Free Webinar on “5 Tips for Teaching Intro To Mass Comm”

ralphheadshottwitYou are invited to join me on Wednesday, Oct. 19th at 10 a.m. Pacific Time, noon Central Time, for a free, live webinar: 5 Tips for Teaching Introduction to Mass Communication: Engaging Students Living in a Media World.

Join me for a webinar that discusses the challenges of teaching mass communication and five tips for engaging your students along the way.  I will be discussing:

  • Class activities that help reach students from a variety of backgrounds and varying levels of media literacy
  • Adapting the wide range of social media tools for use in the classroom
  • Presenting yourself on social media
  • Best practices for interacting with students online
  • Using social media as a tool for communication and applying it to current events.

Register Now




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An Unwelcome X-Men Mutation

I just recently rewatched X-Men: Days of Future Past and was struck again by what a good super hero movie it was.

It handled the mythos and back story well, it had characters following consistent motivation, and it had characters growing and learning. And… it told an exciting story with interesting villains. It also had characters with lots of shades of grey about them. You have Professor X trying to deal with the reality that he is not as all-powerful as he had thought – at least when it comes to outcomes. You have Magneto and Mystique figuring out how to live in a world that does not welcome these new mutant variants of humans. And you have the brilliant Peter Dinklage as an interesting and complex villain.

This week I finally saw X-Men: Apocalypse, and I was sad to see that it lived up to the dismal reputation reviews had put forward for it. It felt like there were two or three different movies going on that were only marginally connected with each other. There was a Mummy-style story of Apocalypse – The First Mutant, an Indiana Jones kind of story tracking him down, and finally a what was supposedly an X-Men story that had very little heart to it.

Worst of all, the film completely wasted Michael Fassbender’s Erik/Magneto. Magneto is to me, the most interesting of the X-Men, loving his brother/sister mutants and willing to do anything to help keep them safe.  The risk that mutants face in the world is all too clear to him, having grown up in part in a Nazi concentration camp.

In Apocalypse, we learn almost nothing new about his character and instead see him mostly standing passively by as a stooge of ancient Egyptian mutant Apocalypse.  And we also see little of the tortured soul that actor James McAvoy brought to Professor X in Future Past. Finally, Oscar Isaac, who was so fresh and fun in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, brought no life or heart to the mutant Apocalypse, stuck under layers of make up and CGI and an always-processed voice.

I suppose Apocalypse followed much the same path as the Avengers movies did, but in the Avengers, our heroes have to come to terms with what they have wrought.  In Apocalypse, no one seems to learn anything other than to let sleeping mummies lie. I’m really sad to see the X-Men reboot mutate into just another tired almost-the-end-of-the-world story.

Afterword: This blog post started out to be a two-line Facebook post and grew into a multi-movie review. Beyond some meditations on recent super hero movies, this could be used as a launching ground for a discussion of how characters are developed in popular movies.  Can summer popcorn movies still be great movies? Can you get interesting character development in a big-budget super hero movie? What are the differences between a good and a bad super hero movie, regardless of what the box office says?

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Do Newspaper Presidential Endorsements Matter in 2016?

ar_clintoncoverI got a note from my dad earlier this week:

On NPR this a.m. I heard an editor of the Arizona Republic interviewed. For the first time in its 127 years that newspaper is endorsing a Democrat for president. She said [Hillary] Clinton has flaws, but she has had the experience and temperament to be president. She said [Donald] Trump was totally unqualified. I recall she said something like Trump would be dangerous as president.

How influential is that newspaper in Arizona?

That’s an interesting question, Dad.

To start with, here’s the interview Dad mentioned:

And here’s the editorial from the Arizona Republic. As a former Arizona resident, I can tell you that the Republic is a conservative paper. The endorsement has come at a cost to the paper with lots of calls about people cancelling their subscriptions and even some death threats.

The Republic  is in good company this fall.  Many papers that have not endorsed a Democratic candidate for the presidency in decades (or even ever) have either endorsed Clinton, endorsed libertarian Gary Johnson, or rejected Trump. These include:

These are all news because they are unexpected.  Now, the fact that the New York Times endorsed Hillary is hardly surprising.  After all, they haven’t endorsed a Republican for president since Eisenhower was running.

So…. All this brings us back to a paraphrase of my dad’s question – How influential are newspaper presidential endorsements?

The answer would seem to be – It depends.  If a conservative paper endorses a Republican presidential candidate or a liberal paper endorses a Democrat, a 2011 journal article finds that there is little effect.  But if the endorsement is a  surprise – one that goes against the paper’s usual pattern, then it can have an effect. As Vox reported back at the beginning of September when the Dallas Morning News made their endorsement:

Two political scientists, Chun-Fang Chiang, of National Taiwan University, and Brian Knight, of Brown University, studied the effect of newspaper endorsements in 2000 and 2004, using a survey that asked voters in the days leading up to the election about which newspapers they read and which candidates they preferred….

