Weekly Reading Insights–Week 8

For this week’s reading, we take a look at metrics and the various tools available to measure our online activity.  Indeed, in contemporary online society and especially for digital journalists, it’s not just about writing an article to deadline anymore.  The capabilities of online tracking, measuring, and analyzing engagement have added responsibility to not only write good content, but to be capable of positioning it and promoting it correctly.  Because the tools are there, they should be used.  And knowing how to do that is crucial.

Analytics and metrics are obviously something we never needed to contend with when I worked in the television news business. Ratings operations like Nielsen have thankfully handled that task for the television industry  for years.  And the work of Nielsen was pretty much the only way metrics could be achieved for television entertainment and news.  But alas, the times have changed. That is easily evidenced just by signing on to Nielsen’s webpage.  The first headline that pops up is “Online Measurement” and this quote: “Understanding how your brand is doing online is about more than clicks and page views. It’s about the audience.”

In the readings for this week, I perceived a couple of categories when it comes to metrics: how to achieve metrics and the growing science of metrics.

In the “how to” category, I can already acknowledge that I have bookmarked Leo Widrich’s article titled “A Scientific Guide to Writing Great Headlines on Twitter, Facebook, and Your Blog.” This article is gold and a significant and practical resource for anyone who needs to ramp up their online headline writing.  These pointers are especially useful for me in particular. With the bulk of my professional news experience rooted in television news, writing headlines was something I never had much responsibility for or experience with.  Headlines per se don’t really exist in television news (although skill in writing them is relevant to good lead sentence writing).  But now, headline writing–and really GOOD headline writing–is a requirement for anyone who endeavors online, whether that endeavor is as a digital journalist or a blogger or even just a Twitter user.  Indeed, these pointers are good for all of us.

Specifically and most notably, this article specifies the importance of using action words in online headline writing, as well as being bold to ask for downloads and retweets. And very akin to the best practices for writing a television news story headline, Widrich wisely recommends using “you” when writing headlines in an attempt to make stories seem more personally relatable.

Widrich also highlights the importance of using photos–but not just any photos. He points out that images significantly increase online engagement, but even mores when they are images that can convey meaning without requiring text. Self-explanatory photography is an art, and an incumbent photography skill for online engagement.  Widrich speaks to brevity, as well. We all know the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter and how a requirement on brevity as such can be a challenge. But Widrich suggests to impose that same brevity in headline writing on Facebook and elsewhere. He specifically suggests to keep it under 80 characters.  Indeed, shorter is more engaging online.

I liked the advice in this article that suggested using Twitter for A/B testing, especially with blog headlines.  Using Twitter statistics to establish validity before placing a headline on a blog or elsewhere is inspired and something I would’ve never even thought of doing with my own online platforms. Yeah, gold. The healthy list of resources in Gerry Moran’s piece is invaluable as well.  I also bookmarked this one. Tools, tools, tools. Especially free ones.  This is a good thing.

As to what is apparently a growing science about metrics, the article by data scientist Brian Abelson was an eye-opener. I’m aware and familiar with metrics, having previously built my own public relations dashboard for another class at the University.  And because we talk about it in our graduate student circles even pertaining to our own personal social media, I have a command on the necessity and importance. But to read to what extent academic and scientific research is foraging into the arena was really compelling. In the article, Abelson details his research into how pageviews on the New York Times website can differ with the implementation of promotion of content on social media platforms.  Through a statistical and visual interpretation of his findings that were as detailed and complicated as any academic research article, Abelson establishes his findings that promotion increases said page views.

The author also details the often-overlooked aspect of resource investment into attaining metrics.  Comparable to the origination of the term “horsepower” that this concept’s evaluation of the strength of a machine does not necessarily take into account the “resources required to generate a given amount of force,” Abelson explains that likewise, news organizations can’t simply count pageviews on a website. These organizations have to account for the resource investment (i.e. cross-promotion/advertising, etc.) that is required to accomplished those pageviews.

