they make or emails they send won't be returned by some non profit agencies.  That's a good sign that the partnership was not a good one in the first place. Mutual enthusiasm and support in generous doses will be needed to see the project through. In about 90% of cases the first or second try generally works for students. When non profits don't call or email students who contact them about partnering, I remind them to not to take it personally. I remind them that much of mass communication is selling. If a business is not buying what the student is selling in their free work proposal, it's best to know that early on. There are lots of non profits that are welcoming of free creative and technical support to promote their work in the community.

8.  Media is more than me-me-me.  A lifetime of thinking of media solely as a source for entertainment or even information and news makes for a good consumer, but really learning about mass communications means using, experimenting and practicing using the tools and technologies that encompass mass media. It may be hard at first to think of your old friend, Facebook, Instagram or even TV as having a business model or as a disruptive technology, but that's one reason students enroll in institutions of higher learning.  Using  social media as a tool for research for a non profit client or creating a video based on someone else's needs is an important step toward maturing from a non media literate consumer into a savvy media literate analyst and creative artist.

9.  It's never too early to build identity capital. Resumes are passé. Employers will consult first with Google about a potential hire. College students, especially those in business, marketing or communications related career fields can jump over their competition by building their professional and publication credits before graduation. By creating a media product for an actual client during a multi-week effort that includes instruction, support, research, interviews, writing and technology students can add to their identity capital and take pride in having authored or produced a product that has real-world value.  

10.  Reflection cements learning. Student presentations concluded with a listing of ideas and concepts learned during the semester service learning project, whether in class or outside of class with the client. Most valuable player awards go to receiving constructive criticism from classmates during draft presentations, learning professional communication skills such as pausing to listen during conversations with their clients, and my personal favorite, several students and groups learning their alternate designs are sometimes selected by clients over the client's own concepts. Students see their own ideas have value, a big step toward building confidence based on their efforts.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hate the state of programming on TV and the Internet? We get what we pay for.

How Much Did You Pay?

Not surprising to hear  us ask "How much did you pay?" as often as we do, considering our consumerist culture. It's natural to compare, to want to know details on our friends and neighbors purchases. 

Not always is the same question applied to our information, though there are compelling reasons why it should be, especially as mass media moves from one era to the next in subtle but sure ways.

We used to pay for our mass media and our information with our participation in the advertising structure that was the base of the entire enterprise. And what a structure it was. Three big networks taking in all American television viewers, dividing the audience and the advertising dollars in three big pie slices. It paid for what we got. We didn't get Shakespeare on Sundays evenings, but Bonanza, Ed Sullivan and Disney were not as bad as reality television either. 

Today, the Internet's at the head of the mass media table, and because of its disruptive-to-old-media-models-structure (it's free), the advertising dollar pie's been sliced so thin, it's tempting to think a Ronco kitchen device has been slicing and dicing in super-thin mode. There are so many programming choices (think YouTube), that it's hard to make production dollars pay off for those working in the old media landscape of television. That's why we see so much programming done on the cheap.

When we bemoan the standards of television programming, including news and current affairs, it's helpful to note the staffs at the network news have been cut back commensurate with the audience's shifting attention to the Internet and drops in advertising in traditional, legacy media. 

Here are some interesting and informative talks on the changing landscape of media gathered from TED talks (Technology, Entertainment and Design). Media Talks (each about 18 min.) 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lucky Comes To Say Hello Again

Anyone past their first few years has experienced grief, many over a pet who's died or run away or disappeared.

I was in the throes of sadness and mystery over Lucky's disappearance and almost sure death to the coyotes who were roaming the hills near us when I was visited by a chance message of reassurance about Lucky's demise. 

I found a film to watch one evening last week on Netflix, Dean Spanley  that spun a great yarn about a minister who could, with the help of a special brandy, recall his former life as a dog. He demonstrates how dogs think and what about, but most importantly for me, how death is perceived by an animal as one only more new sniff in the air, another over to run across, no pain whatsoever. 

This message is one I was desperately in need of, but I never dreamed of hoping for the elegant, poetic and heartwarming balm this movie delivered.

Here is a poem from Mary Oliver that comes to me also by surprise and as quietly this foggy, damp morning as Lucky used to appear beside me just to say hello.

The First Time Percy Came Back

The first time Percy came back
he was not sailing on a cloud.
He was loping along the sand as though
he had come a great way.
"Percy," I cried out, and reached to him--
those white curls--
but he was unreachable. As music
is present yet you can't touch it.
"Yes, it's all different," he said.
"You're going to be very surprised."
But I wasn't thinking of that. I only
wanted to hold him. "Listen," he said.
"I miss that too.
And now you'll be telling stories
of my coming back
and they won't be false, and they won't be true,
but they'll be real."
And, then, as he used to, he said, "Let's go!"
And we walked down the beach together.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

We were Lucky

When I met Lucky, I waved a broom at him to scare him off. When he dropped by again the next day for a snack  (kittens need a lot of snacks) from my other cat's dish I sprayed him with water from my hose. I didn't want another cat, even one with such huge fireman's boots paws. 

