Tag Archives: reporting

Were the Christmas miracle mother and baby “saved” from epidural?

Ah the miracle of medicine, look how much you’ve done for women and babies. Birthing in the Western World is no longer fraught with danger, thanks to your hand.

Or is it?

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The oh-so convenient Christmas miracle story splashed internationally across mass media headlines of a Coloradan woman and her baby dying through childbirth and then “inexplicably” being revived held readers spellbound. It was the perfect gift for editors – as a front page, it sold papers.

But media did not report the facts – they just told a good story.

In birth, medicine has moved beyond monitoring women and fixing stuff that goes wrong to getting in there and making birth a “medical procedure.” Whether a woman is likely to birth successfully without intervention or not is not considered when offering everything from epidurals to c-sections to “patients” who are armed with the gift of choice, but not the gift of a full education about the side-effects each of these interventions carry.

Do they know that as soon as you introduce one intervention, the likelihood of more being required is exponentially higher? Epidurals lead, often, to more intervention. Why? Because blind freddy can tell that if you can’t feel your body, if you muck around with its ability to do the work it was naturally trying to do, then it’s going to be more likely to repay you in kind. Epidurals are not headache tablets for birthing. Too many women believe they are. Too many women give their birthing up to medicine with no reasonable or rational cause. They’re missing out on the most powerful experience of their lives – and often recovering from major abdominal surgery. Society is also paying through the nose for these unnecessary surgeries. Over 30% of American women now have c-sections. Before long it will be the “normal” way to birth.

Media did not question the fact that Tracy and Mike Hermanstorfer were being “prepped for childbirth” in a medicalized setting with pitocin delivered and an epidural being inserted, and that apparently coincidentally Tracy’s heart stopped after the epidural. (There is real research into the side-effects of epidurals… this link to the American Pregnancy Association states more than 50% of American women have epidurals – but if you read to the end, the very real possibility of cascades of intervention and medical trauma directly related to the epidural, including severely lowering heart rates of both mother and baby are basically outlined. And that’s if they put it in correctly.)

Henci Goer reported on this story yesterday, for Lamaze International. She outlines the details of potential medical responsibility in the trauma endured by this family. Additionally, in ABC News’s video interview with the doctor and Hermanstorfers, the cascade of intervention is described – but the reporting does absolutely nothing to question further about those interventions.

Traditional media are failing us in reporting on birth. We are so accepting of medicalised birth that media do not question medical responsibility in this family’s trauma. Instead, it celebrates the “Christmas miracle” that sells its papers – and the UK’s Daily Mail even went so far as to credit the doctor for bringing back lifeless Tracy. Again, the business model gets in the way of good journalism. Find the quickest story that sells the paper and pulls a heartstring, not the story that takes research and investigation.

I know many religious people have already adopted this story, calling it God’s hand at work. Others will say “thank goodness she was in a hospital (where our human-made gods are) – what would have happened if she were at home?”

What indeed.

Disrupting the barriers of media in the 21st Century

This pre-internet installation was and remains a vital consideration in the future of media. It has been supposed for a long time that communication and media technologies allowed people who already knew each other to improve existing relationships. Alternatively, broadcast media were used to send corporate-owned messages to the ‘masses’. There has been very little in the understanding of communities and how they are built and morph through media. To date, due to the expense of entry to creating content for media communication technology, most middle class people have been limited to the telephone – and that form is one-to-one rather than the one-to-many formats offered by social media. This installation’s first day shows how people who did not know each other were able to create conversations and relationships – even for a short time.

People in the video respond a certain way because they realize people in the other location can actually see them. This created an ‘event’. In the 21st Century, when everything that happens in public locations could readily and easily be posted to the web, are we seeing a change in everyday public behaviors due to the fact that we are aware, more than ever before, that someone might be posting our actions? From music concerts to classrooms, from traffic accidents to natural environments, people are creating ‘events’. The greater questions are how have we as a community become the public entity we are creating, and what impact does this have on how we relate to each other. What has made people immediately reach for their cell phone to take a picture when something happens? This is a stage of history we’ve never faced before.

While we have come through an era where “the medium is the message,” we have moved on from this. The medium is still the technology. The message today is found in the resonance of community. One is not the other. In fact, the irony as stated by Steve Harrison in his essay on this particular video (found in HCI Remixed), is key. Separation does in fact, invite a connection. If we believe that human beings seek resonance with each other, eliminating some of the barriers to finding that resonance through disrupting the accepted norms of relationships and community will in fact deliver us to new ways of ‘seeing’ each other. Through these new ways of discovering resonance we will be able to grow an international array of communities. The international would relate not just to geographical space, but also class space. We have a media which will offer everyone an opportunity to find resonance of community with the homeless, the traditional-media famous, and their neighbor.

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.

How to create a stir – write about women in startups

I’m writing for the online news site, Examiner.com as the Boulder Startup Examiner.

Why? Am I insane? Don’t I have enough to do?

I felt compelled to do it. Boulder is a wonderful town, with a fantastic tech community of people. It’s a really big community, for a small town. It’s exciting, vibrant and smart. It’s full of incredible people. And they’re all doing their own thing.

