Category Archives: Media

Quote of the day: A call for news media reform

Following up on today’s post about the confusion between fake and real news, this from Victor Pickard , associate professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, writing in Jacobin:

Media are primarily designed to satisfy advertisers’ and media owners’ profit imperatives. Trump’s screen-to-screen exposure during the campaign season didn’t just reflect audience desires; rather, it served as bait for their attention.

Audience eyeballs are the coveted product that media deliver to advertisers. And to keep our attention, media must entertain us. Trump performs this role wonderfully. He keeps ratings high and ad sales strong. He is pure gold for commercial media’s bottom line, no matter how vacuous their coverage.

For the past hundred-plus years, the United States has tried to sustain its experiment in commercialized journalism by treating news as both a commodity and a public service. Although a perfect division never existed, the news industry (often out of fear of public backlash and government intervention) has long sought to prevent commercial imperatives from completely overwhelming democratic principles.

Today, as Donald Trump’s ascendance shows, any vestige of that always-porous divide is quickly disappearing. While television news media are the most blatant example, various forms of digital journalism that expose readers to invasive and deceptive advertising are also part of the problem. As revenues for hard news continue to plummet, the increasing emphasis on ersatz journalism and clickbait is deeply troubling.

What we need is a structural overhaul of our media system, one that uncouples journalism from commercial imperatives. Alternative models, both from the American past and from other countries, show us that different systems are indeed viable. But they require conscious policy interventions that establish structural safeguards and incentives for responsible and informative media.

Most students can’t tell fake news from the real deal

In this case, the fake news is called “sponsored content,” corporate propaganda appearing on news and social media websites and written or produced to mimic the forms used by real journalism.

From C|Net:

Students have trouble telling the difference between news stories and native ads (aka sponsored content), for example, and figuring out where the information came from in the first place, researchers found. More than 80 percent of students thought an ad labeled “sponsored content” was a news story.

“Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak,” researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education wrote.

The study tested “civic online reasoning” to see how students evaluate information on the internet. Researchers also wanted to determine how to teach them to separate credible sources from those that shouldn’t be trusted. They tested students — from middle school, high school and college in 12 US states, gathering 7,804 responses between January 2015 and June 2016.

“Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there,” said Sam Wineburg, the report’s lead author. “Our work shows the opposite to be true.” Wineburg is a professor and a founder of the Stanford History Education Group, which has put together curriculum for social studies classes to help students learn to evaluate primary sources.

The study tackled news literacy and examined students’ ability to evaluate Facebook and Twitter feeds, photographs, reader comments on news sites and blog posts.

Get ready for soaring cable, Internet, phone bills

Yep, a key Trump administration official wants the abolish the agency that regulates the prices of the nation’s communications system.

And that means there wouldn’t be anyone setting caps on the prices telephone, satellite, and cable companies could charge.

So prepare for slower connection speeds unless you pay premium prices, and prepare for downgraded service to rural areas and actual blocking of some web sites that offer views service providers don’t like.

And privacy? Security from unfettered government and corporate snooping?


From the Los Angeles Times:

A top advisor to Donald Trump on tech policy matters proposed all but abolishing the nation’s telecom regulator last month, foreshadowing possible moves by the president-elect to sharply reduce the Federal Communications Commission’s role as a consumer protection watchdog.

In an Oct. 21 blog post, Mark Jamison, who on Monday was named one of two members of Trump’s tech policy transition team, laid out his ideal vision for the government’s role in telecommunications, concluding there is little need for the agency to exist.

“Most of the original motivations for having an FCC have gone away,” Jamison wrote. “Telecommunications network providers and [Internet service providers] are rarely, if ever, monopolies.”

The FCC declined to comment for this story, but its current leadership has disagreed strongly with that analysis. Its Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, has spoken of an Internet service “duopoly” in much of the country that limits competition. And he has compared telecommunications to the rail and telegraph networks of the 19th century, calling for new rules of the road as the Internet becomes the dominant communications platform of the 21st century.

Wheeler has used his agency to go after allegedly misbehaving companies, proposing record-setting fines against companies for slowing down “unlimited” data plans and for billing customers for content and services they didn’t ask for. He passed proactive regulations such as net neutrality to prohibit anticompetitive behavior. And, in an unprecedented step, Wheeler made Internet providers obey the same privacy rules that legacy phone companies must abide by when handling customer data.

America’s news media gave us President Trump

We wrote our first newspaper story on 9 November 1964, a story that won the banner headline of the Valley Courier, a small town daily in Alamosa, Colorado.

