Who’s left in American media to guide us? A comedian

The late Gene Patterson, who was then editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, in 1963 wrote an editorial in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that was a major catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Speaking to his fellow Southerners, he said it was too short-sighted to blame only those who blew up the church; it was the fault of everyone who allowed racism to persist in the culture:

It is too late to blame the sick criminals who handled the dynamite. The FBI and the police can deal with that kind. The charge against them is simple. They killed four children.

Only we can trace the truth, Southerner — you and I. We broke those children’s bodies.

We watched the stage set without staying it. We listened to the prologue unbestirred. We saw the curtain opening with disinterest. We have heard the play.

This column was also read aloud by Walter Cronkite on the “CBS Evening News.” It was a time when news media leaders condemned not only those who directly perpetrated acts of terror but also those in society who let racism persist. I’m saddened by the fact that today not only don’t we see this kind of condemnation from some news media leaders for systemic causes of what happened in Charleston, but instead we see from some overt attempts to find alternative explanations other than racism for this act of terrorism.

As I sit reading weak-ass editorials from some of our nation’s largest newspapers — decrying the shooting in Charleston as “tragic” and “incalculable” while barely if at all acknowledging our collective cultural complicity in allowing such racism to occur — I am relieved that at least we still have someone in the professional media who plays a role as our collective moral compass. Too bad that person is a comedian.

A little mojo for my students

Today I got a tip that there was a tightrope walker set up outside of Crestview Hall on the IU Southeast campus. My journalistic spidey sense, of course, tells me there’s something interesting there, so like any good news adviser, I try to get in touch with my students. But, alas, all the editors are in class or off campus. So, I decide to go cover the story myself and use an example for class.

It turns out the guy was not a tightrope walker; he was a slackliner. The video explains the difference. He was a student, just killing time between classes.

Used the video camera and audio recorder on my cell phone, and edited with free audio and video editing software. All in about an hour from start to finish. It was a lesson in mobile journalism (mojo), or backpack journalism, or just-get-the-job-done-with-whatever-the-hell-you-got journalism.

I used it in class for a teachable moment, but I thought I’d post it here, too. Enjoy.

Building social capital through information sharing

A big part of my dissertation and some of my past research has focused on self-censorship — why we choose to withhold information and our true opinions. In a recent study that Rachel Young and I published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, we look at what factors might encourage someone to be more comfortable with sharing personal information. Specifically, we looked at social capital as a predictor of comfort levels with sharing person information on Facebook. Here’s the abstract if you’re interested:

The potential harm and benefit associated with sharing personal information online is a topic of debate and discussion. Using survey methods (n=872), we explore whether attainment of social capital online relates to greater comfort with sharing personal information. We found that perceptions of bridging and bonding social capital earned from using Facebook are significant predictors of overall comfort levels with sharing personal information. This research raises timely questions about how the perceived benefits of social networking sites influence how personal information is shared online.

Counting journalists

header_logoI worked with the American Society of News Editors again this year to help with their annual newsroom employment census. While the number of employees in daily newspaper newsrooms has been decreasing in recent years, most people interpret the numbers to be a broad indication of the death of journalism or at least the death of the specific career of “journalist.” However, as I’ve learned through consulting with this project, counting journalists is very difficult, especially in a time of significant structural change in the news industry.

In the media coverage of this year’s census, I was interviewed and quoted by both Poynter and The Atlantic, where I was able to shed some light on the difficulties in counting journalists and why the ASNE results can’t be interpreted without an understanding of the broader context of modern newsroom structures.

Here are links and brief snippets of the articles where I was quoted.

Atlantic (Newsroom diversity: A casualty of journalism’s financial crisis):

“What’s difficult is we don’t know what the institution of journalism is anymore,” he says. With online news, Maksl explains, there is no list of all the online news sources, or even a clear definition of what constitutes an online news organization.

Poynter (ASNE census finds 2,600 newsroom jobs were lost in 2012):

Who counts as a journalist now is complicated,” said Adam Maksl, one of the academics who oversees the work. For this year, Maksl said in a phone interview, papers with regional editing centers were left to make their own call about counting their share of these groups as part of their own news staff.

Clarifying that and other gray areas remains “a challenge for the future,” Maksl said. There probably remains some ambiguity about who in the newspaper’s digital operations (a code-writer, for instance) should count as a journalist. Also, Maksl noted that clerks have traditionally been excluded from the count, but in downsized newsrooms many with that job classification are heavily involved in producing journalism.

Remembering my days as a “kid reporter”

kidreporter-fbI got interested in studying youth journalism because I was involved in it when I was a kid. Even at a very young age, I knew that I wanted to do something in journalism.
Well before my high school journalism experience, at age 10, I got an opportunity to volunteer at an NPR station in Columbus, Ohio. When we moved to Indianapolis, my dad helped me get business cards that said “kid reporter” on them, which we thought I could use to find other media volunteer opportunities.
So, I submitted an application — with my business card — to Children’s Express, where I learned even more about journalism and got some pretty amazing opportunities. 
Children’s Express became Y-Press several years ago. In 2008, I got the opportunity to spend several days as a chaperone/adviser with Y-Press kid reporters covering the Republican National Convention. It really was an amazing experience that reminded me of the value of youth journalism and media programs.
Today, I received an envelope from Lynn Sygiel, the director of Y-Press who has been there since CE started and since I joined the group in 1993. In it, she included this photo and business card. 
Unfortunately, amid financial challenges, the Y-Press board decided to dissolve the organization. I am so saddened by this news. Y-Press and organizations like it are so vital to teaching civics and promoting a strong youth voice in media. I hope — somehow — that youth media organizations find a way to survive, and that funders see the benefit of these important programs.