We’re all working with a similar environment. We see lots of familiar people every week, and there are lots of tech events focused on the community. But we have different lives, experiences and industries. There are lots of people here I’ve never met – and when many of those people are ones I’ve heard of and I know have heard of me in our ‘small’ community, that’s disappointing. We have a wealth of things to draw on that don’t get any focus, simply because there’s no professional journalism covering it.

So that’s what I’m trying to do with my Examiner role. I’m treating it as I would a professional journalistic venture. It’s not personal (that’s what my blog’s for). It’s actual journalism. The way I used to do it. It’s amazing how you never forget. And I’m really enjoying it.

I’m putting together a plan of writing one article a week on five different topic areas. (Let’s see how my time management works with that!) Today’s topic area was Women in Tech. I’ll be writing on that once a week. And today’s story relates to how women who work in Boulder startups simply don’t seem to have the same networking opportunities the men of Boulder do. A pretty self-evident post, I thought. I got to interview some wonderful women (another bonus of working on Examiner is chatting with local startups I’ve never run across, or have only met briefly!). I said to Tara and Grace I wanted to focus on women in Boulder startups. It wasn’t their idea, it was mine. And they came to the party. We had a lovely chat over coffee last week. I recorded the chat, and I wrote the piece.

It seems to have hit a bit of a nerve with some people in various elements of social media, and I couldn’t be happier. I believe the article is respectful of Boulder, the community and both men and women. If you read beyond the headline (as any journalism school will explain, the headline is just the foothold into the story) you get a balanced view of women in startups here in Boulder.

I invite you to read the article yourself, and leave a comment. I now know I’ll definitely be covering women in startups in Boulder every week. Because it’s a great topic, obviously close to my heart. And nobody else covers it.

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.

MSM forgets what sets it apart

The Rocky Mountain News has taken a lot of my attention this week. Primarily because it is one of the first MSM outlets which I’ve come across attempting to incorporate a greater range of Web 2.0 usage as part of its general reporting effort.

Virtually all MSM now features online sites with reader polls and reader comments. Those have their own incredible issues which are related, but I won’t delve into here.

However, the RMN decided to incorporate a Twitter-feed as part of its news service, on the front page of its online issue wednesday this week. And the story they covered? The funeral of a 3-year old boy who was killed by accident while at an ice-cream store.

The result of running this piece was that the RMN was brought to task by The Poynter Institute, its own readers and other media over two things.

Firstly, the appropriateness of using the ‘tool’ of Twitter at a funeral. A child’s funeral. Well, you know what? They didn’t really use Twitter. They might as well have video taped it (oh, actually they did that too) because while Twitter is a social networking tool, the RMN (like all other MSM) only use it for broadcast purposes – there was no conversation going on. The RMN, like all other MSM, simply doesn’t ‘get’ Twitter. If you’d like a metaphor, it’s the same as if the telephone was invented and the RMN called you and said stuff, then hung up. No interaction. The RMN still sees the potential of Web 2.0 as tired old Web 1.0. MSM uses Web 2.0 with an ‘it doesn’t really count, it’s just a bit of fluff’ attitude. And that’s why the brains of MSM, with all its years of journalistic experience, is failing in the 21st century. 

But the more important issue is the content.

The editor of the RMN responded to the outrage caused by his decision to run the Twitter feed. His excuse was basically “Well, we’re struggling with this new technology stuff, and we had permission.”

FAIL

‘Struggle’ away. However, I have listened to many MSM journalists describe the difference between them and bloggers. This usually comes down to ‘We are professionals’. Tack onto that other qualifiers like “We’ve been doing this for xx years” and “All bloggers do is write about us anyway, so if we disappeared then what would be left?”

Well apologies if this seems harsh, but guess what the bloggers are writing about? What a crap job you ‘professional’ journalists are doing. How unbalanced, biased, ignorant you have become.

And if you are ‘professional’, then how about reading through your Code of Ethics a few times? Hell, why not stick it up on the wall to remind yourselves what you’re trying to do? What it is that sets you apart from bloggers?

I sincerely believe that the Code of Ethics is the one thing – the touchstone – that journalists have to rely on. 

In Australia we have a Code of Ethics which compels the professional journalist to “resist the compulsion to intrude.” (Let’s leave aside the fact that the Code isn’t found on the first page of the MEAA’s website… if fact, it involves lots of clicking to get to it.) Even though the RMN had permission to report the funeral, it wasn’t the right thing to do using the words, images and portrayal you did. It was incredibly biased and the resulting feeling in the audience was one where you grew a moral panic about the ‘illegal immigrant’ who caused the accident. (Demonstrated by the reader comments.)

The USA’s code as stated by the Society of Professional Journalists, is even more clear. It states, flat out “Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiousity.” The RMN didn’t do that. In the words of one reader’s response; ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’.

If you are to be professional journalists, behind every struggle,  whether it is over the use of technology or the content you create on that technology, you should stand true to your professional Code of Ethics.

If not, a blog awaits.