Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

Posted in Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 13, Chapter 4 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Blog Post: Understanding Mizzou’s Melissa Click

image-296x167The following is a guest blog post from Dr. Brian Steffen, professor and chair of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Simpson College.  This was originally published on the Small Programs Interest Group (from AEJMC) listserv in slightly different form and is reprinted here with Brian’s permission.

As you may recall, Mizzou communication professor Dr. Melissa Click came to prominence on Monday when she was among a group of protestors on the Mizzou campus who tried to turn away a photographer and video journalist from a tent city set.  She became famous when video showed her saying, “All right, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.”  Click has since apologized for her remarks and behavior.

In this post, Dr. Steffen provides a possible explanation of why Dr. Click expressed herself the way she did.

Please do not in any way take this post as a defense of Mizzou communication professor Dr. Melissa Click. Perhaps consider it a weak attempt at explanation:

The mass media prof is not part of the journalism school. Many of us have journalism, mass media, speech and that blob of disciplines known as ‘communication’ all wrapped up in one department for the sake of administrative ease. My sense is that the School of Journalism at Mizzou (the world-famous program) has about as much to do with the communication department as it does with the French or geography departments.

And we know that the media studies programs often are filled with scholars coming out of cultural studies and critical-theory schools of thoughts — intellectual projects that critique the press as an instrument of social and corporate power rather than embrace it as a defender of democracy. If the prof wants to point out that it’s her belief that the photographer is a representative of the very system that she and the others are protesting, that’s a legitimate point of debate in which we can engage.

Of course, for the prof to call for ‘muscle’ to prevent the photojournalist (who was a student, incidentally) from getting this story is much more than a critique and indeed is state-sanctioned censorship. And it’s yet another example of how the university is quickly becomig hostile to First Amendment values all in the name of empowering the powerless.

I, too, am outraged by this. But I think I have much less surprise than others at the fact that it happened.

Dr. Brian Steffen
Simpson College

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mizzou Protests: Media Attention Is Not A Faucet You Can Turn Off And On

SI_MUIf you follow the same kind of people and media outlets on Twitter as I do, you’ve likely been overwhelmed with the firehose of news and opinions about the events at University of Missouri (Mizzou) over the last few days.

There’s been a lot of hot emotion over the story there, so let’s step back and look at what has happened.

Up until this point, we have a story that is primarily one about civil rights at the University of Missouri and the response to student activism on the issue.  But then on Monday afternoon the story’s focus changed dramatically when the protestors turned against what had been for the most part a supportive press.

  • Protestors, comm professor confront student photographer and video journalist on Mizzou campus (WaPo)
    One point that needs to be made for those of you who don’t know your journalism programs is that Mizzou has a top-notch college of journalism.  So it came as a surprise when the news started breaking Monday evening that student photographer Tim Tai, who was freelancing for ESPN, was physically pushed away from taking pictures from a tent city located on a central part of the Mizzou campus.  Tai was told by protestors that the tent camp was a self-proclaimed “no media safe space.

Tai’s confrontation with the protestors was captured in video by journalist Mark Schierbecker.  The video shows Tai engaging the protestors politely but firmly, asserting his first amendment rights in a public space. Among the protestors was assistant professor of communication (often misidentified as a journalism faculty member) Dr.  Melissa Click, who is heard on video saying:

All right, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.

Tai and Schierbecker have been praised for how they handled the tense situation by James Fallows on The Atlantic’s web site:

Sincere congratulations to someone who this morning had no idea he would be in the national eye. But he turned out to be, and behaved in a way that reflects credit on him and the calling of news-gathering. 

The New York Times had a good story that highlighted what happened in the confrontation, and the Twitter responses from both Tai and a number of other participants.

I would note that Mr. Tai has handled his role in the story well, and he notes that the big story still needs to be the problem of racism on campus and not the first amendment issue. (And as a side note – Take a look at Tai’s photos at ESPN.  Great work!)

Tim Tai

 It is worth noting that Tai has retweeted documentation today (Tuesday) that the protestors have moved on to welcoming the press.