This is all such a new realm of thought to me.  I’ve investigated my dashboard on my WordPress blogs and have enjoyed seeing those static results.  I have my own Klout score (and a pretty darn high one I’ve heard at 59).  And I’m constantly monitoring my level of engagement on Facebook–if for no other reason than to see how my ‘fans’ are enjoying my ‘show.’ 😉

To gain perspective from this article on the importance of the level of investment in attaining these metrics,  I feel like I’m even better equipped going forward with my personal online endeavors at self-branding but even more so with my “beat blog” on gay male stereotyping on television. Even a little better understanding at the science of metrics and the factors that fold into it will help me decide what my best strategies are as I proceed to attempt to leverage my blog and its content for the highest levels of engagement.

Overall, the readings this week did indeed provide more information than just the importance of measuring online endeavor.  As summed up in the piece by Moran, reach is about more than counting.  It’s about who you can reach and to what extent you can engage.  Moran’s simple pointers as to considerations of what time is best to post online content, attempting to reach beyond just your followers, finding the right followers, finding influencers, and branding correctly all point to the new role of responsibility that journalists face in the online realm that goes far beyond mere content and deadline.



Weekly Reading Insights–Week 7

Assignment: Choose an article of interest (regarding location-based/geosocial services) to summarize as part of your journal blog reflections.

This week’s topic is as foreign yet as familiar to me as anything we’ve discussed so far.

The concept and functionality of geosocial services is probably one of the social media elements I am most familiar with.  I’ve long been a fan of ‘checking in’ on Facebook, to the point that many of my friends on there have a tendency to get a laugh out of it.  In my pre-grad school days and to some extent still now, I can be a pretty mobile guy when it comes to a night on the town or actually just in general daily routine. And unlike most (or maybe even ALL) of my Facebook counterparts, I have had a tendency to check in just about everywhere I go. This can result in three to five checkins in the three-or-four-hour course of a given evening. Because I guess many people on my friends list are a bit more sedentary and because the typical Facebook user has the site up on their computer for hours at a time, it’s easy to be distracted by that kind of activity on my part.  So I get the response “where is Barry gonna be in the next five minutes?” pretty often.

Alluding to what we discussed in class to some extent, I also like that social media (and checking in an as a record of activity) allow us to compose a veritable digital archive of our own history. It’s fun to look back and see where I was or what I was doing a year  or more ago, and the social media record makes that easy to do.  So in the personal aspect, location-based functionality has been a friend of mine.

Where geosocial functionality is foreign to me is in the realm of journalism. Quite honestly, when this consideration first presented itself, I couldn’t imagine how a reporter could capitalize on an app like Foursquare. Part of that confusion was because I wasn’t really familiar with that application, but further because it just didn’t configure how location-based technology and journalism could cohabitate. Obviously location matters when reporting news events, but because I didn’t have a command for how Foursquare even works, it just didn’t make sense.

Then I downloaded the app. Whoa.  This is like a match made in HEAVEN.  Now that I understand the features and benefits of an app like Foursquare, I can only guess how excited I would’ve been to have had this  kind of tool when I was a reporter.  “Going where the people are,” as Snow characterizes it, is a God-send for reporters. Gone are the days of my experience when a reporter might end up standing outside the Post Office for hours on end desperately trying to find someone willing to comment about a story on camera. Not only is the ‘man on the street’ more gregarious these days (probably largely because of social media), but he is also more easily located.  This is an easy function of crowd sourcing as well.

And the whole ‘tips‘ aspect tied in with geosocial services like Foursquare–now that’s cool.  I got a quick understanding about that with only my very first check-in (and my first visit) at Taziki’s after class last week, when I immediately read a tip from my colleague Elle Perry about what was good to eat there. Awesome.

But there are drawbacks.  A long-time user of the location-based “gay dating app” called Grindr, in many ways I’ve loved the capability to meet and talk to guys whom that app indicates are nearby. That has come in especially handy being new in Memphis.  And an article in the suggested list for summary indicates that app has made the move to Android in addition to iPhone-based access.  Growth is a good thing, because with any luck it indicates there are increasing numbers of other guys to talk to. 😉

Following a link on that article led me to another that had more compelling (and also somewhat disturbing) implications for location-based technology. Apparently Grindr has launched into the world of heterosexual interaction for its geosocial services.  As Nitasha Tiku writes, straight people can now enjoy the same convenience of meeting people via Grindr’s technology. This is not new, as other such location-based dating technologies exist. But what’s compelling in this particular article is how Tiku points out that the technology is particularly convenient for residents in dense metro areas like New York City, where there are actually too many people to meet.  This is opposite to my typical experience as a client of Grindr, where the opportunities to meet men in the areas I’ve typically lived in are too sparse and the app simply is a way of meeting someone at all.

But as Tiku points out, for some, the risk of exposure in heavily populated areas multiplies exponentially and negatively with this type of app.  It could be very likely to be looking at the profile of a person sitting right across from you on the subway.  Normally that might be okay–even a good thing.  But on the chance that the person owning that other profile is creepy or has underhanded intentions, this whole scenario just puts a face on the risk.  The antidote is as much as keeping your face off your profile, but eventually face pictures are swapped in online scenarios like these, so the risk pervades when someone can nearly pinpoint your exact location.

This article goes on to explain how Grindr’s new heterosexual version of its technology might best work as a type of Craigslist ‘missed connections’ function, where users can essentially more easily attempt to re-encounter someone they had previously seen in a public place when there might be no other means to try to reestablish that connection.  Craigslist for mobile users, as it were, I can see how useful that function would be, especially in very crowded urban areas where both chance and missed encounters are likely the frequent order of the day.

In either aspect, Grindr and other geosocial services like it that serve as interpersonal/dating sites have already shown tremendous success. In 2011 during the app’s pre-android existence, there were already 1.5 million male users via iOS and Blackberry  in 180 countries. Obviously there are a host of social media users who have already learned not to be afraid of location-based technology, which is largely due to everyday, more general-use apps like Foursquare.  The trend of comfortability with this type of self-exposure will likely only continue to grow.


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.’

Weekly Reading Insights-Week 5

At first, I considered that our readings in Clay Shirky’s book for this week and the suggested outside readings about capitalizing on still photography for online use were unrelated.  The reading topics for each week’s class don’t generally have to be related, but I like to establish some sort of connection amongst the themes if I can. In most aspects and at face value, it initially appeared that this week’s topics are disparate. Shirky takes on the general ideas of “social capital” and “bridging and bonding” in his chapters.   I initially couldn’t see how that could pertain to photography at all.

But after some consideration, I’ve envisioned how best practices of personal internet photography and the concepts of bridging and bonding social capital do intertwine–and in profound ways.

Indeed, the Internet has changed our culture. For illustration, Shirky alludes to Robert Putnam‘s pivotal work entitled Bowling Alone. (Which, by the way, was the most intriguing and enlightening reading for me during Mass Comm Theory last semester.) When Putnam composed his insights, he fingered television for the devolution of society’s tendency toward group interaction. Putnam characterized that trend in 2000Shirky takes a look at it now, and as it pertains to the Internet. And what he sees is dissimilar.

Rather than devolution of group interaction, Shirky suggests that the Internet has promoted societal assembly.  It has made it easier. It’s become cheaper. And thereby, there is more of it. Rooted in what Robert Axelrod has characterized as the general human tendency to be reciprocal and “shadow the future” by doing good things for others on the presumption that they will return that favor,  Shirky and Axelrod allow this concept to apply to social interaction and collective cultural group identity. It’s essentially “paying it forward,” as it were. As Shirky contends, we strive toward the best with our social interaction. And we innately desire it. This urge inevitably increases our investment in social capital. It’s human nature to assemble with others, we do good things to ensure it, and thus it has been a human tendency.