They found that when Democratic-leaning newspapers endorsed Republicans for president, or vice versa, readers were slightly more likely to support the candidate the newspaper endorsed. If newspapers endorsed the candidates that typically lined up with the editorial page’s ideology, though, they didn’t really convince anyone. The effects were greatest among people who had seen the endorsement, as you might expect, and among older readers, who were more likely to read the editorial page.

Perhaps the most telling result of all, however, is that as of today, no major newspaper has endorsed Donald Trump’s candidacy.

How much all this matter?  That remains to be seen. But we continue to see that this year’s presidential cycle is truly like none other.

Hope that helps, Dad.

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Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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Bad Language in the News: “But what does “d—ing” mean?”

Last week hackers released a group of e-mails they had stolen from former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  The e-mails gave Powell’s opinions about a wide range of political figures, including Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill. A lot of newspapers had difficulty figuring out how to quote the somewhat off-color comments Powell made about Bill Clinton.  But I think the Erik Wemple of the Washington Post handled it best.  The quote reportedly goes like this:

I would rather not have to vote for her, although she is a friend I respect. A 70-year person with a long track record, unbridled ambition, greedy, not transformational, with a husband still [word deleted] bimbos at home.

Many papers went with something like “d–ing” or “di**ing.”  Cameron Barr, managing editor at The Washington Post, told Wemple via email: “We’ll avoid d-word altogether or say d—ing bimbos.”

But then Wemple gets to the heart of the issue:

But what does “d—ing” mean? “Ditching”? “Dunking”? “Dinging”? It just so happens that Powell used a slightly profane and infrequently used word to describe intercourse. Think the first name of George W. Bush’s vice president, as a present participle.

Who else in the history of newspapers has used a discussion of verb form to explain a vulgar term for intercourse?

The problem of how the report vulgar speech is not a new one. Reporters faced a similar problem in 2006 when President George W. Bush was overheard using “the S word” with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a discussion about Lebanon. They faced an even bigger problem when Vice President Cheney told a member of the Senate to go “f—” himself back in June of 2004.

Newspapers and broadcast organizations try to maintain a certain level of decorum in their news operations. But when do you do when the news isn’t fit to print?

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A Motorcycle Ride to the United 93 Memorial on a Rainy Summer Day

This has nothing to do with the media. It’s a brief story about a ride I took on my motorcycle to the United 93 Memorial on a rainy June day back in 2004. It was written shortly after I had recovered from a fairly serious illness, and I was happy just to be back on the road. I’ve taken to posting every year on 9/11.

Me and my old KLRTook a short ride last Saturday. The distance wasn’t much, under 200 miles, but I went through two centuries of time, ideas, and food. Which felt really good after having been ill for the last month-and-a-half.

Headed out of Morgantown about 7:30 a.m. on I68. Stopped at Penn Alps for breakfast. Nice thing about being on insulin is that I can include a few more carbs in my diet these days. Pancakes, yum! (Penn Alps, if you don’t know, runs a great Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast buffet on weekends that is well worth riding to. Just outside of Grantsville, MD.)

Then off on the real purpose of the trip. Up US 219 toward the Flight 93 Sept. 11 memorial. The ride up north on 219 is beautiful; I’ve ridden it before. I always like when you come around the bend and see the turbines for the wind farm. Some people see them as an eye sore; for me they’re a potential energy solution and a dramatic sight. Chalk one up for industrial can be beautiful.

Continue on up to Berlin, PA, where I take off on PA 160 into Pennsylvania Dutch country. I start seeing hex signs painted on bright red barns, or even hung as a wooden sign. Not quite cool enough to put on my electric vest, but certainly not warm. Then it’s heading back west on a county/state road of indeterminate designation.

Now I’m into even more “old country” country. There’s a horse-and-buggy caution sign. Off to the left there’s a big farmstead with long dark-colored dresses hanging from the line, drying in the air. They may not stay dry, based on what the clouds look like.

The irony of this ride hits pretty hard. I’m on my way to a memorial of the violence and hatred of the first shot of the 21st century world war, and I’m traveling through country that is taking me further and further back into the pacifist world of the 19th century Amish and Mennonites.

A turn or two more, following the map from the National Parks web site, and I’m on a badly scared, narrow road that is no wider and not in as good of shape as the local rail trail. (Reminds me why I like my KLR!)

It’s only here that I see the first sign for the memorial. No one can accuse the locals of playing up the nearby memorial. Perhaps more flags and patriotic lawn ornaments than usual, but no strident statements. And then the memorial is off a half-mile ahead.

The crash site is to the south, surrounded by chain-link fencing. No one but families of the victims are allowed in that area. Off a small parking area is the temporary memorial, in place until the National Park Service can build the permanent site. There’s a 40-foot long chain-link wall where people have posted remembrences, plaques on the ground ranging from hand-painted signs on sandstone, to an elaborately etched sign on granite from a motorcycle group. The granite memorial is surrounded by motorcycle images.

The messages are mostly lonely or affirming. Statements of loss, statements of praise for the heroism of the passengers and crew. But not statements of hatred. It reminds me in many ways of the Storm King Mountain firefighter memorial. Not the formal one in Glenwood Springs, but the individual ones out on the mountain where more than a dozen wildland firefighters died several years ago.