From that moment we were hooked, and we’ve spent the years since documenting the world we inhabit, covering everything from car crashes and school board meetings to corporate corruption and organized crime.

In those years we’ve seen both a radical downsizing of the American news media [see the links we’ve posted under Blood on the Newsroom Floor category], while the media themselves have been swallowed up by corporadoes, or, more significantly, investment banksters eager to loot by paring news staffs to the bone ad filling their “news” with sensationalism and outright propaganda of the sort that’s without precedent during our first decades in journalism.

In a world where advertising pays more the greater number of audience eyeballs and ears captured, owners experimented with different types of coverage.

Celebrity news migrated from the celebrity rags and entertainment columns to the page front page and the fluff covered by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous migrated into prime time news shows.

When television and stations and networks started using helicopters to provide traffic reports, we soon discovered the broadcast-as-it-happens car chase. A compelling visual event usually ending in dramatic crash, a shootout, or a takedown — each visually and aurally compelling.

Then came the infamous O.J. Simpson slow-speed car chase, combining both celebrity sensation and an as-it-happens crime story in an event that kept scores of millions of eyeballs glued to the boob tube [hence validating that denigrating slang into undeniable reality.

It was, quite simply, the prototypical exemplar of what would come to be called “reality television,” that perfect fusion of news, celebrity, and the sense of sensation that comes from uncertainty of the outcome.

And then came Donald Trump, a man with shady connections and gold-plated toilets, a blowhard and braggart, a philanderer and serial polygamist, a vulgarian and a plutocrat.

In other words, perfect television.

So they gave him a reality show, and he used it to sell the only real brand he’s got, himself — or the carefully constructed persona he found most effective in getting his way.

And so, whether on a lark of fulfilling some long-held fantasy, he decided one morning he was going to pull of the greatest reality show of all, a run for the White House.

And he brought to it all the media skills he’d mastered as a professional celebrity.

And best of all, he knew how to tweet.

Instead of taking the traditional political course of using the news media as a filter, he bypassed them by going straight to his audience/

And the already debased reportorial herd was forced to dance to the tune he called.

And that brings us to tonight’s video, a report from Al Jazeera English’s The Listening Post on the news media’s abject failure in conveying the ture nature of the despicable character of the man a rigged system [he was right about that, but it’s rigged in his favor] has installed in the most powerful post in the government of the most powerful nation on earth.

From Al Jazeera English:

Trumped: The abyss between reporters and the reported

Program notes:

Political journalism in the United States – its spectacular failure in election 2016 and how it got to be this way.

Politics and the strange silence on financialization

Random musings on a Saturday night. . .

The financialization of active citizens, reconfigured as passive consumers, is the keystone of the game, creating a demand for all that stuff peddled by corporations a peddled as objects of desire both in advertising through placement in media content as symbols of wealth, power, and sexual desirability. Note to that those media, like the the corporations selling the stuff, are owned in large part by investment banksters and massive pension funds, public and private, while a new class of billionaires arises through the flood of cash generated by all that stuff — at least in advanced economies but to an alarming extent in second- and third-tier economies.

In addition to direct profits earned by manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers, even more wealth is generation by the financialization that makes it all possible. Without a scale of consumer credit unparalleled in modern history, banks generate vast sums through interest payments and fees charged for the borrowed cash that make us seeker out in order to accommodate all that stuff we’ve financed on credit cards.

And then there’s all the money needed to finance two car loans, because a second car is essential for many families with two income earners rather than the one that was the norm back when esnl was growing up in the 1950s.

And then there are those student loans you’ve got to get to land a job that gives you a crack at all that stuff, loans bigger than a lot of home mortgages and taking just as long to pay off.

Our blog flag features some very perceptive words from Aldous, Huxley, even truer today than when written more than sixty years ago:

Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence — those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.

The U.S., of course, by far the world’s largest arms merchant, and planned obsolescence is the prime directive of the “information economy,” where folks by phones every year chasing the latest gotta-have-it features and computer software that comes in an unceasing parade of enumerated editions, with creations made on an early version oftens unreadable by the latest programs. [For the first decade as a journalist, we wrote our stories on typewriters, many of them newsroom veterans older than we were. In those days, modst folks had one telephone, a heavy black two-piece contraption that never borke and you kept as long as you owned or rented your dwelling.

