[Clickworthy] Isolating ourselves behind a Facebook Wall

The problem […] is that we invite loneliness, even though it makes us miserable. The history of our use of technology is a history of isolation desired and achieved.

What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity.

The impact of technology on interpersonal relationships has been a favorite research topic of students who often find themselves in the middle of the phenomenon. Last year, at least half of my students’ communication research papers dealt with Facebook to some extent, half of those making social media the primary focus of the paper. How does Facebook affect friendships? Business communication? Marketing efforts? When something new comes along, we are curious about these things.

But at the base of it is our relationship with other people and the impact that has on ourselves. Facebook, after all, is about “friends,” right? Do we find social sustenance in curating our public profile, in interacting with one another on a virtual wall? Or, do we overuse a technological advancement meant only to complement our relationships as a replacement for the real face-to-face event?

Why do we allow technology – even technology with social intent – to leave us lonely? Social beings left unfulfilled by our own decisions.

Stephen Marche explored these psychological inconsistencies in a cover story for the Atlantic. I picked it up on a newsstand earlier this week and couldn’t put it down. This isn’t surface drivel about a pop topic. Marche throws data at you left and right as he contemplates a lonely world full of distant friends and the effort we endure to create polished virtual selves. He references a number of studies, using words like “longitudinal” along the way. It reads like a literature review stripped of parenthetical citations and laced with philosophical ponderings.

You’ll have to set aside a decent amount of time for the full read, but it’s well worth it. From a feeling of despair, Marche goes further to understand effective use of mediated technologies and a reordering of priorities.

Read the story. You’ll be ready to text, tweet, or wall post your way to something meaningful… like a cup of coffee with an old friend you realize you only know through a timeline.

Clickworthy Bonus: If you enjoyed Marche’s writing, are nowhere near retirement, and like being angry with your elders, read this essay from the April edition of Esquire.

Crime Scene: A lesson in reporting & interviewing (w/ fake blood!)

A gruesome murder has occurred on the SAU campus – the fifth on an area campus in as many weeks. But for the first time, the killer has slipped, leaving clues behind…

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Crime Scene is a collaborative project between the Theatre and Mass Communication students within the department. Students in my Reporting and Writing course attempt to uncover details of the apparent murder and develop a news story capturing the facts of the case so far.

It’s their favorite day of the semester. Mine, too.

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[Clickworthy] An old-fashioned hero

Are newspapers dead? Not yet, says Stephen Colbert. At least not when we have old-school reporters taking to the streets in search of a scoop. The nose for news can still smell, as exhibited by this package that ran on The Colbert Report last week.

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Coming from a journalism program right next door to a state capital, teaching basic news reporting in a small-town setting has taken some adjusting. Certainly, the bar for newsworthiness must be lowered if you ever want to allow student reporters to roam free and actually find something to write about before the deadline. Covering a meeting – one of the assignments toward the middle of the semester – has to be issued over a month in advance in order to give students adequate time to find a newsworthy proceeding (last year, the Magnolia city council, which only meets once a month anyway, decided to cancel their monthly meeting in that period, throwing a group of students into panic).

So, “Too hot to fish” rings true around these parts.

The really interesting part of the story was the news ecology angle. The New York Times article Colbert references is real, but it’s not about the story so much as it’s about how the story spread to social media, radio stations, other newspapers, Colbert’s program, and eventually to the Times.

That’s how our modern day news aggregators operate, and it is a problem the news media has yet to solve. Consumers seek out large media outlets, providing them with revenues, or the page views necessary to obtain it, but these large outlets are simply reporting on reporting already performed by smaller outlets that are struggling to make ends meet.

The folks doing the reporting are going broke. The folks browsing Twitter are rolling in the dough going less broke.

That’s a business model even Bobby Kirk will tell you doesn’t add up.

Teaching September 11

One of my senior-level seminar courses took a break from our normal lecture schedule last week to look back at the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and their impact on journalism, culture, and diplomacy in the United States and abroad. I titled the series, “Effects of 9/11 – 10 Years Later,” and opened it to students across the campus.

With the immense anniversary coverage being prepared for the weekend ahead, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to look back (For more on the extent of the coverage, see Paul Farhi’s piece in the Washington Post). The idea gained steam with the launch of the new Understanding 9/11 page from the Internet Archive, a massive collection of television coverage from the original Sept. 11, 2001 broadcasts of major news networks around the world.

I arranged the lectures around clips from the archive and other corners of the Internet. I was quite pleased with the discussions that took place. My colleagues and I wondered if the students – most of them 10-11 years old when the attacks occurred – would have the same memories of that day as we do. As it turned out, the associations were still strong, and sparked some great debate.

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