Math and Journalism: #wjchat Storified

After my ambitious intentions (and subsequent struggles) to utilize Rupaul’s Drag Race and hashtag #dragrace as the setting for my assigned Twitter chat, I learned the setting for a viable chat needed to be smaller, more intimate and actually more specialized.  Alongside my classmates in Social Media Theory, I participated in such a Twitter chat during the weekly #wjchat scenario, which takes up different topics each week pertaining to journalism.  Journalism professionals, professors and students from all across the country participated. I got a firm grasp on how a Twitter chat should actually work during this process.

An interesting observation did surface during this Twitter chat as well. While the primary (and also challenging) conversation about math and its role in journalism continued on the main hashtag feed, I saw pretty quickly that subsets of conversation can easily develop during these scenarios.  An observation I made engaged two other participants in the Twitter chat (who also happened to be classmates and who have two very different backgrounds in journalism).  I was intrigued to see how our semi-private, related yet unrelated conversation developed its own identity while the three of us maintained engagement in the main Twitter chat conversation.

Indeed, it’s accurate to say that for a guy who only a few weeks ago had never even really tweeted at all, my experience with Twitter already has advanced far beyond capabilities and benefit of understanding that I could’ve never foreseen. Follow the link below to see how I’m evolving!

Females and Youtube: An Academic Study

Youtube’s Most Viewed Videos: Where the Girls Aren’t

For an assignment to find and summarize a recent (less than year old) academic article that studied concepts related to the online video sharing service called Youtube, I was surprised to find that there were far fewer such academic articles available than I suspected. Academic research on the medium exists, but the research is largely dated–ranging heavily in the 2005-2009 year range.  Finding a recent article proved to be a bit of a challenge.

I had hoped I could find academic research pertaining to Youtube and my chosen ‘beat blog’ topic of gay men and stereotyping. Although there was some research available in this arena, it was far older than the assignment called for. Then I found the above linked article written by Dr. Mary Tucker-McLaughlin, a professor at East Carolina University.  Although not related to my ‘beat blog’ topic directly, the author endeavored to survey the amount of female representation and female-originated content shared on Youtube.  This type of gender representation study is at least related  to how images of different societal sub-groups are treated or represented in media, and I found the results of the study to be intriguing.

Based on her survey of academic and industry research, Tucker-McLaughlin alluded to established findings that women are less likely to be a part of the technological revolution.  Citing statistics from the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT), the author explains that in 2009, only 25 percent of information technology (IT) positions were held by women. Of that number, only two percent of these female IT professionals were African American.  Further, the author cited research which highlighted less of a tendency for women to be as active in the creation of online digital content. Specifically, Tucker-McLaughlin quoted authors Thornham and McFarlane when they alleged that females “are actively  excluding themselves from (technological) activities using gendered discourses of sociability and incompetence.”

To discern whether these technological trends for females applied to Youtube activity, Tucker-McLaughlin conducted a content analysis of Youtube videos listed in what she called the ‘most-viewed’ listing on the site’s homepage. (The site’s homepage now lists these videos under the title “Popular.”)  The content analysis was conducted over a two-week period in 2010 and analyzed content of 67 videos posted on the site. In her research, the author focused on what gender the videos’ content focused on and the gender of the primary actor(s) in each video.  Her findings summed up three general categories wherein the videos in the content analysis could be grouped:

  • Escapism–content related to favorite pasttimes such as sports, music and non-offensive comedy. This category composed 55% of the total videos surveyed for the research. A full 65% of the videos in this category featured male gender representation, male actors and “male nuances.” Of the remaining videos which were female-gender-oriented, the author found that much of the content pertained to hair and makeup.
  • Male entertainment at the expense of others–content primarily comprised of misogynistic discourse and violence. This category comprised 25% of the total videos analyzed for the study.  Content in these videos was discerned to be obscene and even violent or derogatory toward women, containing allusions to molestation or offensive reference to female genitalia and sexual objectification of females.
  • Information gathering–videos gathered from news sites or which were news-related. These videos largely were gender neutral. This category composed 14% of the total videos surveyed.

Tucker-McLaughlin’s conclusions about her findings in her content analysis of Youtube videos seem to verify that gender plays a role in technology, suggesting that women’s issues are less likely to be a part of what technology solves and that technological advancements are less likely to include what women conceive due to their less-frequent involvement as compared to males. With specific reference to Youtube, her findings suggested that Youtube exposes women to misogynistic content and that women are less likely to produce their own Youtube content.  According to the author, women are under-represented or inappropriately represented in this setting and alternative voices are a lesser part of the Youtube discourse. Her advice for reaction is that if women do not participate more, this misrepresentation and/or lack thereof will only be allowed to continue.

(For my part, this research seems weak and barely in-depth enough to substantially corroborate any prior academic findings. I was actually quite surprised to find this published in an academic journal. Based on my experience with academic research thus far in graduate school and as copy editor at Newspaper Research Journal, it appears that publishable work typically requires more exhaustive research and a more firm and involved literature review.  The unconventional nature of this study is as much what grabbed my attention about it as was its content.)

