Tag Archives: graduate school

More than deputies: A definition of journalism for the 21st Century

Let’s confirm who professional journalists are: People (trained or not), paid to produce content under the mastheads of traditional news outlets.

Let’s confirm what they’re supposed to do: This is a tricky one. No matter how many times I have asked, and how many people, across Australia, the USA and the UK, nobody can give me a core definition of journalism. Maybe it’s a secret. A magician’s code. Part of the smoke and mirrors used to convince everyone they’re worth being paid for over anyone without a mogul. Professional journalists promote their work as a noble art, one that demands a rigor most can not attain. With prompting, a professional journalist will usually agree you need training, you need balance, fairness, fact collection and analysis.
In a conversation I had on Twitter with people in Australia following the Twitter’s Impact on Media and Journalism mini-conference (actually a 2-hour seminar of sorts), Brad Howarth, a professional journalist who was attending says journalism will not be “harmed or replaced by Twitter.” Another Australian, Renai Lemay, followed his presentation at the same conference with a post for ZDNet where he likens his role as a professional journalist to a knight, protecting the honour of a “great lady of noble birth” and describes Twitter as a “playground for pleasure of journalists.” Somewhere to reconnect with the audience. While Renai seeks to support Twitter’s role, he demonstrates a very Lipmann-esque view – it’s still them and us, and being able to play amongst the great unwashed is a novel way of “cutting the fat out of journalism.”

Bringing it to the US, last night, on Lou Dobbs’ show on CNN, the Face Off segment featured a rather strange topical area of ‘Social Networks & Journalism: Is traditional media obsolete?’, Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University held the same line as Renai. He described citizen journalists as “acting like deputies … it’s just like we used to use eyewitnesses.” In what was supposedly a debate (which Dobbs pointedly remarked at the start he hoped would be won by Professor Thompson), Micah Sifryn, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum began well by saying “anyone can commit and act of journalism.” However he followed that up by agreeing with Lou Dobbs that it “takes more than just holding up your mobile phone and filming stuff and then putting it online to be a journalist.”

Oh really?

My issue is that all of this is either a. focused on the media used for journalism rather than what journalism actually is, or  b. garbled propaganda nonsense.

Let me be clear. For those who don’t know me, I was a traditional, paid journalist for 15 years. I then moved to Public Relations, and then into teaching journalism, marketing, PR, event management and advertising at college. Happily, I’m back in traditional professional journalism myself, as the Boulder Startup Examiner for Examiner.com. (I make enough for a cup of coffee a week). I’m even currently undertaking graduate research in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at CU in Boulder (on social media communities), and I TA on the Intro to Journalism and Intro to Advertising classes. I’m a co-founder of a startup which will enable people to create more content and make better connections online. I’m pretty well engaged on all fronts.

And my question is thus: If traditional, professional journalists (those I’ve identified above) want to say what they do is different to what is able to be done by anyone else, I believe they have to say what makes it so, in order to be understood. So let me help you professionals out. The book, Elements of Journalism, authored by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel, provides 10 elements of journalism. They are:

1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
2. Its first loyalty is to the citizens.
3. Its essence is discipline of verification.
4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
7. It must strive to make the significant interesting, and relevant.
8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
10. The rights and responsibilities of citizens to be media literate.

But I’m questioning these traditional elements. While the 10th Element only appeared in this text in 2007 as a direct response to the power of Web 1.0, I believe it’s time to entirely redefine the concept of journalism. To strip it back and challenge the notion of what it is – a notion that has root in the medium, not the craft. All of the above elements of journalism reflect a somewhat Lipmann-esque attitude. But at last in the 21st Century, John Dewey really gets a turn. At journalism’s very core is one thing – communication. So I’ve developed a new definition of what journalism is:


Journalism is communication through any means that enables two things – a. the transmission of factual information about all factors that make up society, and b. validation, authentication and discussion of opinions, beliefs and commentary.

In the past, given the limited and expensive range of tools open to people, journalists were defined as a separate group of people. Training in the media they worked in, and how best to ‘do’ journalism to communicate messages were the focus. But those constraints have left us. The best journalism does not rely on the old elements – nor the old media. It doesn’t rely on training, or a paypacket.