He was undeterred by my efforts to keep him out of our yard, and came right up to my lap one day on the front porch rocker. Yep, we've got another cat, now. No, I don't know what we're going to do with four. Yep, I've gone 'round the bend. I'm officially dotty, I told Susie when she drove up on the new Madonna and child on the front porch. 

He knew his place among the existing cats. He knew to stay clear of Sam, the outdoor-only short haired gray. We had in-and-outdoor cats, Cheech and Chong, the Burmese brothers. Lucky also stepped lightly around the old bachelors who were set in their ways. They looked down their noses at him at first, but only hissed a few warnings at him. They knew the Two Legged that lived with them already had another cat, a parrot and a dog. What harm could a kitten do? 

I named him Lucky, because I'd heard of a man where I worked with that name and liked it. What would your life be like if your name were Lucky? I gave it a try on the big-pawed kitten. Besides, he was lucky to live with us. We had a great life to offer a cat, lots of food and water, trees, grass, tons of pillows and sunny windows to nap beside. Hugs and love. The necessary trip to the vet to get neutered and all his shots. Well, no one could be all luck. But, overall, Lucky adapted well to the new home he had selected.

Lucky wasn't a fighter like our gray cat, Sam, who was rescued from a traffic island, howling in pitiful protest. He was in an awful mood after that, understandably. Except for sleeping and eating (barely) he spent most of his life sulking and ready to fight with the world. Lucky for us, the new cat was more like Cheech and Chong, who were also rescues. They came from a vet's office, and their lives as kittens were much safer, apparently, as their names suggest, very mellow and happy.

His breed was Maine Coon, and his personality was true to his kind of cat: gentle, loving and easy-going. He was still a kitten, though, and Cheech accommodated him with practice wrestling matches that sometimes resulted in fur flying. Lucky didn't keep grudges over being whipped by Cheech, who had tons more years of practice wrestling with his brother Chong, not to mention sheer bulk.

Here was a true people cat. Lucky always stayed close to home. When we were there, he sat or slept right beside where ever we were.  I could see he had been careful in who he chose to live with.  I suspected he had been born nearby at a family's two doors behind us whose children had helped raise him to be fond of Two Legged folks like us. 

When a woman doesn't have children of her own, she has the extra time and money to spend, some of it at the veterinarian's office, or the grocery store for pet food. Even so, her hugs, however romantically fulfilled by adults, still require a wee thing to squeeze and connect with. Lucky was a handful and grew to 14 pounds, but was always glad to have a hug and never minded being treated like a baby doll, learning to make the sign of the cross or being hung upside down by his big paws to show off the curly blond fur on his formidable belly.

Lucky lived indoors, and slept under the bed for many years, and later in a basket in the pantry. In the summers he slept in the screen porch. A true Maine Coon, he sat in the middle of any group of family, friends or artists working at the house. When the house was full of people, and doors were likely to be left ajar, Lucky would slip outside, preferring a wander to visiting, but he would be back in an hour or so, leading me to his food dish, which he knew I would magically fill for him. 

A very large short-hair yellow tom stray lived in the neighborhood, sleeping close to the houses, but generally living wild in the hills. He caught Lucky and showed him who was bigger, but there were no injuries requiring doctor visits, and I'm not sure Lucky even minded his encounters with the yellow tom. There's something a bit wild about all cats, if you are honest about it, even with a gentle old bachelor like Lucky had become after thirteen years with our family. 

Lucky watched television with us, never begged at us for food (he had his own place to eat, thank you) and was always at the door to say hello, follow me I have this empty dish to show you. 

He was a load to pick up and hug every day, but a mom has to do her duty, doesn't she? 

Lucky forgave us for leaving him accidentally locked in a bedroom without food or water for five days while we attended a niece's wedding in California, for over-zealously thinning out his tail fur, again by accident, and in his elder years, when we should have been more respectful, for making him perform his 'dog trick' in front of visitors: "Come, Lucky" the Two Legged stands holding cat treat. Lucky glances up from grooming to see the green teeth-cleaning treat the Two Legged pays five dollars for at the pet store. Lucky trots over to hear her hiss out "sssit!" "sssit, Lucky!" while raising the pet treat across his nose and up to his ears. What the...OK, I'll follow the treat with my eyes, therefore down goes my rump. Why do you insist on hissing "sssit?" Lucky wonders as he takes the treat delicately between his two incisors and crunches down. 

The weather looked to be good that night after an unending winter, so after a night of watching TV with us, we put his basket in the screened in porch for the night. The wind picked up in the middle of the night and was so strong it turned over a cot. In the morning I went to check in on him, but he had escaped through an opening in the screening the wind had blown open. 

It's been several days of looking for him, waiting for him and feeling someone missing from my heart.  A neighbor says her four cats, and the yellow tom are now all missing. We think the coyotes, who have come up from the valley looking for food with the drought this year must have found them.

Human beings are great, but they're not the heavy bundle of paws, fur and whiskers curled up on your lap that was Lucky.