Editor’s Note: Changes in the way Americans receive programming have opened up new possibilities for us to see stories created for television around the world. Pamela Douglas, associate professor of screenwriting at the USC School for Cinematic Arts, is author of the seminal book Writing the TV Drama Series, which has been translated for audiences in Spain, Germany, Italy, France, China, Taiwan, Korea and elsewhere. As she prepared its 4th Edition (2018), Professor Douglas decided to include a section on dramas written and produced in other nations for the first time. Read on for insights on what this might mean for entertainment, for the media business, and maybe even for peace among nations.
By Pamela Douglas
Previous editions of my book have been America-centric, and to an extent that’s useful because American shows are known world-wide. Increasingly, though, the global marketplace influences what shows are produced and – of special significance to writers – how they’re written and the kinds of characters and stories they contain. Though tensions may rise between nations, universal human feelings and relationships travel across time and space, and television is our way to connect.
With all the tensions in the world, we can be inspired by the cooperation that grew naturally in Sweden and Denmark when they collaborated to make Broen/Bron. It asks what happens when a body is found on a border bridge, half in Sweden and half in Denmark. The drama was so popular it has been remade in America as The Bridge on FX, set on the U.S./Mexican border, and in UK/France as The Tunnel, set in the Channel Tunnel between the two countries. In all versions, two countries’ police must work together despite cultural differences to solve the crime.
Is this a wave of the future? Peace on Earth through television? Well, we’re not there yet. Writing in The Hollywood Reporter, Kayti Burt suggests both a caution and a hope:
“In a global marketplace already dominated by English-language content, especially of the American and British variety, could the potential transition into an era of more international co-productions further homogenize the global market? Or will the fact that American and British production entities are bringing their money to other regions with fewer resources mean more diversity in the stories being told to a wider, global audience? … Transnational TV drama co-productions may be a commercial function of a global market, but I still have hope that an increase in more transnational and international stories will be good for the American public. Sure, in a domestic market where more people watch Dancing with the Stars than The Americans, high-end TV drama is not going to change the hearts and minds of a country with isolationist tendencies in an increasingly interconnected world, but — as an art form that specializes in empathy — it might change a few.”
After surveying how television is made throughout the world, my profound realization turned out not about the indigenous shows, but the prevalence of Netflix as a transformative global phenomenon. That’s somewhat true also of Amazon Video, but Netflix really is everywhere, speaking the language of the people. As of 2017 it had over a million paid streaming subscribers and made massive investments in new shows. The company says it spent around $8 billion on content in 2018 alone. According to The Los Angeles Timesin 2017, Netflix now counts more overseas subscribers than domestic ones. For example, the South Korean movie Okja, and the series 3% from Brazil are designed to appeal both to local audiences and viewers worldwide. That’s not to say anyone is rooting for the centralized power that a single platform may provide, however magnanimous.
If our minds are already boggled by the abundance of shows now available in the U.S., imagine what a challenge it is to comprehend the profusion of international television in addition. I’m reaching for a more insightful conclusion than simple “muchness.”
A sprit of global connectivity – humanity beyond borders – has always attracted hope for the future. On a single day in the summer of 1967, the then-new Beatles song, All You Need Is Love beamed around the world by satellite to 400 million people who experienced it simultaneously through a BBC-TV special Our World.
Now in less innocent times, we’re learning to celebrate differences almost as much as unity, and one of the lessons in writing the global portion of the 4thEdition has been the diversity of TV dramas overseas.
Writing the TV Drama Series teaches the craft of professional television writing, but beyond that is something of a mission. I agree with film Critic Walter Iuzzolino who told Emmy magazine, “The wave of cultural conservatism that’s sweeping Western society is strange and unsettling. So now there’s an argument for real windows onto other worlds, other cultures and other societies. More than ever, being isolated culturally is a bad thing.”
The Media Impact Project evaluates a slate of Entertainment Diplomacy programs sponsored by the US State Department. These programs posit that cultural exchange through entertainment is a valuable enterprise, so-called soft diplomacy. We are happy to welcome Professor Douglas to our pages as a guest blogger on the power of media to cross borders. Check out new program The Africa Narrative, which seeks to inspire balanced TV portrayals of Africa and its 54 nations.
by Connie Hassett-Walker
Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Kean University
Editors note: This article appeared in The Conversation, reposted here with permission and with our thanks for continued insightful research and commentary from the world of academia. At MIP we are interested in finding ways to to promote civil discourse. The breech between anti- and pro-gun proponents seems an excellent place to attempt understanding of "the other" side. Decades of research tells us that media viewing has an affect on our thoughts and perceptions. Perhaps we should all sit down and watch each other's media with open minds...