Will journalism still exist when the moguls move onto more profitable ventures? Yes. Is it noble and necessary for democracy? Yes. Does it need defending? No (from what?). Is it the realm of the few? No, not any more. It’s not Twitter that is changing it. It’s Web 2.0. All social media. It’s going to be even greater when even more people are creating the content. That’s democracy.

What kind of Twitter identity do you seek?

There are some very interesting psychological theories used in Marketing and Business which explain why people behave the way they do. Put simply, people buy different brands and products to fulfill external and internal needs. These needs reflect their sense of self. And people can generally be placed in one of three categories:

1. Affiliation needs – people who primarily want to ‘belong’. For example, think of teenagers and their need to buy the latest fad.

2. Leadership needs – people who want to be seen as innovators and want to be seen as cutting edge. A good example is all those people looking for the latest and greatest new phone!

3. Achievement needs – people who buy things to demonstrate they’ve ‘made it’. Often, buying that sportscar or a First Class plane ticket fulfills that need.

My current research on discourse analysis on Twitter suggests you can identify people working to fulfill these same needs on Twitter! With just text to convey how we want to be seen by everyone, the things we decide to Tweet and whom we tweet with demonstrates us ‘working’ to fulfill one of these needs.

Someone with an affiliation need on Twitter will use lots of hashtags. Ways of belonging. They will identify themselves as part of popular movements on Twitter. They want to be part of a particular crowd. Mommy bloggers. Lots of RTs and @ conversations with people they want to be associated with.

Someone with a leadership need will probably not ‘life stream’. Instead they’ll stay on one topic and tweet links to specific cutting edge stuff in their field. They will talk with just about anyone as long as it’s on the topic they want to be seen as a leader in. They don’t stray from that path. It’s like they’re almost the Twitter expert on a particular subject.

Finally, someone with an achievement need will want to be recognised as having ‘made it’. These, I claim, are the type of people who un-follow bulk numbers of people so they can appear accomplished. They’re more likely to be focused on follower numbers than anything else. They might life stream about their accomplished lives, and even lead calls to donate to ‘people less fortunate’, to further identify their separateness from them.

The way we behave on Twitter reflect identity work where we want to be seen by the community as one of these types of people.

What Twitterers can you think of that fits one of these categories? Where do you fit?

Research on Twitter and friendships

I’m a grad research student focusing on social media for my final thesis. So it’s time for me to move on from boobs to my next adventure. (I know, I know… we loved the boobs.)

Anyway, my next project will be on relationship/friendship/connection strength on Twitter. My impression is that the strength of the ‘relationships’ (for want of a better word) forged on Twitter is as strong (if not more so) as those which are begun in real life.

twitter-cartoon

These Twitter relationships, built over time in 140 characters or less, lead people to expressing genuine concern for other members of the community, both on Twitter as well as leading to IRL. This genuine concern leads to things such as offers of employment; support during times of grief, stress and celebration; connections for people who find it more difficult to connect in real life due to shyness or geography; and probably heaps more.

I’d love to gain a pile of Twitterers who would be willing to help me with this research paper. I would imagine it would just involve an in-depth survey where I ask you some questions. This could definitely be done online and before you answered it I’d like you to think about the connections you have made on Twitter, how important to you they are, and what sort of level of concern you have for the others. Consider things like do you think of yourself as part of a community? A family? How many strong connections you have? etc. Your responses would be completely anonymous.

If you’re willing to be involved, just comment below with your Twitter name and I’ll let you know when it’s ready to go – probably in about 2 or 3 weeks time. Alternatively, DM me on Twitter (@mediamum)!

Breastfeeding in America

Recently many Twitterers (and their associates) contributed to my survey on American women’s attitudes to breastfeeding and its representation in the media. I promised to share the outcomes of my research and the survey, which this post seeks to do. For those interested, the entire paper (30 pages plus 15 page complete survey result appendix) is available by emailing me or asking on Twitter and I’ll get it to you straight away. If you’d like to see the summary of survey responses, this link takes you to the final Survey Monkey summary.