When Putnam considered that television as a technology interrupted that, Shirky illustrates the internet as a champion of it.

Integral to a discussion of social capital investment are the concepts of bridging and bonding, illustrated succinctly in the writings of Pippa Norris. The internet has redefined the ways humanity approaches these concepts.  In bridging, we reach out to others who are unlike us in order to invest in the new or foreign. Bonding, on the other hand, characterizes a tendency to cleave to the familiar.  Society has not previously witnessed as electric an environment on either front as has been viewable with online activity.  Shirky contends, and I concur, that our society is in a new, more intensive and dynamic realm of social interaction on both fronts. Walls for interaction have disappeared, and the resultant increase in group formation and activity is obvious.

Shirky also indicates that this new culture of increased social interaction has its downfalls. Professional roles have been eliminated, in that the human coordination element has been largely removed from the equation. This is particularly obvious in the news business, as mass amateurization has undermined the gatekeeping role of news organizations. Also, what Shirky calls the social bargain is compromised, as the Internet allows people to evade governmental and journalistic limitation. His third perceived downfall is the general danger of communicative and group-based freedom (i.e. for mass activity as well as negative momentums). This concern speaks for itself.

So how does it all this pertain to photography and sharing pictures online?  The implicated advice is clear: be smart and skilled about how you take pictures you intend to post online, and then be very selective about what you follow through with posting. Online endeavor towards investment in social capital is our new way of life, and it is no longer merely a function of written expression. The Internet is now the vehicle for how we coalesce in modern times, but we no longer solely rely on written communication to do it. Words pervade, but we utilize images more profoundly in contemporary online society. Old school still photos in hard copy have a legacy of being worth 1,000 words.  But the audience is now amplified to a global one, with any given set of eyes perusing what we post at any given time. It is incumbent to consider within this new momentum of personal online branding that we use photographs to our benefit. Basic skill at photography is a requirement. And tutorials abound. It is now requisite to pay attention to what we broadcast for our own online image.

But considering how significant and fast-forward online communication is in the realm of social capital investment and how the concepts of bridging and bonding flourish in online interaction, utilizing intuitive and quality photography can either further or inhibit that possibility. We can identify with others across the world without typing a word if we correctly utilize images. And we can simultaneously miss opportunities or ostracize ourselves if we do so recklessly.

Indeed, as our global community waxes and as affiliations rise and amplify at the hand of the Internet, it is paramount to duly equip oneself with at least basic skill and awareness with still photography.  If Shirky is right in his assessment that the concept of community(ies) will only be advanced by the Internet–for better or worse–, the images we post today can either be a death-knell or a proponent to the potentially life-changing and significant social capital scenarios we could navigate tomorrow.

Weekly Reading Insights-Week 4

The overarching theme in the readings and lecture this week is a simple idea, but a crucial one in an age of online communication: the power of the crowd. Not only is this power crucial to advance an individual’s campaign or spread news, but as discussed by Shirky, the more profound consideration is the power of the crowd to effect change. And this is a power that is largely still a developing concept in modern society.  Spurred exponentially by the existence of the Internet, collective crowd effort is still a fairly  new cultural phenomenon–one that is really only beginning to demonstrate its profound effects.

We’re abundantly aware that collective effort can create societal change. History’s evidence of this is plentiful. But as Shirky details in the account of the “Voice of the Faithful” (VOTF) group which organized in the face of scandal in the Catholic Church, this collective momentum is an altogether new phenomenon in the Internet age.  When groups previously had to rely on word-of-mouth or time-consuming and costly mail campaigns or if they could even aspire to some sort of media attention for their cause to help get their word out, contemporary group organization is now as simple as turning on one’s computer.  This is how the VOTF was capable of growing from a fledgling group into a massive organization that prompted changes in the leadership of the Church—and in only six months.

