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Posts Tagged ‘journalism

“There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck-rake”*…

 

Harriet_Martineau_by_Richard_Evans

Harriet Martineau c1834, by Richard Evans. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

 

Harriet Martineau was a social reformer, novelist, and children’s author, the author of over over 50 books.  (Early in her career, she was outselling Dickens.)  An abolitionist, she was also a feminist and sociologist– before those terms had been invented.  And she was one of the first women journalists, who published nearly 2,000 articles and columns in the leading newspapers and magazines of her day.  Throughout a career devoted to “understanding how society works,” she strove to give the unheard– women, the poor– a voice… even as, for most of her life, Harriet was herself deaf.

Martineau had broken the mould by making complex ideas accessible to a wider readership via entertaining stories that connected grand theories with personal circumstances. While her delight in creating characters and human narratives gradually waned in favour of more direct campaigning for her favourite causes, she never lost her preference for example over theory, or (until her health gave out in 1855) for visiting places in person, so that she could see things for herself. What makes her career so remarkable was the number of times she made a fresh start on a new topic by mastering it for herself, from whatever information she could find to hand, and constantly updating her expertise so that her interventions might offer some practical support. Inevitably, some of these fields dated faster than others, but after a century of critical neglect, Martineau is now being widely reclaimed as a forthright thinker with a distinctive voice…

A campaigning journalist and an early feminist, Harriet Martineau humanized economic theory through Dickensian storytelling: “Mistress of All Trades.”

* Theodore Roosevelt

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As we celebrate curiosity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1970, on the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which had effectively given women the right to vote, that 50,000 women in New York City (and thousands more around the country and the world) marched down 5th Avenue to Bryant Park in protest of the lack of progress in securing equal rights for women.  Organized by Betty Friedan and sponsored by NOW, it was known as the Women’s Strike for Equality.

220px-1970s_women's_strike_poster_(cropped) source

 

Written by LW

August 26, 2019 at 1:01 am

“…but no one was interested in the facts. They preferred the invention because this invention expressed and corroborated their hates and fears so perfectly”*…

 

fakenewsvacc

 

Most Americans (and indeed, many citizens of dozens of other countries around the world) agree that fake news is a problem…  even if they don’t always agree on which news is fake.

Lots of energy (and money) has gone into trying to stop the flow of of misinformation masquerading as legitimate journalism, and (as that’s proven effectively impossible) into trying to “tag” or label questionable pieces as a warning to readers– an approach that’s also showing little sign of working.

But researchers at the University of Cambridge have taken a cue from medicine and it’s fight against infectious diseases:  if you can’t eliminate the pathogen, make the population immune to it– invent a vaccine…

An online game in which people play the role of propaganda producers to help them identify real world disinformation has been shown to increase “psychological resistance” to fake news, according to a study of 15,000 participants.

In February 2018, University of Cambridge researchers helped launch the browser game Bad News. Thousands of people spent fifteen minutes completing it, with many allowing the data to be used for a study.

Players stoke anger and fear by manipulating news and social media within the simulation: deploying twitter bots, photo-shopping evidence, and inciting conspiracy theories to attract followers—all while maintaining a “credibility score” for persuasiveness.

“Research suggests that fake news spreads faster and deeper than the truth, so combating disinformation after-the-fact can be like fighting a losing battle,” said Dr. Sander van der Linden, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab.

“We wanted to see if we could pre-emptively debunk, or ‘pre-bunk’, fake news by exposing people to a weak dose of the methods used to create and spread disinformation, so they have a better understanding of how they might be deceived.

“This is a version of what psychologists call ‘inoculation theory’, with our game working like a psychological vaccination.”

To gauge the effects of the game, players were asked to rate the reliability of a series of different headlines and tweets before and after gameplay. They were randomly allocated a mixture of real (“control”) and fake news (“treatment”).

The study, published today in the journal Palgrave Communications, showed the perceived reliability of fake news before playing the game had reduced by an average of 21% after completing it. Yet the game made no difference to how users ranked real news.

The researchers also found that those who registered as most susceptible to fake news headlines at the outset benefited most from the “inoculation”…

Learn more at “Fake news ‘vaccine’ works: ‘Pre-bunking’ game reduces susceptibility to disinformation.”  Then play Bad News.

Readers might also find it instructive to consider the media analogues to the techniques demonstrated by pickpocket-extraordinaire Apollo Robbins in “The Art of Misdirection.”

* James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

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As we contemplate credibility, we might send acerbic birthday greetings to journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson; he was born in Louisville on this date in 1929.  The author of Hell’s AngelsFear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, he is widely credited as the creator of the Gonzo school of journalism (an extreme form of New Journalism in which the reporter isn’t simply present, he/she is central), and widely remembered for his love of inebriates and guns, and for his hate of authoritarianism in general and Richard Nixon in particular.