It’s time to head home. When I go to join up with US 30, it’s starting to spit rain, so I pull out the rain gloves, button down the jacket, and prepare for heading home. It rains almost the whole way back PA 281, but I stay mostly dry in my Darien. The only problem is the collar of my too-big jacket won’t close far enough, and water dribbles down inside. It reminds me that riding in the rain, if it isn’t coming down too hard, can be almost pleasant, isolated away inside a nylon and fiberglass cocoon.

I’m home before 1 p.m.. I’ve ridden less than 200 miles. But I’ve ridden through a couple of centuries of people’s thoughts, actions, and food. And I’m finally back on the bike.

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Fashion icon Tim Gunn rips on industry’s treatment of plus-sized women

Fashion icon Tim GunnTim Gunn, co-host of the fashion competition series Project Runway and leading advocate for women’s fashion, ripped into the industry (including his show!) today with an incendiary commentary in the Washington Post on the treatment of plus-sized women by the fashion industry.

In it, he notes that there are more women in the US who wear a size 16 than a size 6, and that the average size is between a 16 and an 18.  And yet, he writes:

“There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them….

“I’ve spoken to many designers and merchandisers about this. The overwhelming response is, “I’m not interested in her.” Why? “I don’t want her wearing my clothes.” Why? “She won’t look the way that I want her to look.”

This is a particularly powerful critique in part because it is not coming from within the plus-size community.  It is also interesting because Gunn critiques how his own show has handled plus-size fashion:

“Ashley Nell Tipton won the contest with the show’s first plus-size collection. But even this achievement managed to come off as condescending. I’ve never seen such hideous clothes in my life: bare midriffs; skirts over crinoline, which give the clothes, and the wearer, more volume; see-through skirts that reveal panties; pastels, which tend to make the wearer look juvenile; and large-scale floral embellishments that shout “prom.” Her victory reeked of tokenism.”

This is just not a critique of how the fashion industry handles size – it also looks at how mass media – from television to magazines – handle issues of fashion and size.

For more on this topic, see my other posts on body image.



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Taking a look back at the summer movie season

It’s been a rough summer for the movie industry, with a lot of big budget movies stumbling and barely making a profit, and the industry as a whole having its second worst summer since 2001.

Vox’s Todd VanDerWerf has a great article up today that looks at the winners and losers of the summer, and analyzes what it takes for a movie to be a success in this environment.  He discusses the two traditional paths to success (giant tent-pole movie that you endlessly promote and smaller movies with controlled budgets with a clear target audience) as well as why so many big movies struggled this summer.

Must-read look at the summer movie season.

I also would like to give a shout out to one of my favorite movies of this summer – Kubo and the Two Strings, a fantastic stop-action animated from from the LAIKA studio.

Along with telling a darkly sensitive story about a young boy trying to find out the truth about his samurai father, it also features gorgeous animation and terrific cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Regina Spektor. If you haven’t been to see this sleeper of a movie, do so!


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Back To School With The Media

It’s Back To School time, so let’s look at some start-of-the-school-year themed stories:

    • Oregon school district rescinds ban on rap music radio in school buses.
      Rule was no talk radio, religious radio, or rap music – pop/rock, country and jazz were cool.  What could possibly be wrong with that….
    • Leaving Oman
      Journalism professor Dr. Chris Allen reflects on the time he has spent in Oman both on his Fulbright and with groups of students.  A beautiful blog post and an eloquent statement on the importance of study abroad.
    • Our chancellor is cooler than your chancellor!
      Also, UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen is a really good sport.  Chancellor Karaoke:

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An in-depth look at the man who now leads Apple

Tim Cook does not have an enviable job as the CEO of Apple. Following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, one of America’s most iconic and successful CEOs, can’t be easy.  Trying to establish yourself as a leader when everyone in the world thinks they know “what Steve would do” is a no-win scenario. And, of course, anything short of stratospheric growth in revenue, profits, and stock value is abject failure – even if your company remains one of the most valuable and profitable the world has ever seen.

And yet, it’s hard to feel sorry for a man who receives a salary measured in eight digits and stock options measured in nine.

According to a major interview Cook recently with the Washington Post, running Apple “is sort of a lonely job,” but he also notes that, “I’m not looking for any sympathy.  CEOs don’t need any sympathy.” The interview was given on the occasion of the production of the billionth iPhone.

I won’t try to summarize the extended interview here – You really should read the whole thing!  But here are a few highlights:

  • As Apple CEO, he can turn to a variety of people for advice.  Cook needs help with stockholder relations? Call Warren Buffet – head of Berkshire Hathaway.  Making decisions on the best way to come out officially in public as being gay? Check in with CNN’s Anderson Cooper who handled the same issue with grace. Testifying before congress about Apple and tax policy? Talk with Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
  • Standing up to the FBI for privacy on the iPhone and other iOS devices was difficult – both knowing what was right was hard and explaining it to the public was hard.
  • Trying to balance his own intense desire for privacy and his desire to help young people dealing with the same issues.

Tim Cook is one of the most important people in American and global media. This interview is worth the read.

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