It’s easy to see that the quick and profound growth of the VOTF impacted the Catholic Church in short order. But that wasn’t the only outcome.  As Shirky points out, the Boston Globe (the newspaper which initially reported the story of Geoghan’s alleged crimes against children) noted an increase in its general readership as a result of VOTF activity.  Further, the hearty online discourse about the accusations against Geoghan and VOTF activity prompted a wide range of other discourses.  Lay member activity across geographical boundaries, previously frowned upon by the church, became a new possibility and prompted more strength in numbers for the Catholic congregation.  Organizations formed for the sole intent of tracking priestly abuse. The whole ordeal turned into a real headache for the Church—one that it would’ve never faced had the means to quickly coalesce large numbers of interested people via the internet had not been an option.

This scenario provides insight for general consideration. Because, as Shirky points out, the Internet removes “locality of information and barriers to group reaction,” (p. 153), collective effort and action is now quick and easy and can be expansive. And the results can often be formidable and even damning for churches, businesses or governments against whom the public has a grievance.  This ease of forming group momentum has indeed changed the way society operates. A distinct example is the so-called Arab Spring, a social movement that was essentially and almost single-handedly birthed through Twitter.  This type of social coalescence and organization can largely be a private endeavor, one fairly unnoticeable to governmental intervention. This lends an entirely new meaning to the term ‘freedom of the press,’ wherein this freedom has always been reserved for those who own the press.  With internet access, everyone who utilizes it is now a publisher. There are almost no restrictions (other than Internet access) for the general public to make its voice heard, and to communicate that voice to others of the same mind and form collective movements around that voice.

Collective effort is not limited to church or government demise, however.  A crucial tool in developing an online audience and capitalizing on the audience’s resources, the concept can be a powerful tool for journalists as we attempt to navigate the new news landscape online and disseminate the news.  Also called crowdsourcing, the endeavor seeks to draw off the knowledge and experience of the audience. Journalistic organizations such as ProPublica and CNN’S iReport are prime examples of utilizing consumer/public input to further the cause of news dissemination.  Applying in business settings as well, the concept is a derivative of the idea of free labor.  When there is such an urge for information and products in today’s society, keeping up with demand can require substantial resources.  By crowdsourcing, much of the resource investment that would be required is allayed due to drawing off the public’s collective knowledge, insights and general access to information.

Indeed, in a world where there are many voices competing for attention in the online realm and with an ever-increasing need to establish integrity and accountability among those voices, crowdsourcing is a powerful tool to aid in the effort to be heard and noticed.  The idea is has become so important that there are now even websites and blogs devoted to discussing best practices at how to be most effective at crowdsourcing. Essentially, establishing and maintain community engagement requires straight-forwardness and ease of participation, as well as constantly maintaining communication with those who will engage.

With my own developing “beat” blog for Social Media Theory, I’m abundantly aware of how crowdsourcing will be crucial to that blog’s development.  As I have chosen to survey the stereotypical portrayal of gay men on television and its effects on the gay audience, I will inevitably rely on individual input from as many in the community as I can secure.  But also because there is much evidence to analyze in the broad range of television shows that depict gay men both past and present, to undertake that evaluation on my own is too big a task. I will have to rely on the analyses of others to complement my blog content.  Affiliating with and engaging with as many others who have a mutual interest in the topic to draw off of their knowledge is incumbent.

Through the power of crowdsourcing and with the limited amount of perspective about gay male stereotyping I have so far been able to encounter online, I hope my developing blog will be able to effect some change.  I don’t anticipate that my efforts will be as notable as prompting administration change in the Catholic Church. But with the right participation and savvy capitalization on collective effort, maybe I can eventually garner at least some attention from the television ‘powers that be.’ And in that proposed instance, I’ll truly be able to claim a personal witness for the power of the crowd.

