Saturday, November 19, 2011

Where have all the correspondents gone?

You rarely see true foreign correspondents anymore. There are reporters covering foreign news, yes, but there are fewer and fewer who actually live in the region their covering, working in their organization's foreign bureau.

During times of war, you see them. But most of the time these are reporters who were sent to the region specifically because of the war. They are there on assignment, like any other reporter, and when the war is over (or pretty much over) they are flown back home or onto other international assignments. War is the driving factor of foreign correspondence today, it guarantees that news will be generated in that region and that it will need to be covered. There will be a number of different stories and angles as well, aside from just covering the battles and troop movements. There are people whose lives have been turned upside down and are being affected because of the area they live. But there are only so many of those stories, and eventually the public will grow bored and there will be no more need for a large number of reporters to tell those stories.

Traditionally, foreign correspondents would live and cover the area they lived in for years. They would know the language and the people, which would make gaining access for stories easier. But more and more papers have shut down their foreign bureaus and those who are left are responsible for covering a larger region than before. When news happens immediately in a region where there are no foreign correspondents nearby, they rely on the news from international organizations or local reporters, or freelancers if they have decided to come fill the gap for coverage of the region that they see in the international news.

Whenever I would talk to editors or professors and say I wanted to become a foreign correspondent after I graduated, most of them would say, "Wow, we never hear anyone say that anymore. Good luck with that." The nature of how we get our foreign news has changed, we rely more on the one organization that may have a reporter left in the area or freelancers who are willing to brave the unpredictable environment. But it has definitely changed and it seems unlikely that it will go back to what it used to be. The heyday of foreign correspondence has ended, for better or for worse, and most of the time it's definitely not for the better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Because it's necessarily personal

Instead of discussing this week’s readings, I want to reflect on the presentations we saw in class on Tuesday. Both were awesome and very interesting – kudos, classmates!

Emily, Marc, Ayonfe and Katie’s presentation struck a bit of a nerve with me (in a good way) as those of you in class may have noticed. They discussed the new imagined communities – not just nations anymore, but diasporas, telenovela fans, gamers, and members of religious groups, regional areas, etc. Bonus points for keeping it interesting, engaging, and interactive… (hint, hint, Prof. Hayden).

In class I reflected on the sports world as an imagined community of its own, and then mentioned one of the more awful effects we’ve seen of that community in recent news – the Penn State scandal. I discussed the apparent separation this imagined community caused between some fans and what could be called American society’s morals (or generally accepted human morals, perhaps?). I brought up the example of Shayna’s Facebook share of a Jon Stewart clip showing the rioting and protests that followed the ouster of the team’s head coach following allegations that he didn’t do enough after hearing about the alleged child sexual abuse committed by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The clip includes footage of protesters indignant over their beloved head coach having suffered such an unfortunate fate. Stewart’s reaction – and mine – was disbelief that this was THIS was the cause of the anger and sense of betrayal being protested. Not, say, the possible rape of young children.

(Nota bene: Because I need to keep believing in some amount of good in my fellow humans, I'll trust this is not the majority view of the university or its students, and I do not mean to make an example of athletics in general or of Penn State by bringing this up. But even treating it, as I’d like to be clear is my intent, as the example of a select few individuals caught on camera – it boggles the mind how any person can be so blinded by their imagined community that they ignore or defend what society considers to be grave and egregious mismanagement of an unspeakable crime.)

I keep writing other things and realizing I've gotten too personal, but this is an issue that cuts me too close to my own heart to bear. I honestly can't say much more. I just want to ask that we take a moment to recognize this with horror. That we think about how the cases that are reported are only the tip of the iceberg, that we condemn the fact that utter mismanagement of allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse are likely the norm rather than the exception. That we realize many of these unspeakable acts are occurring in places that don't have a highly developed HR department and a set reporting structure like Penn State does. And that we reflect upon how our own imagined communities affect our choices.

Scrambled Media Coverage: Network Power of Distraction and Agenda Setting

I would have liked to address this issue earlier, but with the lingering media attention I think it is nonetheless relevant.

It goes without saying that Penn State has become embroiled in one of the most controversial child abuse incidents in the history of sports and perhaps the U.S. What bothers me most about this other than the alleged acts themselves is the way that the media has handled the story, especially which aspects of the story were discussed most.

For days, a preponderance of coverage was dedicated to the Penn State students protesting against head football coach, Joe Paterno’s dismissal. I make this assessment based upon cursory review of online and television news sources. The most prevalent topic appeared to be focused on the “current” action-taking place on Penn State’s campus. I am sure this is directly related to the active nature of the events and the ability for such “breaking” moments to captivate audience attention.

I suppose images of the student mobs is significantly more attention-grabbing than the most critical aspect of the story, the allegations made against Jerry Sandusky and the history of the cover-up of the incidents. It seems almost as if the media told the story out of order with initial coverage dedicated to the student reaction to Paterno’s firing. In fact, if one were to have glanced at the news he or she would likely understand that a much-revered coach had been fired without any insight as to why.

It wasn’t until late last week and early this week that the media covered details regarding the allegations, the history of the alleged perpetrator, and the victims. It all seemed to have been told out of order for the sake of covering the action of the demonstrations while they were still taking place. Perhaps, it was a media tactic to lure readers and viewers into the story only to reveal more relevant, but less time sensitive details later.

Surely, it can be argued that specifics regarding the allegations and the victims only began to surface as the story developed. But, I can’t help but feel that the massive networking of the student body to rally behind their head coach somehow diverted attention from the important aspects of the issue. If the coordinated action of a network has the power to successfully attract attention to a trivial issue (the dismissal of a head coach presumably guilty of obscuring the truth) from the real issue (the alleged crimes committed) then networks have really demonstrated their power to agenda-set, manipulate media and take advantage of its interest in “action” and “breaking news.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

Non-Profits in (or driving) the News Media

Very sorry this is late, I have been on the road since Thursday for work and a post definitely slipped my mind....but regardless.

The relationship between the media and non-profits is always interesting to follow, because unless you are the non-profit focusing on your issue, it's going to be hard to generate buzz on your organization. You have to make a huge impact with what you are doing, concrete evidence of saving lives and pictures of adorable children definitely help.

When I interned for a non-profit that worked on issues pertaining to Sudan and Southern Sudan and I was working on our media lists, I always wondered whether the journalists dreaded the call from our Communications Director. I mean, he was giving them a story, but were they ever sick of just covering what we gave them. I know they went out there and go more information, since most of them were on the ground, but it is an interesting dynamic. When you a journalist on the ground covering conflicts, like the one in Sudan and Southern Sudan at the time, you need the direction of the non-profits in some instances to point you where to go and where your connection say the story is occurring. But is there ever a feeling of needing to put the organization in the story because of the help they gave. The organization I worked for garnered a lot of attention from the journalists who we provided information do, but hopefully they didn't miss any part of the story because of that.

Non-profits definitely play a huge role in the stories that get out, especially in conflict zones, because they are the ones who are consistently on the ground and know what is going on at all times. But it is important to make sure that it's not just the non-profits who are telling the story all the time and getting the full coverage from all the organizations on the ground and also the people who live in the regions and are being most affected by these conflicts.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Networks and Nodes

This may be more applicable to last week, but this is one example out of many, of starting with one idea and expanding to nodes or different locales to help complete their goal. Anyone I hope this is a relevant link:

Talk that Talk

So we discussed how social media, mobile networks, and the Internet contributed directly to regime change while also examining case studies where such networks didn’t really inspire much change (i.e. the protests during the Republic National Convention in New York). What stood out for me was the lingering questions and problems I have with Occupy Wall Street.

In the case studies where such networks contributed to change, there was a measurable degree of passion, anger, and emotion that propelled the quest for justice. In the case studies where such networks did not achieve the desired change there may have been strong opinion, but there was a lack of coherence. The lack of structure to the protesters’ arguments (in both OWS and the New York City) while ambiguous enough to welcome those with a range of opinions ultimately requires a concentrated argument to achieve actual political or social change as illustrated in the other case studies.

It really boils to doing more than putting talk into action. A rational idea of what needs to be changed and potentially suggestion for achieving such change are required. You can’t achieve a goal without knowing what that goal is. In the case of People Power II, the Filipinos argued for the ousting of their corrupt leader. Their conviction propelled their action and their shared sense of action and change yielded a structured argument that ultimately successfully resulted in achievement of their goal…removal of their leader from power.

The socio-economic status of the protestors also stood out. Clearly, the Internet and mobile networks require technology that is not affordable to lower classes. The unequal access to technology and the role that such technologies play in these movements emphasizes the lack of congruence of mobile networks to stimulate political change. Money is power and without having the money to purchase technologies that grant access to mobile networks, one is excluded from participating in movements that inspire change. In many cases those who need change the most are those who cannot afford access to these networks.

If You Seek Amy... I mean E Gao

I was intrigued by the account we read about the Grass Mud Horse, which in Chinese is pronounced similarly - but not identically - to "f*** your mother." Author Bingchun Meng discusses its political ramifications as a battle against government censorship and a secret way of supporting the democratization of China.

The first thing I thought of as a parallel in the US was Britney Spears' single "If You Seek Amy." Not exactly taken as a political message, was it? How DO we use profanity, sneakiness, cheekiness, or anything similar to E Gao in the States for something other than titillation or the celebration of our affinity for irreverence?

My second thought was "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," which is an interesting exploration of "standard-setting" in the States (although, of course, as with every media product you consume, it's to be taken with a grain of salt). From Wikipedia, since it's been a while since I saw the film: "The film discusses disparities the filmmaker sees in ratings and feedback: between Hollywood and independent films, between homosexual and heterosexual sexual situations, between male and female sexual depictions, and between violence and sexual content."  Whereas you might not see any inherent political message in whether a major recording artist is allowed to drop a few F-bombs on a content-light record, there's certainly one to be found in gay vs straight sex scenes, or female vs male orgasms, being allowed under a certain rating scheme (a lower rating allowing the film to be marketed more widely and seen by more people).

Anyone have better examples of (perhaps quieter) American media/social media products flying under the radar for a political or social purpose? Those are the first two that came to mind, but they're pretty mainstream. I don't have as much connection with internet memes as some of you. The only one I've got a real understanding of is the much-revered Broccoli Squid, and I think that's going to get old for a certain someone pretty quick here......

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Sporting World of Extraordinary News

So mostly because I just left a day filled with field hockey tournaments and volleyball, my head is stuck on sports and that will be my blog post topic. There is a high chance most of my remaining blogs will mention sports...and I am shocked I have not actually included a mention in more posts because sports happen to occupy my life.

Anyways....talking about extraordinary versus ordinary news, I was trying to think if those topics would apply to the sporting world, and what they would look like. Is there really news that comes out of the sporting world that propels us to action (or inaction), which was the definition of extraordinary news from the article? There has been the story of Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee runner from South Africa who is attempting to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. There have been deaths, like the one in mid-October at an Indy Car race that killed long-time driver Dan Wheldon. But are any of these propelling us to action?

The sports world, and especially the world of NASCAR, has been propelled by the death of Wheldon. There was a conversation with drivers about safety following the crash, and outcry from fans that the death could have been prevented. But most of the news about the crash has died off, with only the occasional story on the news and ESPN following other races. The whole world has been cheering for Pistorius, and its provided a heart-warming story prior to the Olympics.

The World Cup, as well, unites nations and brings us to reach for a common goal. The Olympics are also a huge example of the power of sports to unite countries and people, and drive support towards our athletes. So is this extraordinary news?

I think in some ways it definitely can be. Sports can be incredibly powerful, especially because of their ability to unite the public. The story of the South African rugby team, whose win at the Rugby World Cup is one of the clearest examples of the power sports can hold. The win by the team helped to unite a country in conflict, following the election of Nelson Mandela. The coverage that came out of that game and the images were not just powerful for South Africa, but also across the world.

South Africa celebrating following the 1995 Championship:

Sports don't drive people to action in the same way as news that comes after a tsunami or a terrible disaster, but it can compel us to action through our images and to unite behind a common goal. Sometimes a win by the home team can do more than anything else to unite a country.

Include Me Out (Thanks, Robyn)

All the talk about inclusion/exclusion in networks and multi-layering and hybridity over the past few weeks has me considering the implications of belonging to various "groups" some of which conflict directly with one another. When I refer to "groups" it includes a range of things from religion, ethnicity, and nationality to gender, interests, and music taste. If you stopped and made a list of the various "groups" or communities to which you think you belong you could also evaluate the degree to which each group is relevant or important to you. Certainly, some of inclusion in certain groups or networks present conflicts with each other.

When you stop and consider the implications of inclusion (or exclusion) in certain groups and the fact that inclusion in some groups necessitate self-induced exclusion from another group. The concept of leaving networks (in the form of ideologies in favor of others) is particularly relevant. In the political arena belonging to conflicting groups presents a challenge to being elected. Take Mitt Romney, for example. He has been criticized for "flip-flopping" on certain issues, including abortion and has been scrutinized by ultra conservative members of the Republican party.

I bring up the Mitt Romney to illustrate the double-edged sword that is mainstream appeal. You might look at being "mainstream" (in anything from politics to music) as the ability to appeal to the broadest demographic or numerous networks. But, achieving and maintaining such a precarious balance is difficult. Appealing the lowest common denominator can be damaging and isolate one from the most beneficial supporters. Again, this goes beyond politics into other realms too. Think about when indie bands attempt to make a break on radio and tweak their style. Doing so has mixed results. Some isolate members of their core fan base while appealing to a whole new group of listeners. The most successful satisfy their original fans while attracting new ones and the losers disregard their loyal fan base for listeners who quickly move on to other acts.

So the question really is whether you attempt to include yourself in as many networks as possible, or focus on maintaining strong ties with the networks most relevant to professional success and personal contentment?

Sarah Palin's semantics

I want to talk about Paul Adams' discussion of the power of language to include and exclude in Ch 6 of "Geographies of Media and Communication." I found the chapter to be quite interesting and many of his points resonated. I've long held the belief that semantics are not just semantics - our word choice informs the way we think about the world and the way in which we affect others' views.

This blog post on PR Breakfast Club: was just the sort of argument I was looking for: 
"...the point is this – words have meanings – usually a very specific meaning.  They 1) can’t be interchanged willy-nilly, even if they’re next to each other in the thesaurus and 2) even words that “mean the same thing” have a unique power, a hint of something else, an implication of degree (e.g. smoldering vs. hot), etc. The rights word used at the right place and time can be used to spin (or rather frame) a story the way you’d like your audience (or rather community) to receive it.  Outrage, calm, anxiety, excitement, anticipation, boredom, intrigue – can all be at your beck and call with the write words (pun intentional)."
Whether it's an obvious word choice like a slur of some kind on a person's sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, looks, sexual orientation, etc., or a more subtle one like the difference between smoldering and hot, as above, the words we use both include and exclude, as Adams says. They are our way of defining the world around us, placing a certain lens over it for others to see and feel the same way we do. 

I'd like to present one strong (if unintended) advocate of the power of words and phrases: Sarah Palin. Ms Palin is famous for peppering her speeches with nationalistic words and phrases, which seem at many times to take precedence over actually making a clear point. I'm sure everyone remembers the embarrassing interview Palin did with Katie Couric, videos of which promptly went viral. Here's a clip as a refresher; I'd venture it's clear Palin wants to make sure she gets her talking points in, and it certainly seems to be at the mercy of making a coherent statement of any kind:

Just for fun, a clip of CNN's Wolf Blitzer showing the nearly exact usage of Palin's rhetoric on the subsequent SNL parody:

If you're still having some doubts over the perceived power of words themselves by this point, let me remind you of this other blazing moment in American history:

I know both of these lovely ladies were nervous, and I won't say I would necessarily do any better in their situation. I don't mean to pick on the innocent - or the stage-fright stricken, if unintelligible, reciters of talking points. What I do mean to illustrate here is the recognition that words are important. Such phrases as "shoring up our economy" are telling of Palin's view on us versus them, for example, which is a powerful sentiment with many in Palin's party. Politicians' rhetoric is a great example of the active ways in which language is used for othering. When a candidate speaks, they are explicitly trying to play to their audience. When the audience is Cold War-era Berlin, they say Ich bin ein Berliner, to include Berlin and exclude the Soviet Union. When the audience is a post-9/11 America, they speak so as to include the US and exclude the "Axis of Evil." When the audience is a gay-rights group, they'll mince some words to make their stance on gay marriage seem a bit different from when the audience is a socially conservative group.

Anyone have any other good examples of this? My roommate and I had some fun thinking of great moments in political history for the purposes of this illustration. Our favorite: 

As people, we are naturally communicators, and as such, we are all tasked with using the words we have at our disposal the best way we know how.

(And just for the record, my friends at NPR clarified the issue of Palin's accent, which is an Alaskan one and not derived in any way from my native Minnesota: