Saturday, February 28, 2015

Columbine and the Media

I came across Columbine by Dave Cullen on my dad's bookshelf this weekend, and desperate for a book, I decided to crack it open – well some of it. The book is like 450 pages long, and quite frankly, is terrifying. I don't remember this event. When the shooting happened, I was 5 going on 6, and the world was pretty different. Cars had cassette players. People used VCRs and "rewind" actually meant something.

Cullen describes the tragic shooting in harrowing detail. The book's descriptions, memories and eyewitness accounts were made possible by a rapidly growing technology: the cell phone. Several students in Columbine's affluent surrounding community had them, and used them to call the media, mainly television stations. This really hadn't happened before. Hostages were calling reporters and talking about events while their lives were in immediate danger.

This presented several problems. Students trapped inside the school could potentially compromise their location. Reporters could reveal too much about police plans, and if the shooters were watching, could thwart law enforcement. Interviewing witnesses in crisis often compromises honest, truthful and sensitive reporting.

Which spelled disaster in the wake of tragedy.

"It would take years before the detective team would explain why," Cullen writes. "The public couldn't wait that long. The media was not about to. They speculated."

Speculation by news media made it more difficult for investigators to determine what actually happened. Newspapers were printing headlines that mis-numbered the victims and shooters, and interviews with unreliable sources – from people who had never met the Eric and Dylan before the tragedy – mischaracterized the assailants' motives.

"This was the first major hostage standoff of the cell phone age, and they (the cops/everyone) had never seen anything like it," Cullen writes.

I'd like to think 16 years later, the cell phone hasn't made hostage situations more dangerous, and that reporters have gotten better at balancing what the public needs to know, has a right to know and determining when they need to know it. But news hasn't slowed down. The smartphone and social networking have probably made accurate reporting of violent acts more difficult. The Boston Bombing comes to mind.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Eric's Official List of Best and Worst Red Carpet Looks, Oscars 2015

This counts as "about the media," right? Just kidding.

I have no real sense of fashion and certainly no authority to judge other people's, but I'm gonna pretend I do. Classic hollywood vintage looks and neutral colors characterize this year's red carpet at the Oscars. Frankly, many of the dresses are vintage, boring, and a bit old-fashioned with so much draping and floral prints that I may need to put a lock on my grandmother's linen closet. 

Photos credit: Noel West, The New York Times 

Best looks:

3. Faith Hill- Her dress is pure elegance. The patches of shimmer on the neutral cream keep the dress interesting. Perhaps the tailoring distorts her proportions, but love it overall. She could be on the cover of Glamour with that hair and makeup. 

2. Georgina Chapman in Marchesa Eternal Collection. The floral pattern and diamond accents remind me of a couch my parents bought in the early 90s, but if the couch had been this sophisticated floral pattern, I might have convinced them to keep it. Exquisite. 

1. Meryl Streep in ??? This choice may by biased. Meryl is my hero, and tonight she might tie Katherine Hepburn for most Academy Awards. Glad she broke the mold and decided to ditch the dress. She rocks it. Also love her pose –  just like a mannequin.

Worst Looks: 

3.  Lady Gaga in a costume-like princess dress. Of course Gaga has to go against the grain. Although her dress is just that – a dress – it's just too much. Her hair cut and color reminds me of the wife's in "American Gothic." (All that's missing is her fiancĂ© with the pitchfork)

2. Octavia Spencer in Tadashi Shoji. It's not terrible. It just looks like my grandmother's drapes. Too much fabric and the color reminds me of a museum artifact. 

1. Patricia Arquette in Rosetta Getty. Okay it's not that bad. Like she probably won't be on any real worst dressed lists, but I just don't like the dress. Black and white is boring, and there is nothing there to snazzy it up. It's a shame the hair and makeup don't redeem the look. 

Honorable Mention: Oprah Winfrey in Vera Wang. Let's just say she really kicked 'em up for the show. 

I HEART the NEW YORK times

The New York Times is leading the pack when it comes to the digital transition. Lauren doesn't think so, but they totally are.

They announced a plan to revamp their website, possibly make their app free and a new method to increase revenue from digital advertisements. All of which are great, but the Times is mainly leading the pack because they produce content that meshes with the ever popular click-baity news like Buzzfeed and Mashable.

Some reasons why their digital presence works:

1. The format of the New York Times app appeals to screen-swiping millennials. The app gives pithy summaries for the time strapped reader, and for longer features, the app generously provides an estimated read time. If the app says it'll takes 30 min. to read, you bet I'll pass.

2. They publish content that captures the eyes of readers who prefer screen to paper.  Last night, I read an article about the Notorious R.B.G. (older people may know her as Ruth Bader Ginsburg) who has become a recent pop icon and martyr for young Democrats. Check out the story here.