Weekly Reading Insights–Week 6

For this week’s readings we once again turn to the writing of Clay Shirky, who, in the final chapters of his book, takes on the overarching principles important to consider with the evolutionary and cultural change being brought on by social interaction online. Shirky digs down into the deepest psychology of cultural reality and functionality in an online world in these chapters, summarizing what he sees as the fundamental realities of the digital world we now live in. I can easily grasp this cultural shift that Shirky evaluates just by being in same generation.  Having gone to college and been in the work force for even a few years before the advent of the internet, it’s easily tangible to discern how society has changed–a far cry from the perception of the so-called ‘digital natives‘ of ensuing generations who have only known internet-driven life. Thus, Shirky’s insights offer current and almost prophetic advice in these final chapters.

Perhaps as importantly as any of the concepts discussed by Shirky in this last part of his book is the concept of failure. As with any new startup possibility now and throughout history, the possibility of failure is incumbent.  In offline settings, this reality can be a function of poor planning, financial impropriety, faulty organizational tactics or a combination thereof. While these flaws remain constant for forming organizations in an online setting, Shirky aptly points out that to fail online is, at once, far cheaper.  Due to the far-reaching capabilities of open sourcing and crowd-sourcing in the development of anything from new software to social group formation in the digital realm, the online community (or as Shirky calls it, the ‘ecosystem’) provides for this handily due to its very communicative nature.  Propose an idea online and call for help, and typically at least a few interested people will respond.  If enough interested people participate, the idea can flourish.  That initial idea or momentum may not come to fruition for multiple reasons–and with limited financial investment.  Nonetheless, the online collaboration and the legwork and creativity formed around the idea still exists and can be mutated and applied to other situations.  All the while, the work and the investment has been at minimal cost.  This failure, Shirky contends, is not only necessary, but conducive. Failure equals research.

According to Shirky, there are some primary reasons for failure in this new digital community, especially in the arena of group formation and social interaction online.  If a group’s identity is suggested as too broad, too specific, or too boring, the endeavor can likely only fail.  Conversely, when a purpose for a social tool in the digital realm is user-determined and serves an immediate need for a component of society, the likelihood that users will congregate under its umbrella increases.  I found it particularly interesting where Shirky contends that willingness to start on any given project is more likely in collaboration than if the work is individual and ‘from scratch.’  This functionality, coupled with the less-expensive concern of failure, is easily accomplished on the internet.

With open source development of software as his example, Shirky explains how the internet makes failure cheaper:

  1. the endeavor doesn’t have any literal ’employees’
  2. there is no notable financial investment
  3. there are no actual business decisions involved

In this setting, online open-source style development “doesn’t handicap the likelihood of success.” (p. 246).  It is in this ecosystem of collaboration and creation, where every participant claims ownership in the process, that new ideas/groups/startups and indeed an evolved culture can flourish.

Shirky illustrates how our culture is migrating in this direction by contending that when a company or organization finds something that ‘works,’ that organization is more likely to stick with that process and attempt to advance in that area rather than invest too many resources in the development of newer, untested programs. Although this does create a tolerance for the status quo, it’s a cheaper route for most organizations. However, in the new digital realm where communication and cooperation are easier, cheaper and far less likely to fail, evolution is occurring to flesh out new practices, programs and endeavors that previously might’ve been left by the wayside. This is clearly a foundational cultural advancement.

Shirky finally sets out to explain the basic functionality of what he sees as best practices for new social media outlets available in contemporary society.   He details the required components as being a promise, appropriate tools, and the bargain.  Regarding promise, social media must lay out what it will offer potential users. This offer has to be better or more valuable than what people already have available for their lives. The suggested promise of what the outlet will offer has to be accurate and not too specific or sweeping and it must create a sense of value and shared ownership of participation.  The tools available for using the media in question must fit be as easy as possible. The tools must be limited or they may overextend what is promised. These tools must also be based on the number of people involved and the duration of interaction. Last, the implied bargain between users of social media tools is important, in that it clarifies what people can expect from each other. This bargain requires users to mutually guard the terms of the scenario so that its functionality and usefulness is not undermined. And all users who participate must agree to the implied bargain for participation to be beneficial.

This basic skeleton for how social media applications best operate as laid out by Shirky  in the final parts of his book relies on the main component of any of this online interaction: the human element. Online social interaction for any purpose is in and of itself a social bargain.  The internet is a social setting, and breakdown in advancement will occur when the human element doesn’t play by the proverbial rules.  Indeed, governance is still required, as Shirky points out in the cases of the White Bicycles in Amsterdam and regarding failures in the early days of Ebay activity.  While the internet and social media provides the most profound arena for cultural change and evidence of that change, when users continue to misuse or abuse the technologies and opportunities presented is where breakdown occurs.

And while part of the failure Shirky speaks about is because of misuse, inevitably some of it is also from human attempt to play catch-up, as he puts it. Technology and cultural momentum changes as rapidly via the internet as those of us who are ‘digital immigrants‘ can keep up with.  The future of how the digital social world will evolve is as much our responsibility to accommodate as it is the responsibility of newer generations to drive it forward. As Marc Prensky points out, it’s all a process of advancing our collective ‘digital wisdom.’