Similarly, back in those days credit cards were unheard of and when folks wanted to buy something like a television of some living room furniture and they couldn’t pay in full couldn’t pay, stores would put the item on lay away, holding the item until the customer was able to make a series of payments over time to cover the item cost. Or, if you had a good reputation in the community, you might get store credit and have use of them items whilst paying them off.

But when federal law changes allowed banks to operate across state lines, credit cards exploded on the scene and private debt soared.

Issues unspoken during the election

These are the most important issues confronting American society today, along with the recrudescence of racism stirred up by the President-elect.

Yet only Bernie Sanders raised the debt/financialization issue, generating the ire of Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, even though they were classic staples of New Deal-era Democrats.

Trump exploited the ire generated by the loss of class position and the hope of advancement that once inspired the American working class, but he focused that anger on the least powerful and most oppressed among us.

We had a race between a candidate who measures her wealth in the hundreds of millions and one who wealth is somewhere in the billions. Neither candidate worries about whether they can pay the rent, and the daughter of the Democrat is married to a Goldman Sachs star, whilst her opponent craps on a gold-plated toilet.

Welcome to Trump’s America, where things can only get worse.

While Hillary frittered, The Donald Twittered

And therein might lie the secret of his success.

Or so writes Shontavia Johnson, Professor of Intellectual Property Law at Drake University in The Conversation, an open source academic journal:

Donald Trump’s presidential election victory has been described as stunning, shocking and having elicited a “primal scream” from the media. The president-elect resonated enough with more than 59 million Americans that they pulled the lever for him in the voting booth and propelled him to a win.

Trump connected with his supporters both in person and on social media, particularly via Twitter. He was back tweeting mere hours after delivering his victory speech.

Trump’s affinity for Twitter is well-documented. One political operative characterized the candidate’s presence on the social networking site as “a continuous Trump rally that happens on Twitter at all hours.” His perceived dexterity led some to declare him the best on social media and winner of the social media war.

But how much influence did Twitter have during the 2016 presidential election? As a law professor who researches the internet’s impact on the tangible world, I believe the answer to this question could, in some ways, transform the way political candidates manage their campaigns for years to come.

Politics in the palm of your hand

With more than 300 million active users in the first three-quarters of 2016, Twitter allows people to interact with droves of friends and followers in 140 characters or less. While Americans tend to avoid discussions about politics offline, social media environments like Twitter make it nearly impossible to avoid political interactions on the internet. Though research shows that few Clinton or Trump supporters have close friends in the opposing camp, social media extends these connections significantly. With Twitter in particular, users are statistically more likely to follow people they do not know personally than with Facebook, where users often connect to those with whom they have some personal connection.

This is particularly powerful when you consider the impact social media has on political opinions. Long hours of exposure to political discourse can enhance participation in politics, and communication with others galvanizes political activity around common concerns. One in five people report changing their views on a political or social issue because of something they read on social media, and nearly the same amount say they changed their views about a specific candidate based on what they read there.

Trump’s uncensored tweets persuaded

Trump was remarkably effective at harnessing this type of social media power to influence opinions. His campaign successfully crowdsourced a message of anger and fear by leveraging the knowledge, contacts and skills of his followers to disseminate his tweets widely. For example, Trump would receive nearly double the number of Twitter mentions as Hillary Clinton each day, even though (or maybe because) his messages were much more negative. He also boasted about 40 percent more Twitter followers than his democratic rival.

Trump developed a rapport with his followers by maintaining his own Twitter account throughout much of his campaign. Clinton primarily used a media team – and it showed. Experts have pointed out that because Trump’s tweets largely sounded like they came directly from him – seeming off-the-cuff and unvetted by media pros – they were quite persuasive for his supporters.

This type of relationship development proved to be critical, as fans and followers joined Trump’s movement and developed into large voting blocs. Scott Adams, who created the “Dilbert” comic strip, spent much of the election season writing about Trump as a master of persuasion, particularly through his strong use of fear.

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The Simpsons foresaw Trump presidency in 2000

And it was featured in an episode to make an absurdist point.

From euronews:

In an episode aired in early 2000, the American cartoon series The Simpsons predicted what has today become reality: a Donald Trump Presidency.

16 years ago, Lisa Simpson was pictured in the famous Oval Office, the President’s personal office, surrounded by advisors.

“As you know, we’ve inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump”, she says. One of her advisors, Milhouse, then produces a chart showing the extent of the problem.

Writer Dan Greaney said in March that the storyline was chosen “because it was consistent with the vision of America going insane”.

“We needed Lisa to have problems that were beyond her fixing, that everything went as bad as it possibly could… that’s why we had Trump”.