  • Missouri state law mandates that all of the MU campus is a free speech zone (MU Maneater)
    While Mizzou has had so-called “free speech zones” established on campus in the past, a law signed by Gov. Jay Nixon states that protests and speeches can be given on any outdoor space on the campuses of public institutions of higher learning in the state. So every outdoor space on campus is in essence a free speech zone.

Some concluding thoughts:

This story is still breaking and is far from over.  But there are a few things that I think we can learn from this case study.

First, it is much easier to deal with a difficult situation when both sources and reporters work calmly and with respect for each other. While this story was going on, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery sent out a series of tweets talking about another story that called for calm respect that he had covered several years ago:

WesleyLowery 2012

I can’t recommend enough Mr. Lowery’s Washington Post reporting and Twitter feed.

Secondly, I think there is one more important lesson to be learned here. Media attention can be a strong power for good or ill. But it is not something to be taken lightly.  And once you have turned on the media attention, it’s very difficult to turn it off. And so I would suggest one more candidate for a Media Secret: “Media Attention Is Not A Faucet You Can Turn Off And On.”

Posted in Chapter 1, Chapter 12, Chapter 13 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking About New Media Secrets: Everything is Data

When the second edition of Mass Communication: Living in a Media World came out as a CQ Press title back in 2007, one of the biggest new features was the introduction of the “Seven Truths They Don’t Want You To Know About the Media.” Other than the switch last year to calling them the Seven Secrets, they have stayed pretty much unchanged.  But lots has changed in the media world over the last decade.The old secrets are as relevant as ever, but we’re ready to think about a few new additions to the list.

So what I’m looking at is expanding the list to the Ten Secrets for the next edition of the book.  The question is, what should the new secrets be?  I’ll be trying out a some candidates here over the next few weeks to see what you think. We’ll give them letters for the time being:

Vector graphic designed by Freepik

Vector graphic designed by Freepik

New Secret A: Everything is data. We are moving into an age where more and more media are delivered digitally.  And that means we will be moving away from old channels like cable television , paper or cellular phone service and moving into the use of data services.

Think about it – how often do you come close to using up your allocation of cell phone minutes? Maybe you don’t even have a limit on minutes anymore.  The same is likely true on text messages (i.e. SMS).

But what about when it comes to data? Ah, that’s a different story. How long to you get into the month before you start getting warning notes from your provider that you’ve used 50 percent, 75 percent, 90 percent of your data allocation?  Of course, your mobile provider is always quite happy to sell you another bucket of data…

Think about all the things you use data for on your mobile device: streaming audio and video, social media, games, maybe even a little old school e-mail.  You might also be sending photos and video back upstream through SnapChat, Instagram,  Periscope or Meerkat.

If you’re on an iPhone, you likely burn through a lot of data using FaceTime to make your audio and video calls (though if you’re smart about it, you’re using WiFi whenever possible). And everyone is burning through data one way or another with

Over in the world of the Medium Formerly Known as Television, we are seeing this transformation as well.  Right now, at least if you are old, you think of TV as something that comes in through cable or down from the skies via satellite.  If you’re really old (or poor…) you think of it as something that comes in over the air through an antenna. (I had hoped I would be the originator of this term, but, alas, it was not to be.)

But increasingly we are getting are video programing from streaming services. When I asked my students last week what the most recent programming they had watch on television was, the most common channel was (with the possible exception of the World Series broadcast)… Netflix.  Now Netflix is a streaming service that you get over the Internet using data.  Netflix is just one of many sources of streaming video: Hulu, CBS’s All Access, Amazon Prime, and the list goes on.

Apple has offered a streaming box for several years called the Apple TV that the late Steve Jobs used to refer to as a hobby.  But with the release of the newest version of it, Apple seems to be taking it much more seriously – with the idea that the new Apple TV could serve as a substitute to your cable or satellite service – assuming you have a big bucket of data to support it.

As a side note, media giant and major internet provider Comcast is now experimenting with offering subscribers an unlimited Internet package for about $35 more than their usual package that is capped at 300 GB of data. (This is something new to me as my cable/internet provider always provides unlimited data, but it’s possible that will change.)

Time Warner Cable, another of the nation’s largest cable/internet providers, is reportedly experimenting with replacing their set-top cable box with a streaming app that could run on a Roku , X-Box, or other device.