It was an ordinary day in 2011, when I found myself watching a YouTube video of a gun owner making a semi-automatic rifle discharge bullets rapidly, as if it were an automatic weapon.
My husband, a gun owner, watched firearms videos like this one. But I had never seen one. Intrigued, I sat down on the couch to absorb the imagery.
Hooking his thumb through his pants belt loop, the YouTuber demonstrated how pushing the gun forward, rather than pulling the trigger, allowed the gun’s recoil to “keep the gun going.”
In other words, he was bump firing his rifle.
I’m a criminal justice researcher. At the time, a flurry of thoughts popped into my mind. Aren’t citizens forbidden to own automatic weapons? Is it legal to make a video of a semi-automatic rifle performing like an automatic firearm? What about the 1930’s machine gun ban - is there a YouTube loophole of some sort?
This was 2011, seven years before a gunman at a country music festival in Las Vegas used a bump stock to make his shooting spree more effective and deadly, killing 58 people and injuring 851.
Watching that initial video led me to spend the next five years exploring online gun videos and gun owner communities. It also led to a moderation in my views on gun-related issues – something I believe resulted from the understanding and empathy I gleaned from those videos.
Video opens a window on worldMy exploration would become the book “Guns on the Internet: Online Gun Communities, First Amendment Protections, and the Search for Common Ground on Gun Control,” forthcoming in August 2018.
That first video, and the many videos I would subsequently view, showed me how gun owners could legally share content that, in the case of bump stocks, could effectively render a particular gun control law moot.
A gun enthusiast on how to bump fire without a bump stock.This realization led to the question - is it worth it to pass a law, as Florida recently did, banning the sale of bump stock devices, when people can just make and upload a how-to video of bump firing without the device?
I felt like I had accidentally stumbled onto a secret that was hiding in plain sight.
I also realized that despite being married to a gun owner, I knew very little about gun subculture, either in real life or online. But I could learn.
Guns, part of fabric of lifeFor all the noise around gun control versus gun rights, there was a story that was missed by non-gun owners like me: how much these guns mean to those who own them.
Delving into gun subculture online – which in some, though not all, ways reflects real-life gun subculture – can provide a perspective that may be, for non-gun owners, very different from their own.
Americans live in a time of political polarization on a variety of social issues, gun rights among them. Both gun control and gun rights supporters would benefit from understanding how those with opposing political and social views see their identity and their culture.
Recent data from the Pew Research Center illuminate the extent of gun owner use of the internet and social media. Thirty-five percent of gun owners responding to the Pew survey indicated that they often or sometimes visit websites focused on hunting, shooting sports or guns. Ten percent participate in gun forums online.
Culture and its smaller subcultures comprise the values and behaviors that define a group of people. A related idea is homophily, that is, the desire to connect with others with similar characteristics, experiences and interests. Gun owners engage in this both in real life – for example, by attending gun shows, joining shooting clubs – as well as online.
Gun owners join Facebook groups with words in the names like freedom, liberty, oath keepers and duck hunters. They also join Facebook groups devoted to survival skills, love of the outdoors and hunting and fishing. They post in the comment sections of gun-related blogs. These are just some of the ways that gun owner subculture flourishes online.
Dissing politicians and shooting old computersI learned that gun owners share ideas, images of firearms and videos signaling to other gun owners and the greater online community the accepted norms, values and activities of gun subculture. They use hashtags like #freedom or #2A, for the Second Amendment, on a posting. They post key words and phrases such as “take our rights away,” “Patriot class,” and “lock ‘n load.”
A gun owner shares tactical advice on what to do if you ever encounter zombies.Gun owners showcase their rapid-fire skills with semi-automatic guns; explain how to clean a firearm; complain about political parties and gun control organizations; and compare one type of gun versus another. See, for example, “Glock 17 vs. Ruger SR9.”
I’ve observed that gun-owning YouTubers have a lot of fun filming themselves and their friends shooting all kinds of things – targets, zombies and computers.
I‘ve come to view firearms as part of the fabric of their owners’ lives, complementing other lifestyles such as rural living, hunting and camping.
Previously, I had thought about guns mostly as something dangerous, unnecessary and likely to lead to a homicide or suicide in someone’s home.
Not any more.
I developed some favorite videos and YouTubers. Having peered into a slice of these gun owners’ worlds, I felt a sense of familiarity despite not knowing any of them in person.
This gave me an idea.
If I felt a connection to particular YouTubers and videos, would others experience something similar?
How to bridge a divideRecent research suggests that individuals can form attachments to media personalities whom they do not know in real life.
If feelings of connectedness could be deliberately cultivated among gun control advocates and gun owners, might it be possible to parlay that into better understanding of the perspectives of those on the other side of the gun controversy? Could this lead to a productive conversation about gun rights and gun control in the U.S.?
Some research suggests that it is possible to shift people’s opinions, even strongly held ones, and enhance empathy for others who hold very different opinions.
Other scholarship has connected familiarity with reduced prejudice. So while a total opinion change isn’t likely when trying to bring opposing viewpoints closer, small movement on a seemingly intractable issue might be possible.
Through the process of watching hundreds of videos made by and for gun owners, I find that my views on guns have shifted away from unquestioning support for gun control toward a more neutral, even gun-friendly, perspective.
I’m also much more aware of what I don’t know, including the particulars of all things gun-related (parts, accessories).
The deadlock between proponents of gun rights and gun control is frustrating. To that end, I conclude my book by proposing that both gun control and gun rights supporters watch 100 YouTube videos featuring content from the opposing camp.
Watching their videos helped the author empathize with gun owners. ShutterstockViewers should approach their watching with an open mind. They will see a slice of the other’s life in the context of their world. Here’s a hint for a “starter” video (for gun control supporters) to get the process underway. And for gun rights supporters, this.
Would this video watching experience work?
Take the challenge and find out.
Impact and Time: Tale of Two Stories
By Anjanette Delgado
Editor’s Note: Journalism can and does spur real change. The following two stories by our MIP guest blogger outlines how two reporters spotlighted serious problems in government agencies and helped initiate improvements. The first is a heartbreaking story involving the overwrought Child Protective Services in Rochester, New York, and looks at coverage that persevered for almost two years. The second piece hails from the TCPalm in Stuart, Florida following Hurricane Irma. It looks at how one reporter’s coverage of inefficient bureaucracies inspired an overnight environmental clean-up. One long-term, one short, but both stories proving the power of local journalism to change lives.
Institutional Change in Rochester
Reporter Meaghan McDermott was covering the general assignment beat one day in November 2016 when she got a tip that police were looking into the death of a little girl at a local hospital. McDermott is a watchdog reporter who typically covers taxes and property for the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., but like many reporters these days sometimes she fills in on breaking news.
For the next year and a half, McDermott stayed on the story as investigators declared 3-year-old Brook Stagles’ death a homicide, her little body bruised and broken inside and out; as Brooke’s grandfather pointed a finger at Child Protective Services; and then as the child’s father and his girlfriend, Erica Bell, were charged. She sat through Bell’s entire trial. She investigated CPS. Within days of Bell’s criminal conviction in October 2017 — almost a year after McDermott picked up that general assignment shift — Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo announced sweeping changes to the county’s Child Protective Services agency.
Institutional impact such as this — a change in how an entire agency or organization operates — commonly takes longer to occur than individual action. It often means lengthy and costly reporting (staff time, public records fees, etc.), deliberation, agreement and adoption or legislation, all of which are more involved than single hirings, firings or resignations. Policy change, too, takes time. McDermott’s story and the one I’ll tell next sit on opposite ends of the timeline, yet both led to important change in their local communities. McDermott credits the impact of this story to two primary factors:
“Brook’s grandfather blamed CPS early,” McDermott said. “He started putting up billboards, websites, trying to get candidate (Donald) Trump’s attention.” He spent nearly $100,000 on billboards in cities across the U.S. carrying messages such as “Don’t let children die from child abuse … like Brook Stagles” and “Child abuse crisis: Help CPS save lives. How many have to suffer or die? Brook did both!”
“His story from the beginning was much more focused on failings with CPS,” McDermott said. “My reporting later determined it probably didn’t have a direct impact on her death. Erica Bell (did). But it did make me interested in whether the system working as it should, and my reporting found it wasn’t.” McDermott collected data on CPS cases and deaths, including documents showing caseloads in Monroe County were some of the largest in New York. “Usually you’d want caseworkers to have 12-15 cases a month, but some workers here had in excess of 50 a month,” McDermott found. Monroe was 54th worst of 60 counties in overdue investigations, 40th worst in number of workers with more than 15 investigations.
Yet as it does in the best investigative reporting, the human drama proved more powerful than numbers. For McDermott, that was her coverage of Bell’s trial. She was there reporting every day. The local TV station covered the trial, too, but it was McDermott who did the digging. (Immediately after the trial ended she published “Little Girl Lost: The questions left behind by Brook Stagles’ death,” a look at the “litany of failures and missed opportunities” in Brook’s case.) “I’d like to think that the coverage generated enough outrage that it moved the needle,” she said. “Over time, the horrific detail of this girl’s death and what happened was so shocking to the community that I think the county felt they had to do something.”
In all, the county:
McDermott’s not finished reporting; she’s checking to make sure those in government deliver on their promises. “It’s up to us to make sure that they’re following through and hold them accountable,” she said. “The only way to make sure that government follows through is to keep asking them, keep demanding proof.”