Weekly Reading Insights-Week 3

Blogging vs. Journalism:  Insights and Observations

This week’s topic is one that pulls me personally in various directions.  At issue is the war between bloggers and journalists. These are two worlds that repeatedly collide in our current reality, where writing in the growing online realm is free, easy and available to almost everyone, and when the field of journalism as we’ve known it is rapidly fading. The worlds also cross-over, considering that many journalists have become notable bloggers and that some bloggers have successfully utilized this online vehicle to secure employment in the journalism field. Having been a professional journalist and having likewise enjoyed a healthy audience for a personal blog, I can easily discern merit in both camps as well as I can perceive the incumbent operational conflicts.

For an accurate analysis of how these two fields of communication interact, it’s important to first consider the nature of each.  A blog (a shortened version of the term ‘weblog’) by definition is a “a website containing a writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.” The key words here are “writers’ own experience” and “opinion.” This is, indeed, the general nature of a blog.  The most accepted characterization of a blog is as an “online diary.” These are the online, personal outlets where the previously faceless and voiceless can write about their insights and opinions on any subject conceivable.  And millions do—as many as 31 million blogs exist in the United States alone. And when the blogging trend has simply been characterized as a sort of personal online journal in its infancy, topics now range primarily along political and public policy lines including government, diplomacy, healthcare, education and a wide range of more societally-minded subject matter.  The underlying beauty of blogging is the freedom to inject personal voice.  In many instances, that personal voice can achieve notoriety and even national attention, lending audience and credibility to writers who largely have no journalistic credential and who typically do not abide by journalistic norm.

Journalism, on the other hand, has always been characterized by the intended absence of personal voice.  As Rosen aptly illustrates it, journalistic writing/reporting disallows “cheering in the press box.”  For journalists, many believe that the reputation of the industry relies on its members to be as purely objective as possible and to absolutely refrain from the inclusion of personal opinion.  Others suggest that pure objectivity is probably quite impossible. Regardless, the urge and importance of striving for that ideal goal of opinion-free journalistic reporting has been largely pervasive in the industry.  Journalism does allow for the expression of opinion in defined situations, as with editorial pages in a newspaper. But in general and quite opposite to the freedom to opine in blogs, journalism is typically opinion-free.

Because it seems that these two genres of writing exist within different realms of design and purpose, it appears that there should be an easy co-existence.  That has not been the case amongst insiders, however, considering the Internet’s partial demise of the journalism industry as it has existed.  Because many news- and information-seekers are now just as likely to peruse online content for information as they are to pick up a newspaper, blogging is stepping on journalism’s very toes. As Shirky points out and as we have all become abundantly aware, the Internet has allowed everyone to become a media outlet. For better or worse, citizen journalism by way of blogging is as much a news and information source for many as is the evening news on television.  For journalism, this is a direct threat—especially when what is available in online blogs, etc. can be of questionable authority and lack accountability.

Shirky illustrates this concept of citizen journalism, namely describing how interpersonal interaction has segued from ‘one-to-one’ (as with telephone usage) to ‘one-to-many’ (where one person’s intuition expressed online can quickly become disseminated to vast numbers of readers/viewers).  This allows online communication to resemble the act of traditional journalism.  Shirky points out that ideas/news being published online can typically occur in smaller outlets, but in many of them.  The frequency of this smaller-scale publishing can ultimately aggregate, amplify and possibly even ultimately outweigh the visibility of larger but fewer professional outlets publishing the same news. (Or more specifically and as in the case of the Trent Lott speech, smaller outlets and bloggers can focus less on news cycle or ‘old news’ concerns and pick apart and heavily publicize a story which might be ignored or overlooked by mainstream media.) Once again, these are direct threats to the existence of the traditional news business.  And once again, the question of accuracy and authority comes into play.  Indeed, the public has a ‘right to know.’  But if the information being conveyed by citizen journalists in blogs and elsewhere online is errant or skewed with heavy personal opinion, the entire democratic function of journalism as a concept can be in danger.

But from a personal perspective, I believe there is no need for competition or for one medium to usurp another’s role. They can and should co-exist. This week’s reading upholds this contention.

The existence of citizen journalism in the blogosphere is truly a new societal reality because of the Internet. Both Shirky and Rosen characterize this popularity, and explicate the threats to journalism I have already discussed. But what the two writers also do is to explain that this blogger vs. journalist dynamic is largely unnecessary.  While it’s true that information dissemination via the Internet has changed where and how consumers attain news, blogging and the like has actually ‘enlarged the team.’ Journalists can now often rely on consumers to provide information, photo and video to enhance a story that would otherwise be lacking some of these elements due to a news outlet’s financial or logistical limitations.  In addition, common sense and discernment allow us to decide when a blogger is, as Rosen puts it, an angry person in ‘mommy’s basement’ merely spewing opinion.  Those blogs largely go unnoticed and typically weed themselves out.  Mass amateurization, participatory contribution and user-generated content online have all brought many new would-be journalists into a new version of the mainstream. All the while, journalists continue to do their work.  As we continue to witness the increased readership and accountability of blogging and the simultaneous necessity of traditional journalism to survive and expand its typical business approaches in this new world of media, a functional and distinct partnership between online and traditional media can and should continue to grow.

Weekly Reading Insights-Week 1

“Does the Internet Make You Dumber?” by Nicholas Carr


“Does the Internet Make You Smarter?” by Clay Shirky

While I love a sound debate, I fear that there was no real argument when comparing these two articles considering the effects of increasing internet use on mental cognition.  Carr had the easy job in the fight, and simply because of nature of how the internet works.

At the very root of its design, the Internet clearly causes our attentions to be more short-lived.  Indeed, if each of us were polled about our own typical use, we’d have to admit that (unless we’re required to for grad school, heh) we rarely finish reading entire pieces of writing we find online.  I daresay that quite typically, we don’t even get online to do so.  We go looking for a specific answer to a question or specific tidbit of information or for a song or a video. And even though there’s often plenty of information and reading to wade through until we get to what we want to find, we bounce through all that information to get to what we want. We skim. We hit the high points. We don’t consume even small percentages of the information we wade through.  Indeed, we’d be preoccupied for a while if we tried to do that during any given search, due the overwhelming amounts of information available online and with a mere mouse-click.  And I believe it’s largely due to that voluminous accessibility and a sense of being overwhelmed that we don’t completely read through what we can find online–aside from the fact that we’ve been conditioned not to even bother.

Carr characterizes the result as a “division of attention.” So much online stimuli combined with the many links and extensive search results we encounter can cause us to turn fairly quickly away from a matter at hand to investigate something else.  We are encouraged not to “pay deep attention,” which, as explained in the article, is how neuroscientist Eric Kandel claims that we learn. Therefore, if we’re no longer conditioned to invest because of the internet, we don’t learn as deeply as if we ingested more comprehensively.  Gone are the days where even a healthy percentage of our society in general reads entire books.  Internet surfing as a replacement has resulted in a distractable society that doesn’t glean as much deep knowledge and understanding.

Carr does point out that our visual skills are one aspect wherein the internet increases our capabilities. Advancing video/visual technology causes our capabilities of learning visually to increase.  But he also points out that visual learning can yield more knee-jerk mental processing.  Indeed, studies have indicated that when we learn by visual processing, our secondary thought processes are more typically a product of reaction rather than synthesis.  This further contributes to our lessening of focused attention and, as Carr says, it makes us shallower.

Carr also points out multi-tasking studies which indicate that those who attempt to learn while performing a series of tasks simultaneously do not perform as well on assessments.  Once again, the inability or unwillingness to pay attention to a function at a time causes us to be less effective at each function.  I see many of my classmates attempting this multi-tasking in function in class.  With their laptops open and while they ‘listen’ to lectures, they meanwhile chat on Facebook or surf the internet.  It’s an inevitable tendency, and according to what Carr suggests, the scenario undermines deep learning.

Shirky, on the other hand, chooses to contend that the ongoing development of the internet and its uses is a contributor to learning.  In his article, he claims that “the net. . . restores reading and writing as central activities in our culture.” I can’t disagree.  It’s easy to acknowledge that our society as a whole is reading far more than it has in years past due to the availability of information at our fingertips online.  But Shirky’s allusions to earlier writers and thinkers such as Martin Luther and Edgar Allan Poe as they mused on historical increases in publishing simply undermines his argument that increase is necessarily beneficial. When overabundance can be overwhelming and can also inject lesser quality, the deep learning discussed by Carr is undermined.

Shirky is likely accurate that Internet use will eventually cause us to become smarter.  But based on our general habits now and much like the immediate aftermath of the creation of the printing press, I believe Carr wins this argument with the contention that the internet might be making us a little dumber.

“The #freemona Perfect Storm: Dissent and the Networked Public Sphere” by Tufecki Zeynep & “Beyond Gingras: Tech Innovation Alone Will Not Democratize Media” by Seth Ashley

While solid arguments like those above both for and against the internet’s role on our cognition will continue, there is no argument about how networked our society has become due to the internet’s advent.   We’ve veritably become a global society. And social media is largely to thank for that.  In ways that we’ve never seen before, we’ve become a connected world culture.

The capability of the media to foster or even create public sphere is well-documented.  From the scribes of history to the creation and use of the printing press and much moreso with the invention of radio and television and obviously the internet, mass media has created communities among us where they previously did not exist. When Habermas first developed this social science concept, the means and norm of coalesced public opinion was in British coffee houses.  Consider the internet and social media, then, the new coffee house.  Habermas would’ve been all over it.  On a far larger scale and with much more power than ever before but in the same spirit, social media and the internet provide us a new means of public opinion discussion and, occasionally, a change in public policy or action.

Zeynep is careful to allege that a Twitter hashtag could’ve instrumentally been the tool that fostered public sphere enough to cause Egyptian activist Mona El Tahawy to be released from political detention.  But the author is certainly not willing to discount that possibility.  As in that scenario, social media allow factors and components from many walks of life to converge around a concept or occurrence and in many cases to prompt results or change around it.  It’s clear how Twitter played a role in El Tahawy’s instance.

It appears that Ashley tends to question this possibility, however.  Arguing against Gingras’ contention that the internet has removed the ‘gatekeeper’ role of mass media (essentially making everyone a reporter and increasing the likelihood for public participation to effect change), Ashely points out evidence that the internet is not as democratizing as could have been hoped.  Ashley contends that Google serves as its own kind of gatekeeper, and that social revolutions conducted through Twitter and other social media means have even been overblown.  Ashley speaks of the powerful (and rich) that inevitably end up with control of what initially might seem as new vehicles for democracy (as he suggests happened with radio and television).

While I understand this logic to some extent, I perceive that it will be fairly far in the future when this authority will show itself in the internet realm.  Technology and accessibility with regard to the internet in 2014 is a far different world than the early advent of media like radio and television. More people can access the internet and social media at much less expense.  Because that trend is rampant and worldwide and because dpublic spheres have already been formed and political changes effected in many cases, the capabilities of authority to usurp some freedoms on the internet will face greater challenges than with radio, television, etc.

Too many instances like the Arab Spring and more specifically El Tahawy’s release have already occurredat the hand of innovation for modern culture to release its autonomy on social media and the internet, as Ashley contends will happen. Similar arguments can be seen in the other readings for the week.  Social connectedness via social media will be the order of our culture for some time to come. The public will not so readily relinquish its ownership of such powerful tools for social communication and change.