Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Morals of Journalism

When considering our choices as purveyors (and now civic participants) in the media, it's hard to be too careful about believing what we read/see and why. It would be fantastic if I could be able to switch on my TV or check my news feed and just take for granted that everything on there was unquestionably accurate and (more importantly) relevant.

Journalism isn't just about being that romantic ideal of distributing the "facts" of the situation. Too often, I have felt that the media has started to get so soft and pander so much to mainstream popular culture (i.e. birth certificates, royal weddings) that a great deal about what is important and of grave concern to our everyday lives is lost in the wash of senseless journalism that seems to be getting more and more pervasive.

I don't mean to sound like one of those doddering old biddies who insists that things just aren't the way they used to be (because the way it used to be wasn't so awesome either!) but I think there needs to be a reckoning in the world of tabloid lust and popular bubblegum rhetoric.

A parent's job is to guide their offspring in the morals and values that allow them to function within the laws and social norms of society. Without this, William Golding offers a dire perspective on "kids gone wild" when there is a loss of formative guidance. In a way, we, as a society, are the parents of the media. We created it, and we have a responsibility to guide it. If we demand crap, that's what we'll get. If we explain to our offspring that we don't appreciate these distractions into irrelevant and sometimes damaging forays of journalistic nonsense, there might be a move toward more positive, helpful and moral journalistic practices.

However, if we--as parents--forget our own morals and values, how can we be good parents to the media? We have a responsibility to demand good journalistic practices, but first we have to know what they actually are.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why Can't the Students Learn to Blog?

There are many reasons to be skeptical of electronic media...actually, any media these days. The question is asked over and over: how do we know what you're saying/writing/posting is true? The definition of the word "true" is even called into question...

For our students, knowing how to answer these questions is getting more and more difficult. With lines of legitimacy becoming blurred with every new source of information, navigating the media is increasingly frustrating.

Teaching students first and foremost to ask questions is a good line of defense. It's classic, and won't be outdated with the next upgrade. Having the sense to check into any source of information will help students understand how we are capable of manipulating as well as educating each other and not be taken advantage of when sources choose to go the way of the former.

The next step is to teach students the benefit of sharing information that is properly researched, challenges inaccuracy, and is in the best interest (in terms of educating) of the general public.

Nobody likes to be taken for a ride. If students understand and appreciate the shame of feeling duped by a faulty source, it might drive home the importance of making sure we don't perpetuate bad habits by being irresponsible journalists ourselves.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Media Literacy: The Wave of the Future!

I love cheesy '80s references as much as the next person, but throwbacks remind us sometimes about how we have grown, how our perceptions have changed, and how we should be careful to learn from rather than forget from where we've come.

As a proponent of 21st Century Skills (regardless of how I feel about cliche'd scholastic movements), I can't help but think the only thing that will save humanity from falling into a deep abyss of ignorance is for ALL of us (yes...not just as a nation but as a WORLD) to start appreciating the importance of media literacy in an age where basic literacy is still a struggle.

There are obvious reasons for why new movements in citizen journalism and scholastic media are more relevant than ever, and the main ones involve the growing number of pseudo-news outlets, independent journalists and the general perception that if it's "out there" that it must be true. A media ignorant individual is easy prey for someone or some group wishing to instill feelings of fear, bigotry, and a variety of other unsavory qualities that propaganda is most notably infamous for.

The solution? I propose the addition of media literacy programming in schools that cross all areas of the curriculum including non-humanities areas such as math and science (it's not always just "words"...numbers lie, too!). If we are to be a productive democracy, and if our friends in emerging democracies are to succeed, getting a firm grasp of what is truly going on around us is crucial. Deception is how people are controlled.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ethicks and Under-standing

Media ethics and media literacy are two of the most difficult subjects to capture in any venue. First off, there are a plethora of interpretations of the meanings of both, and none of them are right or wrong--entirely.

"Ethics" implies morality. When combined with the ambiguousness of "media," there is a thickness that pervades. The issue that seems to be the thickest of all is that of how new media and social media is affecting the relay of information. There is no sense of privacy anymore for anyone. Some feel threatened by this, and others liberated. When it comes down to it, if the result negatively affects *you* it's going to be unpleasant...and criticized. Ethics are relative, and therefore controversial. If we are in search of the truth as it pertains to the world and people around us, then why should we be ashamed of our own?

This leads us to the issue of "media literacy"--another monster of a term that has an incredible reach in terms of how it could be construed. In a very generic sense, you could say media literacy is being able to "understand" media--the content, reason, motive, etc. If we use media "understanding" as a definition for literacy, I would argue that there is no such thing. We are constantly in a state of "under"-standing; always situated somewhere below, not quite at full height..and not always "standing" up to see what is going on from other angles.

In both of these cases, I'm not entirely sure there is a way for media ethics or media literacy to have definable ideals. There's no way to honestly quantify their virtuousness or efficacy. Perhaps they are both processes by which we are constantly moving toward a better sense of ourselves and the world around us, but I question our definitions of morality and literacy altogether.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Model Blogger

I would not suggest that I fit the role of the title of this entry...this is really more of a reflection of issues in the media--a commentary of sorts--rather than being particularly informative or attempting to be influential. I suppose it could be considered a failure on my part that someone who promotes the need for media literacy and participation would not even attempt to make a good example of a well-educated, informed (and informative) community blogger.

On the other hand, I've discovered that blogs (and other social networking tools where posting responses is common) are an interesting way to throw thoughts, comments, ideas and even concerns out to the universe with the intention of creating some sort of dialogue--albeit informal. I have treasured some of the more impassioned discussions that have branched out over issues involving politics, religion, policy, and other issues--even innocuous ones about the weather or where to find the best food in cities I'm visiting.

There's something about the way these cyber connections work that makes me feel like there isn't so much distance between me and the rest of the world. Despite occasional inflammatory remarks from those who choose not to appreciate the sensitivity of online conversation, I think when people are willing to open themselves up to challenging ideas in online discussions that the end result can be very enriching and insightful.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Investigating Investigation

There used to be this thing called privacy.

I'm still on the fence about this, but I can say with some certainty (especially when it comes to celebrities) sometimes ignorance *IS* bliss.

Investigative journalism and muckraking--in its purest form--seems to be founded in the belief that there is truth out there that the masses need to know. Without this knowledge, the impartial picture will obscure the minds of people everywhere into making decisions or having ideas without decent foundations.

Knowing that Charlie Sheen is a raging, drug-abusing idiot is not my idea of something meriting that sort of journalism--but it has become important to the American people. I assume that's because we've lowered our own standards of what is important as viewing the train-wrecks of our romanticized idols.

We've even gone so far now as to uncover the truths of celebrities and politicians of ancient past in order to...what? get a clearer understanding of our past in order to create a better future? Not so much. Mostly it seems we're at it again with the train wrecks.

I understand that the media needs to have exciting and juicy stories to interest and engage readers, watchers and listeners, but have we forgotten the purpose of investigative journalism altogether? Sometimes getting a little dirt on your hands for the sake of uncovering important information is good...but don't forget what happens to dirt when it gets all wet.

The masses need more than gossip and inconsequential exposes to help them be informed citizens. It would be great if we stopped lowering the importance of investigative reporting to something out of a tabloid and started looking at the issues that actually might have some significance and meaning--and let the celebrities have this lovely thing called privacy. Maybe then they wouldn't feel like they needed to do drugs all the time...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Justifying the Importance of Journalism Courses in Schools

What makes a successful student?

I would argue that the answer goes much further than intelligence, basic skill, connections and other traditionally beneficial advantages.

Regardless of studies that have shown this to be true, I think there is a validity in the common sense concept that students who learn and practice good media production are more apt to succeed in school, work and life.

Reason #1: Participating in student media is empowering. When you are given the chance to write or speak to a mass audience, there is a feeling of accomplishment that comes from knowing you have contributed to something greater than yourself and for the specific purpose of educating or engaging the public. This is a step (and a big one) toward becoming influential and valuing one's own words as well as others'.

Reason #2: Understanding how the media works is empowering. Realizing that you have the ability to call information into question is a very important part of being a smart and discriminating consumer. Without this, you are more apt to believe anything you see or hear--especially if the information *seems* plausible. Being snowed is never a good feeling.

Reason #3: Being a leader is empowering. Whether as an editor or a contributor, leadership is a necessary skill to gathering important and meaningful news. Also, respect is often afforded those who aren't afraid to ask important questions.

Reason #4: Honing a craft is empowering. Becoming a better writer, speaker, artist, photographer, editor, etc. are all an essential part of being a valued member of the fourth estate. It also helps a little with the grades in other classes...

Reason #5: Student media expands horizons. Being a journalist or photographer helps you see the world differently and branch out in directions that you wouldn't necessarily otherwise.

The reasons for why scholastic journalism is a valuable (and arguably essential) practice are plentiful. I would challenge anyone to offer a reason it might not be.