A Mess in Hurricane Irma’s Wake
About a month before Bell’s conviction up in Rochester, Hurricane Irma barreled through south Florida and rattled the windows in the TCPalm newsroom in Stuart, Fla. By Sept. 18 it was gone, and Miguel Gonzales Sr. was on the phone to report a bunch of dead fish in the canal behind his house. Tyler Treadway, a reporter on the newsroom’s Indian River Lagoon team, had been on the lookout for fish kills and other storm damage. He asked for proof, and Gonzales sent photographs. Treadway’s story explained what had happened after Irma — the science of it:
“Rain from the storm flushes large amounts of nutrients into the water, causing bacteria to have a feeding frenzy that sucks oxygen out of the water. Low oxygen levels cause the fish to suffocate. Oxygen levels in the C-24 ‘took a nosedive following the hurricane,’ said Edith ‘Edie’ Widder, founder and lead scientist at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association in Fort Pierce. ‘I’m not at all surprised there was a fish die-off in the canal.’”
The smell was awful, but that was only part of the problem. As fish die they release nutrients into the water that can feed algae blooms. Photographer Leah Voss took pictures of the thousands of dead carp, bass and striped perch, a sea turtle and a six-foot alligator stinking and rotting in the sun on the banks of the canal. The next day, Treadway started asking who would clean up the mess and a “reverse turf war,” as he calls it, broke out. Three different agencies — South Florida Water District, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the City of Port St. Lucie — denied responsibility.
So he wrote about that next. Publishing the second story “kind of shamed them,” Treadway said. Impact was swift. The next day, the Water District agreed to take the lead and all three agencies came together to get rid of the fish. Just two days after Gonzales called to complain, the fish were gone.
“What I love about this story is it’s not the biggest story we’ve ever run but it’s what we do,” said Treadway’s editor, Adam Neal. “We got a call from a reader, and then we took it a step further to ask who’s going to clean this up. If Tyler hadn’t made those phone calls, I can almost guarantee it never would’ve happened.” Eve Samples, TCPalm’s opinion editor, also credits Voss’ photographs — pictures of piles of rotting fish — with inspiring impact.
“The photos were so horrifying they really helped tell this story,” Samples said. “I think because of those photos it was very widely shared on social (media) — because of the yuck factor.”
Read more about the local impact TCPalm has had in its “12 Days of Christmas” campaign benefiting nonprofits who help the lagoon.
Anjanette Delgado is the senior news director for digital at the Detroit Free Press and freep.com, part of the USA Today Network. The Democrat & Chronicle and TCPalm are also part of the USA Today Network.
Tracking the impact: At what point do the benefits of a journalism series eclipse the effort of its investigation?
A team of journalists learned the value of tracking the impact of their research on cashless tolls on New York thruways; their findings are shared in this second piece by guest blogger Anjanette Delgado. In the first blog, Delgado described a deep dive into the inner workings of the cashless toll system, where they gauged effort versus value to their readers. The team utilized crowdsourcing to collect “horror stories” of drivers charged with fees for trips they hadn’t made and even had their cars repossessed and organized a panel to help drivers facing steep bills.
By Anjanette Delgado
We typically record impact in our media tracker after we’ve completed an investigation or project, but this time we wanted to track it in real time to see what we could learn from correlation, and whether we could prove cause. (This could be useful in further investigative work.) Impact appears to be tied most to these things:
Don’t let up. Unlike a lot of our investigative work in which multiple stories publish on one day, here we’ve published relentlessly as we learn more and more about this incredibly secretive system.
Offer solutions to those looking for a win. We wrote an editorial identifying three things the state could do to improve the system. The state implemented all three right away and credited us for the suggestion.
Focus on the human drama. The horror stories are easily the most-read pieces in the investigation, most likely because they are compelling narrative dramas that make you feel something (outrage, sympathy). Those victims are part of a federal class-action lawsuit against the state Thruway Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Conduent; and debt collectors.
Make sure the people, agencies and companies you’re investigating know you’re doing it. Digging into Conduent, the private company that handles the “back office” billing for the Thruway Authority and controls nearly half of the U.S. electronic-tolling market, continued alongside the human stories. When we asked state officials questions, especially questions that proved we knew a lot about the system already, they responded in commentary, a letter to Conduent and a visit there. When we invited state officials to our panel event with drivers, they started an amnesty program that eventually cleared 281,000 violations, for a total of over $1.4 million. Conduent still has not gone on the record but has been reading our coverage. In June, two U.S. senators — Bill Nelson of Florida and Gary Peters of Michigan — called for a Federal Trade Commission probe of Conduent.