…the massive, frustrated energies of a mainly young, disillusioned electorate that has long since abandoned the idea that we all have a duty to vote. This is like being told you have a duty to buy a new car, but you have to choose immediately between a Ford and a Chevy.
– Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72  (1973)

 source

Interestingly, it was also on this date– in 1870– that the First Vatican Council established the dogma of Papal Infallibility.

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Pope Pius IX, during whose Office the dogma of infallibility was established– thus the first officially-infallible Pope

source

 

 

“The act of a pro is to make it look easy. Fred Astaire doesn’t grunt when he dances to let you know how hard it is. If you’re good at it, you leave no fingerprints.”*…

 

 

Overbey-Rothman-Lillian-Ross

Lillian Ross was a journalist and author who was a staff writer at The New Yorker for seven decades.  Her novelistic reporting and writing style, apparent in early stories about Ernest Hemingway and John Huston, is widely understood to have been a primary influence on what would later be called “literary journalism” or “new journalism.”

Novelist– and one-time Ross friend– Andrew O’Hagan offers a remembrance on the occasion of the republication of Ross’s Picture, her account of the making of John Huston’s screen adaptation of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage [she’s pictured above, at work on the piece]…

I’ve never met anybody who hated as many people as Lillian Ross did. She would count their names off on her fingers, regularly within spitting distance of them, and her voice wasn’t quiet and she wasn’t shy. Bending back each digit and making a face, she’d offer a defining word after each name:

Gloria Steinem – phoney
Janet Malcolm – pretentious
Renata Adler – crackpot
Susan Sontag – nobody
Nora Ephron – liar

Other hand:

Kenneth Tynan – creep
Truman Capote – leech
George Plimpton – slick
Tom Wolfe – talentless
Philip Roth – jerk

It was a mercy she only had two hands…

Great reporting isn’t usually harmed by the reporter having a poor character. It may even be improved by it. Lillian just happened to be hard-bitten in the right way. Her pieces relied on a ruthlessness, sometimes a viciousness, that she didn’t try to hide and that other people liked to comment on. She talked a lot about not being egotistical and so on, but reporters who talk a great deal about not obtruding on the reporting are usually quite aware, at some level, that objectivity is probably a fiction, and that they are most present when imagining they’re invisible. (Lillian was in at least two minds about this, possibly six. One minute she’d say a reporter had to let the story be the story, the next she’d say it was ridiculous: a reporter is ‘chemically’ involved in the story she is writing.)…

More on the complicated question of character and and the work that it produces at “Not Enough Delilahs.”

{Image above: source]

* Lillian Ross

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As we consider the source, we might send delightful birthday greetings to Sir Tom Stoppard; he was born on this date in 1937.  A playwright and screenwriter, he has written prolifically for TV, radio, film and stage, earning acclaim for such plays such as Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Professional Foul, The Real Thing, The Invention of Love, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and for the screenplays for Brazil, The Russia House, and Shakespeare in Love; he has received an Academy Award and four Tony Awards.

220px-Image-Tom_Stoppard_1_(cropped) source

 

Written by LW

July 3, 2019 at 1:01 am

“A public-opinion poll is no substitute for thought”*…

 

Polls

 

On April 25, 2019, former Vice President Joe Biden became the latest big-name politician to join the race for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. Among Democrat voters, he leads the field over the next most popular candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, by 7 percentage points — with a sampling margin of error of 5.4 percentage points — according to a recent poll from Monmouth University.

But public and media perception has been burned by polls before — see the 2016 presidential election — and there’s still a long, long way to go before the Democratic field is settled. Donald Trump officially became the Republican Party nominee for president in July 2016, but a year prior there were still 16 other candidates angling for the nomination.

Precisely because there are still so many town halls and county fairs to come for the Democratic contenders, we’re rounding up some recent academic research that can inform coverage of political opinion polls in this early presidential contest. This research digs into bias in evaluating political polling, polling errors across time and space, the relationship between media coverage and polling, and more…

With over 18 months to go until the 2020 election, we’re already inundated with poll results, widely divergent, but each claiming canonical status.  Journalist’s Resource has ridden to the rescue with a handy collection of articles offering guidance on how to understand and use them– guidance that’s as useful to us civilians as it is to pros: “Covering political polls: A cautionary research roundup.”

* Warren Buffett

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As we stock up on grains of salt, we might recall that it was on this date in 1894 that the 500-strong Commonwealth of Christ (AKA Coxey’s Army) arrived in Washington, D.C., to protest against unemployment.  The march, organized by businessman Jacob Coxey, had begun with 100 men in Massillon, Ohio, and had gathered members as it moved toward the Capitol.  It was protesting conditions in the second year of (what turned out to be a four-year economic depression. the worst in United States history to that time.  In the event, the group never made it into the Capitol: Coxey was arrested for trespassing, and the military intervention the group provoked proved to be a rehearsal for the federal force that broke the Pullman Strike later that year.

Still, Coxey’s Army had an impact.  Among its well-wishers along the way was L. Frank Baum (still a famous window-dresser, not yet an author).  Scholarly political interpretations of his most famous novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, turn on Coxey’s Army:

In the novel, Dorothy, the Scarecrow (the American farmer), Tin Woodman (the industrial worker), and Cowardly Lion (William Jennings Bryan), march on the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, the Capital (or Washington, D.C.), demanding relief from the Wizard, who is interpreted to be the President. Dorothy’s shoes (made of silver in the book, not the familiar ruby that is depicted in the movie) are interpreted to symbolize using free silver instead of the gold standard (the road of yellow brick) because the shortage of gold precipitated the Panic of 1893… [source]

300px-Coxey_commonweal_army_brightwood_leaving source

 

 

“Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions”*…

 

luo-slownews

 

In 2008, the Columbia Journalism Review published an article with the headline “Overload!,” which examined news fatigue in “an age of too much information.” When “Overload!” was published, BlackBerrys still dominated the smartphone market, push notifications hadn’t yet to come to the iPhone, retweets weren’t built into Twitter, and BuzzFeed News did not exist. Looking back, the idea of suffering from information overload in 2008 seems almost quaint. Now, more than a decade later, a fresh reckoning seems to be upon us. Last year, Tim Cook, the chief executive officer of Apple, unveiled a new iPhone feature, Screen Time, which allows users to track their phone activity. During an interview at a Fortune conference, Cook said that he was monitoring his own usage and had “slashed” the number of notifications he receives. “I think it has become clear to all of us that some of us are spending too much time on our devices,” Cook said.

It is worth considering how news organizations have contributed to the problems Newport and Cook describe. Media outlets have been reduced to fighting over a shrinking share of our attention online; as Facebook, Google, and other tech platforms have come to monopolize our digital lives, news organizations have had to assume a subsidiary role, relying on those sites for traffic. That dependence exerts a powerful influence on which stories are pursued, how they’re presented, and the speed and volume at which they’re turned out…

A central purpose of journalism is the creation of an informed citizenry. And yet—especially in an environment of free-floating, ambient news—it’s not entirely clear what it means to be informed: “The Urgent Quest for Slower, Better News.”

* Edward R. Murrow

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As we break news, we might recall that it was on this date in 1704 that the first issue of The Boston News-Letter was published.  Heavily subsidized by the British government, with a limited circulation, it was the first continuously-published newspaper in North America.  The colonies’ first newspaper was (the rather more editorially-independent)  Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, which published its first and only issue on September 25, 1690.)

440px-Boston_News-Letter_(first_issue)source

 

Written by LW

April 24, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Enter RUMOUR, painted full of tongues”*…

 

ftd-logo

 

FOIA The Dead is a long-term transparency project that uses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request information from the FBI about the recently deceased.

That law requires certain government agencies to produce records upon a request from the public. One significant exception to that requirement is that, to protect the privacy of individuals, federal agencies may not release information about living people. But after their death, their privacy concerns are diminished, and those records can become available.

FOIA The Dead was founded to address that transition. When somebody’s obituary appears in the New York Times, FOIA The Dead sends an automated request to the FBI for their (newly-available) records. In many cases, the FBI responds that it has no files on the individual. But in some cases it does, and can now release those files upon request. When FOIA The Dead receives it, the file gets published for the world to see…

A project of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, written and maintained by Parker Higgins, FOIA the Dead is here.

* Shakespeare (stage direction:  Henry IV, Part 2)

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As we look to our legacies, we might recall that it was on this date in 2010 that the largest hailstone in (recorded) U.S. history fell in Vivian, South Dakota.  Weighing 1 lb 15 oz, it was 8.0 inches in diameter (18.6 inches in circumference. It broke the former U.S. record set on 3 Sep 1970 in Coffeyville, Kansas by a stone weighing 1 lb 11 oz that had a 5.7 inch diameter.

A larger hailstone– 2 lb 4 oz– is said to have fallen in Bangladesh on April 14, 1986 in a hailstorm that killed 92 people.

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The Vivian hailstone

source

 

Written by LW

July 23, 2018 at 1:01 am

“News is what someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising.”*…

 

Local newspapers hold their governments accountable. We examine the effect of local newspaper closures on public finance for local governments. Following a newspaper closure, we find municipal borrowing costs increase by 5 to 11 basis points in the long run. Identification tests illustrate that these results are not being driven by deteriorating local economic conditions. The loss of monitoring that results from newspaper closures is associated with increased government inefficiencies, including higher likelihoods of costly advance refundings and negotiated issues, and higher government wages, employees, and tax revenues…

A new piece of academic research on (one example) of the importance of local journalism: “Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance.”

* Katherine Graham

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As we support our local journalists, we might recall that it was on this date in 1851 that  Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s anti-slavery serial, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly, starts a ten-month run in the National Era, an abolitionist newspaper.

 source (and larger version)

 

Written by LW

June 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

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