3. Most importantly, the New York Times Now app successfully convinces users the app is worth paying for. After a brief trial period, users have to decide whether it's worth $2 a week. Without a doubt it's worth it. Everyday I look forward to reading the "Morning Briefing"– a comprehensive summary of important current events – and the "Evening Briefing," which is presented as photojournalism. When I'm bored, instead of turning to Facebook, I'll swipe right on the NY Times Now app to "Editors Picks" and scroll through an aggregated list of popular internet stories from various websites. I'm always interested in reading about the origins of "HTTP" or a Buzzfeed article about a sculpture on Hollywood Boulevard of an Oscar snorting crack.

The NY Times is learning to embrace digital journalism. Truthfully, and perhaps their greatest accomplishment, the NY Times editors are better than my Facebook friends at picking Buzzfeed articles. They've joined 'em cause Lord knows print media can't beat 'em.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

An app that's the next chicken soup?

I'm wrapped in three blankets, wearing two pairs of socks and sipping tea – yes, I've got the bug – and am searching for ways to feel better. I Googled "how to feel better," and Wiki Answers came back with some great tips like having an old ice cream bucket near the bed (thankfully I haven't experienced that symptom) and canceling any plans for the day (fortunately Saturdays are pretty relaxed). 

It's difficult to imagine being sick without social media, the internet and websites like Webmd. My mom snapchatted hugs and and get-well wishes when she found out I wasn't feeling well, and Amazon Prime helped ease my bed-ridden boredom. 

Social media helps patients but has also changed the physician side of medicine. Physicians now have exclusive social networking sites like SERMO where they can chat with doctors, discuss different treatments and get second opinions. 

“I can speak freely because I am anonymous. I don't have to worry about my words getting back to a hospital administrator,” SERMO's website says. 

Social media has revolutionized how physicians practice. Before social media, physicians could only turn to colleagues for advice, which meant being fearful of asking certain questions or raising concerns because they could jeopardize their reputation or job. This isn't a problem with anonymous networking. SERMO also extols the power of "crowdsourcing,"or the idea that 30,000 doctors are better than a handful at solving medical problems. 

Technology may also bring house calls back – through apps. Telemedicine is quickly becoming a popular alternative to traditional visits to the doctor's office. With video chat, doctor's can diagnose disease without physically seeing patients, saving everyone time and money. Google is even testing a "talk with a doctor now" app that allows users, well, to talk with a doctor, and it's predicted that by 2018, 65 percent of interactions with healthcare providers will happen through mobile devices. 

Telemedicine could mean fewer trips to the doctor's office and less time with its depressing fish tank, outdated magazines, curmudgeonly receptionist and coughing snotty-nosed children. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The ubiquitous photograph

Lindsey posted about pictures and how everyone feels compelled to snap pictures of events, weather phenomenon, cocktails, plays, sporting events, etc., etc. OK that's my paraphrase, but she writes: 

"From traveling, going to sporting events or enjoying the weather— everything has to be documented.

How much worse will this get? Will there ever be a point where posting everything you do will get old and stop?" 

The answer to her embittered rhetorical questions, I believe, is unequivocally no. The pictures won't stop. If anything, they will just become more abundant as technology allows us to take more photos, store them, swipe and cherish our digital memories forever. 

Yes, the pictures can get annoying, but they're worth it. Think about it. We've never had the ability to document life in such vivid real time. Have you seen the video of the Taiwan plane crash? It's absolutely stunning in a  holy s***, mortality-brushing way. 

The video was taken from a dash cam, which are put on cars with increasing frequency because insurance companies use the video in court. However, these cameras often capture really interesting things. Think crazy Russian dash cam videos.  

Before the camera phone, audio-visual reporting happened ex-post facto, often too late to capture the real-life drama of the event. With the ubiquity of the iPhone camera and small cameras in general (like the dash cam), there isn't this delay.

As for the social reasons, are people taking pics and video for social instead of moral reasons? Probably. But social interaction motivates a lot of human activity. Posting pictures also makes people happy, and as moral philosopher John Stuart Mill would argue, that's really the best we can do. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fonts: the forgotten communicator

Last semester I conducted an unofficial experiment. Halfway through the semester, I decided to start turning in my assignments in the same font as The New York Times: Georgia.

When I did that, all of my grades improved and continued improving. Yes, it's impossible to know if changing my font had any effect, but I think it did. Maybe writing in the NYT's distinct font made me write more like the distinguished newspaper sounds. Or maybe my professors thought my writing sounded better because they made that association. Maybe it did nothing at all, but my grades still improved, 

Fonts are so important to branding in media. I know I'm reading a NYT's article when I see numbers like this 12345, and I associate that look with quality journalism. Great brands often are consistent with their fonts. For example, Apple products are uniformly wrapped in Helvetica. 

It's all in the details, and when establishing any brand, consistency is key. 

I learned through some research for this post that font and typeface aren't synonyms. A typeface is a variation of a font. For example, Helvetica Bold is a typeface for the font Helvetica.

Chapel Hill and Charlie Hebdo

Just to preface this post, the proceeding thoughts will be more "of the news" than about it. 

I awoke on Monday last week to the horrific news that three Muslim students – Yusor, Deah and Razan – were murdered by a Chapel Hill man. It was a heinous crime that devastated local, national and international communities. 

Quickly following the news break, I saw posts reprimanding the media for calling the crime a violent act instead of terrorism. Whereas, if roles in the crime had been reversed, media headlines would've mentioned terrorism. Here is the cartoon. I must admit, it makes an important point about problems of racism and stereotyping in the United States. 

But why didn't media call this awful murder a terrorist act? 

Terrorism is "the use of violence in the pursuit of political aims." 

A lot of terrorist activities happen in the Middle East because the West and especially the United States occupy and force Western philosophies on regions that can't function peacefully under the these political structures. And actually very few terrorist attacks in the United States are from Muslim perpetrators – difficult to believe if you follow mainstream media coverage. 

The definition of "terrorism" is without mention of religion or religious affiliation. Terrorism is entirely political, and although some terrorist groups like ISIS in the Middle East or the the All Tripura Tiger Force have religious associations, their primary motivations are political (usually occupation). 

The media called Charlie Hebdo a terrorist attack because the biographies of the attackers revealed their political intentions. According to Robert Pape, a professor of political science at Chicago University, they were "powerfully motivated by the Iraq War, by the Abu Ghraib torture abuse." 

France also has blatantly racist and anti-islamic policies like banning muslim women from wearing full face coverings

The Chapel Hill shootings were motivated by reasons that weren't political. Although parking is the alleged reason, I neither believe that was the true reason nor believe it qualifies as political. Any way you look at it, the attacker possessed hatred for his neighbors, which caused him to commit three murders. 

Really, what's in a name? Society has almost given terrorism a new meaning. For example, most Americans wouldn't consider the Boston Tea Party an act of terrorism (it undeniably was) because it was initiated by Americans.  Perhaps the media should just stop using the word. It perpetuates stereotypes and cultivates racism, and when you get down to it, both the Chapel Hill and Paris attacks are repugnant examples of people hating people. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Internet Addiction?

In media class we debated whether or not the internet is addicting, and some were talking about the internet like it was crystal meth. They were acting like the World Wide Web had cooties – I don't know why.

"I know I'm addicted," someone said.

I just can't see it that way. I'm addicted to the internet like I am addicted to wearing my contacts or driving my car. It enhances life, so I choose to use it every day. This week's "Invisibilia" podcast talked about this, and their sources seemed to take my opinion. They said that people are still learning and seeing the internet and its effect on society.

If you watch the show Downton Abby (OMG this week was amazing. What a relief Bates wasn't involved in the murder.), when the house first got electricity people were afraid. They feared that electricity was dangerous and could have some terrible effect on humans.

I think people feel the same way toward internet. On the timeline of human history, the web has been around for a microsecond. It's still unexplored and undeveloped. The uncharted and unknown can be quite frightening, but that doesn't mean it's addicting.

I'm not saying that people can't be addicted to the internet – of course they can. If you watch the TLC show "My Strange Addiction," you know people can be addicted to anything. People can be addicted to eating toilet paper or sniffing detergent, but that doesn't mean toilet paper and detergent should be avoided.

PsychCentral has a quiz to help people determine if they spend an "unhealthy amount of time" on the internet. Truly, if you seek the internet over your partner, you have a problem, but I don't think the problem is rooted in the internet.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

My two cents on Brian Williams

Brian Williams is a reporter now being reported about. He has anchored NBC's Nightly News for a decade and a year, and he's so charming and beloved that it's hard to believe he's now making headlines for lying.

Hearing that Williams had lied about his heroic history was like hearing the results of the Wainstein report earlier this year. Dishonesty is probably man's greatest fault, and is certainly among the least forgivable. 

I find myself, however, wanting to forgive Williams. The New York Times published a mashup of newscasts and TV appearances where he talked about his helicopter being hit by a grenade and subsequently making an emergency landing. 

The story evolved over time, becoming more embellished with each retelling, and it has had a long time to evolve. It's not like Williams woke up and said, "I'm going to invent this fantastic war story to make people like me more." In the push to be interesting and likable, Williams, over the course of ten years, took some artistic liberty with the truth. 