American Breastfeeding Rates

America has a dismal breastfeeding rate. The World Health Organization and the US’s own CDC recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, and then breastfed with additional food until they are two years old and beyond. The American Government then worked with the CDC in 2000 to develop the Healthy People 2010 initiative. It includes breastfeeding goals which fall short of the WHO and CDC’s own recommendations – that rates of breastfeeding be targeted to 75% initiating breastfeeding at birth, with 50% at six months and just 25% at one year.

Each year since 2000, American media has been fed press release diatribe on how successfully this plan is being implemented. And mainstream media have unquestioningly spurted it back at the general public. Headlines like “Breastfeeding rate soars” (USA Today 2002) and Reuters 2007 story headlined “US breastfeeding rates rise to record high” disguise the real issue – that even after 8 years of a government promotion to increase breastfeeding in America, 25% of women never even try. In 2005 only 11% of American women exclusively breastfed for 6 months (as opposed to the WHO recommendation of 100%) and in 2007 a quarter of women who initiate breastfeeding at birth have introduced formula within the first week of their child’s life.

So what’s the problem?

Media loves boorolling-stone-janet-jackson-coverbs – as long as they’re shown in a sexual way. We’re all familiar with advertising and other images of breasts. For example, this 1993 cover image of Janet Jackson on Rolling Stone won critical acclaim. The story focuses on Jackson and her embracing of her sexuality. The focal point is her breasts.

But a full 13 years later, BabyTalk magazine’s cover created outrage. No less than 700 complaints were sent to the editor over a cover promoting breastfeeding. So getting it straight, a magazine committed to mothering and babies, getting flak over a cover which promoted – mothering and babies.

babytalk_cover_2006-08

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my paper I explain how I believe this has occurred. The movement of women into the public sphere has seen them embrace their femininity in a new way. There’s a whole “look, I’m in the boardroom and I have breasts” ferocity which has been associated with feminism. Women don’t like being confronted with images which remind them of the roles their mothers had. Feminism’s abject failure through the 1980s and 1990s was its devaluation and disempowerment of the importance of nursing.

Yes, I argue that the feminist movement has contributed to a sociey where even women more readily accept images of breasts that celebrate them on a sexual rather than a mothering level. This is reflected in media too. TV programs such as Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and Ally McBeal feature women who embrace their sexuality and power as successful. Women who hold traditional mothering roles are less successful, frustrated, angry or just plain stupid.

And then to have the audacity to bring those breasts, feeding infants, into the general public? No wonder women in general lead the call for ‘discretion’ and ‘hooter hiders’.

The survey

I hoped to get about 30 responses. The survey went viral and in three days I received 128 responses. More than a third of respondents added extra information to each of the basic four questions asked. Women have strong views. In my paper I relate this passion to religiosity. The religion of breastfeeding meets all the academic standards of definition. No longer is breastfeeding normal, usual practice. And I find that distressing.

While 95% of respondents did not believe media has any influence over their own ideas about breastfeeding, more than half believe media should show it more often. Clearly, women believe media has an influence over someone (if not themselves). One key response was along the lines of “media doesn’t influence my ideas about breastfeeding because it’s not shown in media.” My assertion is that this absence has just as much influence as if it were shown.

Moving forward

So what does this mean for feminists who embraced the bottle as their key to freedom from the ugliness and backward past? It means that the general public can look at American women and say “hey, are you women so stupid that you need to be told to breastfeed? And after eight years, you still aren’t getting the message?” It means that heck, if you’re an educated woman you need to recognise everything about you that’s powerful, not just breaking through the glass ceiling.

 

If media showed breastfeeding as part of normal life on television and other media. If it made it present and normal – not a focus of a storyline, but just part of the everyday life of families with babies on tv, then could we begin to see this overtly sexual obsession with breasts change? Could we begin to see women being more accepting of their breasts as being a special part of a relationship with their child, not just as part of the relationship with their sexuality? If, in a similar way to Hollywood reducing smoking in movies, we began to insert breastfeeding into them… what would happen? And what about the international impact this could have? Hollywood movies are seen worldwide.