Identify the people who are most likely to champion the cause and have the power to make change. Early on in our reporting we identified two local politicians — state Sen. David Carlucci and Assemblyman Tom Abinanti — who had started making noise about the problem. We quoted them many times and checked in often to see what they’d learned about the system. They’re behind the Toll Payer Protection Act, which passed both houses in July and sits on Gov. Cuomo’s desk awaiting his signature. “As we were proving points, that this system is bad and has been bad for awhile … we definitely said this is fixable,” Esposito said. In July they called for New York to end its deal with Conduent.
When possible, connect people on both sides of the story in a safe space. The panel event brought together drivers drowning in bills with lawyers offering advice and with representatives from the Thruway Authority who could help. Those representatives, who originally said their billing company is “the best in the country,” traded phone numbers with drivers and offered one-on-one help.
While the community has seen some positive change in the billing system for cashless tolls, we’re not done investigating. We still don’t know:
The exact cause of the billing errors. Fully fleshed out networks and connections for the key players involved with cashless tolling. A complete accounting of the fines Conduent/Xerox paid for failing to meet performance standards. (The Thruway has charged Conduent $477,272 for failing to meet performance standards.) How much money changed hands through lobbyists and PAC's in relation to the bridge and cashless tolling. What role the federal government is playing in this, both legislative and executive. Whether it was a single part or a systemic problem that caused the errors. Cuomo’s office also won’t go on the record. And not every driver wronged by the system has found relief.
Still, New York state continues building out its cashless tolls system. In June the Thruway announced five plazas in the Lower Hudson Valley would go cashless by the end of the year, as the entire system switches by 2020.
Executives at Conduent — which operates in every state and specifically works in cashless tolling in New York, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, Florida, California and Texas — are earning millions.
And the cashless tolling technology, especially the equipment that reads and tracks license plates, is part of a much larger system of public surveillance for private profit that’s spreading rapidly on promises of convenience and increased safety.
“This is one of those investigations with long legs, capable of stretching across not only all of New York but likely most of the U.S.,” Scandale said. “It will impact every motorist (not only) financially but also cyber security-wise. Surveillance on you will grow as cameras proliferate and your whereabouts are logged on databases.”
Change, while beginning in New York and Florida, needs to spread to other states as well. "We may solve it here if Cuomo signs the legislation, but what about Texas?” Esposito said.
Anjanette Delgado is the senior news director for digital at the Detroit Free Press and freep.com, part of the USA Today Network. She worked at lohud.com during most of this investigation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @anjdelgado.
By Anjanette Delgado
Editor's note: What is the “worth” of investigative journalism to readers? In this new piece by guest blogger Anjanette Delgado, a New York team reports on how they measured potential interest in an investigative series on cashless highway tolls. First of a two-part series.
A deep investigation into cashless tolling on a new bridge in New York began by floating this trial balloon: "Tappan Zee, Mario drivers hit with thousands in fees”
At lohud.com, we had been hearing about local drivers getting bills, sometimes for thousands of dollars in fees, to cover their $5 trips across the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. The story included a callout asking more drivers to come forward.
We used the impact and effort matrix to determine whether a full investigation would worth the time and resources we’d be investing because we choose to apply our resources where we can do the most good. That first low-effort story, done in less than two hours, tested both audience interest and opportunity for impact.
A flood of responses followed, showing the opportunity to right a wrong for a significant number of people and make a real difference in our community. (A similar story borne of other complaints around the same time drew little response and ended up being a much smaller story for us. We just didn’t see proof that the issue represented a job our community wanted us to do.)
Now, nearly a year in, we include this impact statement with toll stories:
Reporters at lohud and The Journal News have spent months investigating cashless tolls to find out why drivers are getting fees and escalating fines for tolls for which many say they were never billed, who's running the system and where the system is breaking down.
The reporting so far has prompted changes, including: an amnesty program forgiving $1.4 million in individual bills; a bill introduced in Albany to help toll payers; a new web page for the amnesty program instead of using the faulty Tolls By Mail site; more distinct envelopes so drivers know they've received a bill; new toll signs on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge; more responsiveness from Thruway officials, two of whom attended a lohud forum on cashless tolling and personally helped drivers with their individual cases. legislation drafting a tollpayer’s bill of rights; and an apology from the lieutenant governor.
“So many of the people we talk to felt helpless and that’s where we come in,” said Frank Scandale, the project’s editor and head of investigations at lohud.com. “We have been able to get to the bottom of some things, get help for our readers, and put some of these bureaucrats on the defensive.”
This investigation is largely running on two parallel tracks:
1). A deep dig into how the system works, who’s managing it, where the breakdown is happening and how this technology is being used for surveillance. Frank Esposito is investigating this, and he’s using a network mapping technique to connect seemingly unrelated individuals into networks with clearly defined goals.
2). Crowdsourcing and horror stories. These are the drivers getting pulled over and left beside a road in the Bronx at night after their car is impounded for a suspended registration for unpaid tolls. These are the drivers taking taxis to work now because their cars have been repossessed after fees got out of hand. These are also the drivers helping us fact-check some of the statements coming from the players in the first track. Chris Eberhart has been working on this track.
We also quickly assembled a panel event offering help to drivers struggling with steep bills (two lawyers, a state senator and a representative from AAA). We invited the state Thruway Authority, which is responsible for the toll system, to take part.
Anjanette Delgado is the senior news director for digital at the Detroit Free Press and freep.com, part of the USA Today Network. She worked at lohud.com during most of this investigation. Email: email@example.com, Twitter: @anjdelgado. Look for the second part in this series next Tuesday.
by John Fraser, PhD
Dr. Fraser is the President & CEO of New Knowledge Organization Ltd, and a Fellow of the Media Impact Project at USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center. This is the final in his series of guest blogs on social media use among millennials.
.Savvy digital consumers are skilled at parallel processing. Despite the many criticisms that suggest that young people have difficulty focusing, the research is now starting to suggest that younger people have developed neural processes that accommodate parallel content processing. NewKnowledge Organization, in collaboration with The Media Impact Project at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, has been working with PBS NewsHour to study how early career adults under age 35 are choosing to engage with media news consumption, with a specific focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Unexpectedly, we are learning that early career adults are more likely to consume an entire news story as it appears in their multimedia stream. What may appear as distracted browsing may actually represent more attentive reasoning to content surrounding them.
Being raised as digital natives seems to have helped early career adults hone the craft of editorial control. They simply switch channels when the content is not timely or relevant. The volume has helped to finely hone their ability to filter and cut without regret of loss. The passive broadcast model assumes that a story arc must first establish context, describe the challenge, the public face of people struggling with the problem, and then finally lay out a solution or opportunity. Our studies suggest that this time-honored tradition no longer fits with a parallel processing learning ecology.
A good story today dives directly into a conundrum, a paradox, a declaration of threat, or quite simply a good set-up for a joke. The content that has a “hook” is often created with a staccato promise of a future, and an A-B-A-B structure that highlights the known and the aspirational finding to carry the story forward.
Appealing news media, especially the content that may not be breaking and timely, such as scientific discoveries or processes, seem to be more palatable to a young audience when they anchor back to social process and daily experience. We’re starting to speculate that a fundamental element for consumption of STEM stories may be intrinsic motivations to consume what is purposefully linked to life’s processes and strivings.
As we drilled down through the comments surrounding a Facebook Live event that focused on emerging robotic technologies, we quickly found that many of the comments that at first appeared as sarcastic actually outlined a moral conundrum that was not present in the main story. We suggest that the quick commentary from viewers in Facebook Live or any other running commentary first appears as if it’s a good joke, a contrast or comparison that seems at cross-purposes to logic of the presentation. Closer examination of light humor online suggests a more deep-seated humanities inquiry that sits below the surface of a joke. These in-jokes may not be as transparent to the reader as the sender. But, at the heart of these commentaries, jokes, sarcastic exchange, or even a belligerent comment may reveal questions of how the user is questioning the nature of life today.
Electronic Media Use, Reading, and Academic Distractibility in College Youth, Laura E. Levine, Bradley M. Waite, and Laura L. Bowman. CyberPsychology & Behavior. August 2007, 10(4): 560-566.https://doi.org/10.1089/cpb.2007.9990
The Associations Between Social-Media Use and Academic Performance Among Undergraduate Students in Biology. Jonna M. Leyrer-Jackson, Ashley K. Wilson, Journal of Biological Education. Mar 2017, Vol. 25: 1-10
Smartphones and Cognition: A Review of Research Exploring the Links between Mobile Technology Habits and Cognitive Functioning Henry H. Wilmer, Lauren E. Sherman, Jason M. Chein Frontiers in Psychology. Apr 2017, Vol. 8Crossref
Sleeping with Technology: Cognitive, affective, and technology usage predictors of sleep problems among college students, Larry Rosen, Louis M. Carrier, Aimee Miller, Jeffrey Rokkum, Abraham Ruiz, Sleep Health. Mar 2016, Vol. 2, No. 1: 49-56
“All Over the Place”: A case study of classroom multitasking and attentional performance. Dan Hassoun, New Media & Society. Nov 2015, Vol. 17, No. 10: 1680-1695
It’s Not Who I Am, it’s What I Do: Youth gamer identity and science understanding Asbell-Clarke, J., Fraser, J., Gupta, R. & Rowe, E. (2013), Transactions of the Digital Games Research Association, 1
Is Social Media the New Rock n’ Roll?
Wanna Try Some VR? Here’s a Guide
by Johanna Blakley
Lately I’ve been doing a bit of VR bingeing. While I’m not a binge TV viewer, I cannot get enough VR when the opportunity presents itself. Luckily, I’m based in Los Angeles, where new media experiments are all the rage, and my job takes me to exactly the kinds of conferences that showcase new experiments in the field.As you’ve no doubt heard, VR is all the rage right now, syphoning start-up funding from what many believe are more worthy, though less glitzy, projects. Stanford’s Jeremy Bailenson has just published Experience on Demand, which catalogs the many uses for VR, mostly for training or therapy, and VR pioneer Jaron Lanier has just come out with a surprisingly optimistic book, Dawn of the New Everything. Even if you’re skeptical about VR, I strongly urge you to try it out. And not just what you can pop into your Google Cardboard. Before you completely dismiss it, you need to experience it with better hardware, such as Samsung Gear or, even better, the HTC Vive.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Even if you get the chance to go to South By Southwest or the Future of Storytelling Festival (I went to both last year), you will soon learn that you’ll be facing long, depressing lines, sometimes hours long, for an experience that will last less than ten minutes — sometimes much less. Welcome to the dark side of experiential storytelling.
However, where there’s a will, there’s a way: ask questions, inquire ahead, and see if you can make reservations. IMAX VR now has 6 locations and counting: I loved Eagle Flight and Raw Data, two exhilarating multiplayer games. And museums and cultural centers offer these experiences, as well, often with a more civilized reservation system in place than conferences offer.
And then sometimes you just get lucky. While strolling through Montreal’s old city, I saw a sign saying “Luxury Rubbish:” anyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t pass that up. Turns out it was the gift shop for a cultural arts center that just happened to be hosting a massive VR exhibition curated by none other than the Future of Storytelling.
Needless to say, I showed up the moment the place opened, on a day the staff recommended as a low-traffic day, and spent half a day in other worlds of many people’s making. Afterwards I knew I must share a guide to these experiences so that unlucky others can figure out which line they should get into at the next SXSW, Sundance, Tribeca or Future of Storytelling Festival.
Instead of offering reviews of quality and preference, my goal here is to give some indication of what new realities these VR pieces explore: are you interested in how VR might transform books, art, dance, games or movies? Then read on, my friend.
The First Lady on Social Media
By Johanna Blakley
Washington Post reporter Krissah Thompson contacted me recently asking me if I had any thoughts about Melania Trump’s use of social media. I thought it was a fascinating question and so I started digging into her Instagram and Twitter accounts.
I must say, I found both feeds really dispiriting. I suspect that a lot of people who follow her closely and rate her highly might feel sorry for her. There is very little evidence that she is sharing anything remotely personal, which is what primarily attracts people to the social media feeds of celebrities and other powerful public figures. (The big exception, which might prove the rule, is her last Instagram post, a flirty close-up with a Santa hat.)
You might assume that Melania Trump is simply uninterested in the public stage or is uncomfortable sharing her private life with the public, but her personal Twitter feed, which she hasn’t updated since election day, is filled with personal preferences and observations that feel quite intimate. So much so, that I’m pretty sure I could pick out a gift for her (and flowers!) that I know she’d like. That is what’s so powerful about these social platforms: they can make you feel as if you really know someone. But the carefully coiffed woman featured in the FLOTUS feeds seems distant and disconnected. I couldn’t help but wonder whether her approval rating is higher than her husband’s precisely because she withholds so much, which gives her the patina of dignity.
Of course it’s tempting to compare Melania Trump’s social media presence with that of her predecessor, Michelle Obama. While the former first lady’s feed was also loaded with official events, she often spoke at those events, and through various media outlets, which allowed her to post material filled with her voice, her attitude, and her humor. She also had the habit of posting personal musings in the official FLOTUS account, which were differentiated from the rest of the feed with the initials “mo.” You don’t see any intimate asides from Melania Trump.
The vast majority of the photos she posts are documentation of formal events: she’s basically caught on camera performing her duty. What you don’t tend to see is her looking into the camera, or trying to connect with the American public, as Michelle Obama does quite convincingly in her photos and videos. Our current first lady seems to see herself as someone to be seen – which makes sense given her professional modeling career – but strikes me as a bit chilling in her new role, which is endowed with tremendous cultural and political power. The big question is, will she ever choose to wield it?
Read Thompson’s Washington Post article.
Journalists don’t as a rule have a specific impact in mind when we begin our journalism. We list project goals, but other than bringing awareness to an issue or event we do not identify what we’d like to see happen next.
"After years of having the same tired, angry, circular discussion, we set out — in one project — to change the conversation."
This is a story about the one time we did.