Unfortunately, when a journalist takes artistic liberty with the truth, it moves his or her reporting from non-fiction to fiction. It's like we're finding "Treasure Island" in the UL's collection of books about aquatic mammals. Now we want to make sure no other "books" were misplaced between fact and fiction. 

It's difficult to predict how this will affect the newscaster's career. Personally, I hope NBC will give him the boot, but you never know. I really think it's time, regardless of the scandal, for NBC to replace any newscasters – except for maybe Al Roker – who have been there for ten years or more.

NBC has an unpleasant history of firing anchors on air, like the Ann Curry fiasco, which devastated both her and viewers. So I'm pretty doubtful they'll make the right choice. 


Saturday, February 7, 2015

The impermanence of the internet

Jenny wrote a blog post about the impermanence of the Internet. She challenged, with evidence from a New Yorker article, the widely held belief that content we produce on the Internet lasts forever, and could, at anytime, come back to haunt our future persons.

She made several interesting points about how companies often delete files because they really can't afford to copy and store everything on the Internet forever. 

However, we can never be certain if something we produce has been truly deleted. When we produce something on the Internet, it suddenly exists outside of our control. We no longer can decide who sees what–even with privacy settings because people can share screenshots. 

Yes, the idea that everything we produce on the Internet will always be available is probably exaggerated, but the fact that anything we produce has the potential to reappear is still a scary and sobering thought. 

It's certainly scary enough to keep me from posting pics from this weekend. 


Friday, February 6, 2015

Does sex sell?

Does sex sell? I think we all know the answer – an unequivocal yes. Sex sells in the media. And it's not always the blatant promiscuity that sells, like that displayed in this extended cut Go Daddy commercial. The commercial doesn't even hide its intentions:

"Go Daddy just wants to grab your attention using attractive women, so you listen to what they have to say," the 'teacher' tells her student.

It's disgusting, yet oddly captivating. The commercial is indecent but not obscene. There is no nudity, profanity, or pornographic material, just a string of clever innuendos and seductive gesticulations that teeter between PG13 and R. It's like watching a Saw movie: you want to turn it off but you just can't. You have to see what happens.

Even in commercials and ads that aren't overtly sexual, sex still plays a role. For example, the New Yorker magazine for January 26 shows two actors with the words "Sexy and Gorgeous" above their heads. The photos of the actors are obviously retouched to give them a perfectly and seductively mysterious gaze. Even the New Yorker features pictures of actors retouched and enhanced to increase their sex appeal (albeit the ad was for a play about a date, so there is some artistic value.)

Some people think that in the future, more of the media display realistic, untouched models in ads. I don't see this happening. I truly believe the market decides how the media portrays people, and so far, sex has done pretty well. People like to buy products from good looking people. Researchers in the Netherlands proved this. We would rather buy shampoo picturing a hot celebrity with volumes hair than a bottle that pictures, well,  me for example, with my strange hairline and fickle curls.

But recently, magazines and modeling agencies have started photographing more natural looking women and a viral Dove ad revealed how the modeling transformation process can destroy self-esteem. Interestingly, if you visit Dove's website, the women aren't everyday, wash-and-wear, au naturale kind of people. They are glistening, fit and display perfectly white smiles.

Even Dove, who says they have "a vision of a world where beauty is a source of confidence, and not anxiety," finds the temptation to photoshop too appealing. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The cellphone of the future

My aunt Carol and uncle Jack are teaching an EMT training course to high school students, and at a family lunch yesterday, we discussed their students' strong attachments to cellphones and electronic devices. Carol said her students would likely experience "permanent psychological damage" if something ever prevented them from checking their phones. 

I've never felt a strong psychological attachment to cellphones as I often prefer to ignore its seemingly constant beeps and buzzes. I wouldn't need a "noPhone," or a plastic iPhone look-a-like designed to placate people who feel "inadequate" when they aren't fondling a cellphone. It promises users to "never again experience the unsettling feeling of flesh on flesh when closing your hand."  Check out the "noPhone," which is currently in the kick-starter phase. 

I do, however, think that attachment to our cellphones–even when not psychologically impairing–is very real. I go everywhere with my cell phone: school, church, to sleep, to the bathroom (just being honest), and I think the future of cellphone and smartphone technology will capitalize on this attachment. 

To check a cell phone, one must constantly flex his or her biceps, resulting in a repetitious and unpleasant exercise. I think the cellphone of the future will eliminate this unpleasant body motion by directly feeding information from our phones to the brain's visual cortex, allowing us to see Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. 

I think biological attachments will soon replace the psychological attachments we have with technology. Imagine the possibilities when Google connects to our brains.