In closing, it’s not just high-tech multimedia that’s going digital.  The New York Times has been working on it’s digital strategy for years and has recently released a report that calls for doubling its digital revenue by 2020.


Posted in New Secrets | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Who was behind the brilliant @IsPaulSpeaker Twitter account?

I can’t believe that everyone interested in national politics wasn’t following the @IsPaulSpeaker Twitter account for the last couple of weeks.  The account, run by Topeka, Kansas attorney Angel Romero Jr (also a proud Washburn University grad), presented a series of animated GIFs answer the question – Is Paul Ryan speaker of the house yet? Every few hours, Romero would tweet out GIFs initially reporting Nope,

then Soon

Then Very Soon

And finally – the white smoke indicating that yes, Ryan had been elected speaker

Of course, the story didn’t end there.  Following a series of joyous Yes tweets, we found at that new speaker Paul Ryan was a fan of the feed, posting this from his official account:

Thank you, Mr. Romero, for some political fun!

Posted in Chapter 10, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

No more nudes for Playboy; Maxim goes upscale – What will the lads read now?

First issue of PlayboyIn the past, supposedly enlightened men claimed that they bought Playboy magazine for the articles.  And for a long time, it could be a truthish claim – Playboy did run good articles and paid top writers good money for them.  And sometimes that claim could even be true.  The only time I’ve ever purchased a copy of Playboy was because my wife (then fiancé) asked me to buy her the one with the Bette Davis cover story.

But everyone knew the real reason guys bought Playboy – photos of naked ladies.

But now Playboy is aiming to make an honest man out of all of us – as of March 2016, the magazine will no longer feature fully nude photos of women, following the lead of the publication’s web site from August a year ago.

This is not, apparently, because Playboy is newly respectful of women; rather, the magazine is trying to fit in better with the PG-13ish world of social media.

Idris Elba on Maxim
Meanwhile, back in “lad magazine” land
Maxim magazine has been undergoing its own remake by going to a larger format, higher quality paper stock, and trying to find a place in the market as a luxury magazine. Maxim, like the other so-called lad magazines,  has been targeted at young men and featured a diet of scantily clad ladies, beer, and gadgets.  If we were categorizing it today, you would say it was targeted at the “bros.”  The September issue of Maxim was the first to feature a male cover model – the endlessly cool British actor Idris Elba. (Who really should be the next James Bond.  Really!)


Posted in Chapter 5 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Who Exactly Are The “Mainstream Media”?

Reporting on the Kevin McCarthy story.

From Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz’s Facbook Page, Oct. 12, 2015.

Overall, I’m with Fox News’ Howard Kurtz on this one.  I’m not sure how appropriate it was to report on the rumors of an affair by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.  On one hand, there were a lot of questions raised late last week as to why McCarthy had pulled out of a seemingly sure-thing race to be Speaker of the House.  On the other hand, other than rumors, there’s absolutely no concrete evidence that McCarthy has ever engaged in inappropriate extra-marital behavior. On the third hand, there’s lots of evidence that only a crazy person would want to be Speaker of the House right now.

But that’s not what’s grabbing my attention with Kurtz’s Facebook post.  In it, he asks the question:

“Why the mainstream media helped spread the Kevin McCarthy affair rumors — because they were ‘out there'”

I’m wondering what Kurtz means by “the mainstream media”? (Remembering of course that Secret 2 says “There’s no such thing as the mainstream media.”)

In his story, Kurtz notes that the story of McCarthy’s alleged affair first broke on the conservative political rumor site GotNews.  Then the rumors were passed on by Erick Erickson, who founded the popular conservative web site Red State.

The rumor then moved to a column by conservative columnist Matt Lewis at The Week and to his Daily Caller blog.

The story then jumped the ideological fire line over to the liberal-leaning Huffington Post web site.

And, finally, the story shows up in a Howard Kurtz story on Fox News.

Now, as someone who no longer believes that “the mainstream media” is nothing more than a boogie man to describe media you don’t like, I’m not the best person to analyze this, but let’s try anyway.