Rockland County, just northwest of Manhattan, is one of New York’s fastest growing counties. Neighborhoods that used to feel suburban and bucolic now choke with high-density sprawl, multi-family homes rise in backyards next door, traffic is a problem and religious schools pop up on residential streets. This is the lede of our story for the Journal News and lohud.com:
“A generation ago, there were few problems between Ramapo’s small ultra-religious Jewish communities and the gentiles and other Jews who made up the bulk of the town’s population. Things have changed. As the ultra-religious community has grown, Ramapo has become a flashpoint in a continuing conflict over what it means to live in the suburbs. … The conditions fueling that conflict are now threatening to spread beyond Ramapo’s borders. Surrounding communities have taken notice, and they are adopting measures aimed at heading off the strife that has become the norm for their municipal neighbor. No place, it seems, wants to become ‘the next Ramapo.’”
People in Rockland County, one of two counties we cover at The Journal News and lohud.com, argue over this. Things get ugly. Reader comments on the stories we write turn hostile and border on anti-Semitism. No matter what the topic, the conversation inevitably devolves into “us” vs. “them.”
But here’s the real problem, and it’s not religion: Ramapo’s loose zoning, lax enforcement of fire and building codes and largely unchecked development puts everyone at risk.
We wanted to know: Do people understand what’s really happening in Ramapo? If we were to explain the issue — lay it out in long-form story, year by year and decision by decision — could we all (or most of us) finally agree? Could we change minds? If we could achieve consensus, would we stop arguing religion and start attacking the real problems?
So, after years of having the same tired, angry, circular discussion, we set out — in one project — to change the conversation.
We researched the story over several months. We talked to longtime residents, members of the Jewish community, government officials and the county’s Fire and Emergency Services coordinator. We wrote and rewrote, shot video and mapped the region.
“Ramapo nears breaking point” is a long-form piece of explanatory journalism that laid out all of the problems that began decades ago.
How we measured the story’s impact
At the end of our story, we included a short survey to measure the impact of our explanatory journalism — to find out if we successfully proved that the issues in Ramapo are a lack of zoning and safety code enforcement, not religion. (We considered asking for opinion at the beginning of the story to gauge change at the end, but felt that would inhibit readership and we could accomplish what we needed with one survey at the end.)
The survey was four questions, beginning with two easy Likert Scale queries:
1. How strongly do you agree that the issues in Ramapo are a lack of zoning and safety code enforcement, not religion?
2. How strongly do you agree that after having read this story, your opinion of the issues in Ramapo has changed?
Then we expected a steep drop-off in answers to the final two questions because the first takes time and the second raises privacy concerns:
1. How have Ramapo’s issues impacted you?
2. What is your email address?
We built the survey using PollDaddy because it prevents repeat responses and for the data it provides on the back end, including geolocation, a time/date stamp and referrer, and it assigns each respondent a unique PollDaddy ID. This helped us connect their answers from question 1 to question 2, and so on, and get a more complete picture of their response.
We embedded the survey at the bottom of the long-form story. For two days, that was the only place you could find the survey; we didn’t embed it elsewhere or share it on social media. After two days we added it to our editorial, “Ramapo’s shoddy governance is by design.”
Surprisingly, nearly 900 people responded. Here’s what they said:
Do people understand what’s really happening in Ramapo? Yes. Most (67 percent) either agreed or strongly agreed with our explanation of the issues, with “strongly agree” ranking the highest (54 percent)
Could we change minds? Yes. Of those 67 percent, 14 percent said our reporting convinced them, while 35 percent said they agreed beforehand.
Finally, we believed we and the community could stop having the same conversation and instead move forward toward solutions.
Emails. Almost a third — 29 percent — gave us their email address for follow-up.
Sources and commentary. Even more surprising than the total number of respondents was the percentage of them — 38 percent — who also took the time to write about how Ramapo’s issues have impacted them. Hearing from homeowners, those who’ve moved away, educators, fire safety officials, people who have tried to move in but claim to have been denied housing gave us a list of future story ideas and sources.
A few wrote to thank us for our reporting, for exposing the issues and doing so in such an unbiased way. A couple said we should have written this years ago. One called it “conversation-framing analysis” and others called for more discussion on the topic. One response shows how we raised awareness and encouraged civic involvement:
“I live in a neighboring town and am concerned about Ramapo’s issues becoming issues here, too. So I will be paying more attention and doing what I can to ensure that we do not fall victim to the same lack of zoning and code enforcement that has plagued Ramapo.”
What we learned
Anjanette Delgado is the digital director and head of audience for lohud.com and poughkeepsiejournal.com, part of the USA Today Network. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @anjdelgado. Special thanks to Lindsay Green-Barber of the Impact Architects, who helped with survey methodology.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.