Monday, January 24, 2011

Climate Change and the Media

The November 2010 issue of Public Understanding of Science has several articles on climate change and the media. The journal is available from the Penn Libraries e-journals.

Climates of risk: A field analysis of global climate change in US media discourse, 1997-2004, by John Sonnett.
Emotional anchoring and objectification in the media reporting on climate change, by Birgitta Höijer.

To frame is to explain: A deductive frame-analysis of Dutch and French climate change coverage during the annual UN Conferences of the Parties, by Astrid Dirikx and Dave Gelders.

Evaluating the effects of ideology on public understanding of climate change science: How to improve communication across ideological divides? by Asim Zia and Anne Marie Todd.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

News Frontier Database

Columbia Journalism Review has just launched a new initiative called The News Frontier Database which it boasts on its homepage as:

...a searchable, living, and ongoing documentation of digital news outlets across the country. Featuring originally reported profiles and extensive data sets on each outlet, the NFDB is a tool for those who study or pursue online journalism, a window into that world for the uninitiated, and, like any journalistic product, a means by which to shed light on an important topic. We plan to build the NFDB into the most comprehensive resource of its kind.

Right now the site is more potential than anything else, a promising shell that will build up quickly. So far, for instance, under Arts and Culture there are only five outlets listed; under Education there are none. Once populated however, one can envision the usefulness of being able to search online news outlets by location, affiliation, staff and volunteer sizes, subject categories and business models.

Criteria for news organization inclusion are stated as follows:(1) Digital news sites included in the NFDB should be primarily devoted to original reporting and content production. (2) With rare exceptions, the outlet should have at least one full-time employee. (3) The digital news site should be something other than the web arm of a legacy media entity. (There’s no doubt that some of the most important online journalism is being produced by the websites of newspapers and other legacy media, but this database is devoted to a new kind of publication.) (4) The digital news site should be making a serious effort to sustain its work financially, whether that be through advertising, grants, or other revenue sources. (The language and spirit of this last criterion borrow from the work of Michele McLellan.)

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Themed Journal Issue on Crisis Communication

Media International Australia (No. 137, November 2010) is titled The Victorian Bushfires and Other Extreme Weather Events: Case Studies in Crisis, Culture and Communications. Edited by Louise North and Jason Bainbridge, its focus is on media coverage of the 2009 Australian bushfires (Black Saturday) that killed 173 people and displace some 7,500 others. In addition to articles on the bushfires the issue includes a content analysis of local news representations of women in Hurricane Katrina and a piece on the role of social media and public information management during the 2009 tsunami threat to New Zealand. The issue takes on a rather prescient tinge in light of the recent Biblical-proportion-flooding in Queensland. Hopefully the scholarship in this area, as the editors hope, has some influence on practice though it's hard to imagine on the local front with Mother Nature delivering her latest blow just a month after the issue's publication.

Media International Australia is available in the ASC Library.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

January CommQuote

Our quote this first month in the New Year is from Zadie Smith's meditation on Facebook via The Social Network and Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto in The New York Review of Books (November 25, 2010).

Why? Why Facebook? Why this format? Why do it like that? Why not do it another way? The striking thing about the real Zuckerberg, in video and in print, is the relative banality of his ideas concerning the “Why” of Facebook. He uses the word “connect” as believers use the word “Jesus,” as if it were sacred in and of itself: “So the idea is really that, um, the site helps everyone connect with people and share information with the people they want to stay connected with….” Connection is the goal. The quality of that connection, the quality of the information that passes through it, the quality of the relationship that connection permits—none of this is important. That a lot of social networking software explicitly encourages people to make weak, superficial connections with each other (as Malcolm Gladwell has recently argued1), and that this might not be an entirely positive thing, seem to never have occurred to him.

Master programmer and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier (b. 1960) is not of my generation, but he knows and understands us well, and has written a short and frightening book, You Are Not a Gadget...Lanier is interested in the ways in which people “reduce themselves” in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate. “Information systems,” he writes, “need to have information in order to run, but information underrepresents reality” (my italics). In Lanier’s view, there is no perfect computer analogue for what we call a “person.” In life, we all profess to know this, but when we get online it becomes easy to forget. In Facebook, as it is with other online social networks, life is turned into a database, and this is a degradation...We know the consequences of this instinctively; we feel them. We know that having two thousand Facebook friends is not what it looks like. We know that we are using the software to behave in a certain, superficial way toward others. We know what we are doing “in” the software. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us? Is it possible that what is communicated between people online “eventually becomes their truth”? What Lanier, a software expert, reveals to me, a software idiot, is what must be obvious (to software experts): software is not neutral. Different software embeds different philosophies, and these philosophies, as they become ubiquitous, become invisible...

Lanier wants us to be attentive to the software into which we are “locked in.” Is it really fulfilling our needs? Or are we reducing the needs we feel in order to convince ourselves that the software isn’t limited?

...Software may reduce humans, but there are degrees. Fiction reduces humans, too, but bad fiction does it more than good fiction, and we have the option to read good fiction. Jaron Lanier’s point is that Web 2.0 “lock-in” happens soon; is happening; has to some degree already happened. And what has been “locked in”? It feels important to remind ourselves, at this point, that Facebook, our new beloved interface with reality, was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? (Choose one. There can be only one answer. People need to know.) Do you have a “life”? (Prove it. Post pictures.) Do you like the right sort of things? (Make a list. Things to like will include: movies, music, books and television, but not architecture, ideas, or plants.)

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