Certainly our only hope can be to improve on dismal American breastfeeding rates – and who knows where it could end.

A visit to the A pool

Following my previous post about unhappily swimming in the B Pool, I’m pleased to have been able to scramble my way through to a bit of a splash in the A pool. You know, that place where the cool kids are?  

My final paper for Media Ethics,  Twittering a Funeral: Social media’s challenge to professional journalism received a final A grade. I think my professor was just as relieved and pleased about it as I am. december-2008-001

I’ll be working on the paper further to prepare it for possible conference/journal submission, under the intuitive guidance of Professor Mike McDevitt. Without his assistance in structuring my paper all the stuff in my head would still be struggling for a voice.

Anyway, I’ll happily send it along to anyone who’d like the long, academic version. Just email me or DM me on Twitter. But for those of you with lives not academically focused, here are the key points:

Statement of Purpose
This paper examines the impact on the professionalism of journalism as it integrates the social networking tool Twitter in traditional news reporting. The paper considers the use of Twitter by the Rocky Mountain News in which a child’s funeral was “live blogged,” as well as the ensuing outcry and response from the editor, John Temple. It identifies the particular characteristics of Twitter as a communication tool, and proposes an ethical model which supports the use of Twitter in professional journalism.

The paper then outlines the case study of the Rocky Mountain News’ reporting of a child’s funeral using Twitter, and identifies why this use was not only unethical but a case of unprofessional journalism. This is journalism which doesn’t address the recommendations of the Hutchins Commission, and puts the autonomy of American journalists, as well as their credibility, in the firing line. There is a desperate need for reporters to be trained in the functionality of Twitter and fully understand it as well as the community (not audience) which supports it.

I recommend a model which outlines three ways Twitter should not be used, as well as three ways in which it supports professional journalism.
NO:

1. When the use of Twitter (either through implementing the tool or the result) is perceived as a possible invasion of privacy. 

2. When another journalistic tool would better serve the reporting need or the ability of the journalist.

3. When a journalist or media entity is unfamiliar with social media in its complete form, not just as a broadcast medium.

YES:

1. As a resource for newsgathering purposes, in preparing information for stories, getting leads, etc.

2. As a public journalism tool – where the journalist can attend an event and act as the mediator between the community and the event. Eg: a red carpet event, where the community can ask the journalist questions and she can filter them and respond accordingly (of course, this takes a different sort of journalistic training.)

3. For Amber Alerts (abducted children), especially when the child is suspected to have been abducted overseas; and for issues of imminent need or notice such as natural disasters, etc. The input would come from reliable sources, and media would then be able to aid in important efforts to communicate with the respectability of their professional branding adding weight to the message going out through the Twitter stream. 

I hope the A pool welcomes me back a few more times. It’s really nice.

The massive difference between A and B

I am swimming in the B pool and I’m not happy. (Don’t try telling me getting a B is okay. It’s not.)

I have some kick-ass papers to write. I have a great brain and a wealth of experience. But I’m not getting the grades I want.

Graduate school is difficult. This week I had what I’d describe as a ‘crash and burn 24 hours’. There were lots of reasons to just go back to work. Lots. But in talking with my husband and friends I realised these ‘reasons’ were things that could be changed if I wanted to find a way to make that happen.

So I’ve made a plan to fix things. A better approach. I will be far more efficient at note-taking, writing (so that includes drafting, revising and final drafts… not just one draft), and research. I will talk to people I respect, and tie myself to my professors. I am not going to study myself to death. I am not going to be so fearful of writing the wrong thing that I leave it and end up writing it without checking. I’m going to write it anyway, and then check it up and rewrite it instead. 

All this seems obvious. And it is. Unless you’re living it.

So that’s basically it. Oh, and the capstone is the kids and I have a deal. When I do pull myself out of the B pool, we are having a family party – complete with glow sticks from Dollar Tree, disco music and junk food.