Generally, mainstream media means the big, legacy corporate media.   Reading through Kurtz’s story, Fox News is the only one of the media outlets mentioned that could be considered mainstream, with the possible exception of The Week magazine.  I’m not saying that legacy media haven’t covered this story, but I would argue that this has been much more of an online story.  And I would further argue that all of the origins of this story come from conservative media.

Overall, I’ve like Howard Kurtz’s work for a long time – especially back when he worked for the Washington Post.  But I have to say I’m not particularly impressed with this story.  There’s a real story here, but I don’t see much about the mainstream media in it.

Posted in Chapter 1 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

When is a meme inappropriate?

Long time readers here will know that I’m more than a little obsessed with the Star Wars movies. So the release of Star Wars VII – The Force Awakens directed by the ever brilliant J. J. Abrams on Dec. 18, 2015 has me really excited.  I’m planning to drive to Council Bluffs, about 180 miles away, to see it in 3-D IMAX.

But despite all that, I’ve been reluctant to post the following meme to my social media:

On Friday December 18th 2015 Movie Theaters All Over The World Will Look Like This

Given the recent Oregon school shooting and the sentencing of the Denver movie theater shooter, this image seems  troubling to people I care about.  And I have no difficulty understanding why. How does this image make you feel?  And why?

(Please keep it civil folks. It’s possible to disagree and still be nice to each other.)

Posted in Chapter 10, Chapter 8 | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Julia Kozerski looks back at how losing 160 pounds made her feel miserable

Julia Kozerski - Before and AfterTwo years ago I wrote a post about how photographer Julia Kozerski documented through photos her process of losing 160 pounds.  Many of the photos were taken of her trying on clothes for her sliming body while others were unclothed, showing her stretch marks and sagging skin.

I thought her story in words and photos was incredibly compelling and largely at odds with the stories of weight loss success we are told through magazines and TV.

This week she published a followup to her earlier work with an article for the Washington Post’s PostEverything blog.  In the article, she documents how losing weight didn’t make her happier; in fact, she says that it only made her feel worse about how she looked.  She writes:

“But even after I lost weight, I could see that I’d never be Gisele or Heidi Klum.  When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see my slimmer legs or flatter tummy.  Instead, there was sagging skin, drooping breasts and stretch marks in shades of purple and red…. Fat or thin, I was a mess.  I didn’t love myself and didn’t understand how anyone else could.”

Kozerski goes on to write that what saved her as taking the photos and analyzing them as the photographer, not as the subject of her photos:

“I saw sagging breasts and a scarred bodice but also a person willing to share those scars with others, rather than digitally edit them out of the photograph.”

A must read article on media and body image, along with her online photo exhibits.

Posted in Chapter 5 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking back at the Unabomber and the Washington Post

What has been the lasting lesson of the Washington Post publishing the Unabomber’s manifesto?

FBI photo of the original typescript of the Unabomber manifesto.

FBI photo of the original typescript of the Unabomber manifesto.

Twenty years ago the Washington Post published a long and rambling manifesto written by a terrorist known as the Unabomber.  The Unabomber said he would send another package full of explosives out through the mail if the paper did not publish his 35,000-word statement.  This was a threat to be feared – The Unabomber had already killed three people and injured 23 over the previous 17 years.

The decision to publish the manifesto was not an easy one.  The paper did not want to be giving in to blackmail.  On the other hand, perhaps publishing the piece could stop the bombings.  Just as importantly, publishing the manifesto might help someone recognize the author and lead to the bomber’s capture.

In the end, the publication of the manifesto did lead to the capture of Ted Kaczynski when his brother recognized the style of writing.

The Unabomber case shows how difficulty journalistic ethics can be.  Remember that the tough ethical decisions are not between right and wrong but rather what do you do when nothing seems right.

Much has changed since the Washington Post published the manifesto on Sept. 19, 2015.  The Post now could publish Kaczynski’s ramblings online instead of in an eight-page special section; Kaczynski could publish his manifesto himself online without needing the help of a major newspaper….

But the basic question remains – How do you make a decision about publishing something when you don’t like any of your choices?

Thanks to Paul Farhi, the Washington Post‘s media reporter for this great look back at an important part of recent journalistic history.

Posted in Chapter 14, Chapter 6 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment