An unprecedented year and what it means for journalism in 2021

Journalists faced new obstacles and rose to new heights in 2020. What will the news look like in 2021?

“The speed of the news cycle was a new kind of dizzying. If you missed a day (or even a few hours) of news, you felt like a stranger in a foreign land. If it’s tough for those of us whose job it is to keep up, imagine the person who reads a couple headlines during their lunch break, or catches a few televised newscasts a week.”

I wrote that for CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter looking back at the year that was… 2017.

If I had only known what 2020 would bring.

It’s easy to forget that the year was off to a ferocious pace before a global pandemic, worldwide protests over racial injustice, and an Election Day-turned-Week-turned-Month. In January alone, wildfires still raged in Australia, a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his daughter died in a helicopter crash, and the House held the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Journalists faced new obstacles and rose to new heights in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic placed pressures on newsrooms that transitioned to remote work. Broadcast anchors set up makeshift studios in spare bedrooms while reporters joined frontline responders to tell their stories.

Continue reading “An unprecedented year and what it means for journalism in 2021”

Trust in a fake news world

“Fake news” defined an election, and continues to play a prominent role in the presidency of the candidate that most benefited from all of its forms. Gather a bunch of journalism educators together, and it’s no surprise we’re going to want to talk about it. That’s what happened in Chicago at the 2017 annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Continue reading “Trust in a fake news world”

Why did media ignore flooding in Louisiana?

While parts of Louisiana became literal islands, much of the country was cutoff from the story by scant media coverage.

Reporters are lining beaches along the Florida panhandle this morning, making sure their mics pick up as much wind as possible as Tropical Storm Hermine approaches. It’s the top story on every morning news program – the journalistic convention for landfalling tropical systems (what do I mean? I wrote this lead last night, then confirmed with a quick flip through the channels over breakfast).

A few hundred miles west, Louisiana is still recovering. Some areas only recently arose from the flood waters that first submerged them three weeks ago. Personal possessions line streets in garbage heaps. Many schools are still closed.

The scope is staggering. Over 100,000 homes flooded in and around Baton Rouge and Lafayette; 13 people killed. When the waters crested, many small towns had become islands, separated from hospitals, gas stations, and grocery stores.

I know this largely because of family and friends on Facebook. From the outset, locals accused media of ignoring the story. We have to be careful about this – Southerners can be thin-skinned about perceived attacks from “the mainstream media,” including those greatly distorted or possibly fabricated.

[Related: Did ESPN Commentators Call Mississippians Poor?]

But I had to admit, I wasn’t seeing much coverage either. And eventually, the media turned a critical eye on itself. The New York Times waited three days to move their staff writer in New Orleans to the scene of the devastation 75 miles away. Public Editor Liz Spayd lamented the paper’s aggregation of media reports instead of conducting original reporting, concluding that “A news organization like The Times – rich with resources and eager to proclaim its national prominence – surely can find a way to cover a storm that has ravaged such a wide stretch of the country’s Gulf Coast.”

Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather took to Facebook to blame television news for choosing “the easy ratings of pundits playing the schadenfreude game in air conditioned studios” over sending reporters and resources to the flood zone.

I don’t have empirical data to analyze the amount and prominence of coverage compared to other natural disasters (though it’d be a fun study; anyone want to help?). For now, I’m relying on anecdotal evidence and observations of those in the industry. And that tells me the flooding in Louisiana was, and continues to be, drastically underreported.

Why?

To try to begin answering that question, I did my usual media scanning, and asked two meteorologists to help me fill in the gaps.

Continue reading “Why did media ignore flooding in Louisiana?”

Institutional Isomorphism and the Community Structure Approach in Visual Framing of the Trayvon Martin Shooting

jpcover#ICantBreathe. #BlackLivesMatter. #Ferguson. One does not have to look far lately to find prominent discussions of race and social justice. You could argue that the present movement began in 2012, with the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. I looked at how elite and local newspapers covered the shooting and its aftermath, specifically in terms of the images used to represent the story.

I wrote more about the findings back in May, when an earlier version of the paper was presented at the International Communication Association annual conference in Seattle.

The article has now been published in Journalism Practice. You can access it here.

 

The published version provided a chance to think a great deal more about sociological explanations for news framing. In particular, it argues that institutional isomorphism offers a well-developed, multidisciplinary theoretical framework in which intermedia agenda setting can be positioned and strengthened. From a theory-building standpoint, the Martin shooting left something to be desired, but nevertheless demonstrated the functionality of the approach. I’m hoping to replicate the design in the future.

As a heavily quantitative media effects guy, this project began outside of my comfort zone. But I’m glad I was encouraged to follow it through to publication. It made the process of mass communication become that much bigger – thinking not just about the sender and receiver, but about the entire ecosystem surrounding them. And for that, I owe Wilson Lowrey a great deal of gratitude. He (and the tremendous number of books and articles he recommended) stretched me as a scholar, and made my approach more well-rounded as a result. Truly the sort of experience doctoral programs are meant to foster.

Access the full article.

#MSsen and the art of the modified tweet

It’s election day again in Mississippi, where the nation’s most interesting midterm race heads for a runoff. The contest between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel matches a 41-year Capitol Hill veteran who brings home pork for the poorest state in the union against a 41-year-old Tea Party conservative riding the wave of anti-government, anti-establishment, anti-Obama sentiment.

National political reporters have had their eye on Mississippi for a few weeks now, producing some interesting reads. I enjoyed BuzzFeed’s investigative reporting in the digital age, connecting dots between McDaniel’s campaign, a blogger who broke into Cochran’s wife’s nursing home, and Wikipedia edits. The Washington Post explored the popularity of Tea Party fiscal conservatives in states that benefit most from liberal federal spending. The Upshot, essentially the New York Times’ Nate Silver-less FiveThirtyEight, used Mississippi as a case study for what extremely partisan electorates do to the election process.

This blog post is not about any of that, really. It’s more of an aside from the primary three weeks ago, and it has to do with language. More specifically, language in the Twitter age.

Continue reading “#MSsen and the art of the modified tweet”