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Category Archives: Journalism

Long before fake news, we had half-truths

You’ve heard the adage, “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” 

In the absence of fact-checking, we cultivated scepticism. It’s easy to blame our epidemic of fake news on the Russian trolls, and geo-politics. But truth is, half-truths and conspiracy theories circulated before social media arrived on the scene. Some even embedded themselves into the pages of history. Here are two:

Have you heard the one about Black Confederates? It’s a ‘story’ of how 80,000 black soldiers supposedly fought for the Confederacy. This is, as the Civil War website calls it, shoddy facts that’s were “repeated, amplified, and twisted” to become credible to some, just because the story fit their agenda.

Or the story of American planes dropping napalm in South Vietnam? It surrounds the Pulitzer prize-winning photograph, taken by Associated Press photographer, Nick Ut on June 8, 1972. That too, we are informed by Joseph Campbell, was a myth. The photo was accurate. The story was not.

Which brings me to how do we teach fact checking to young people ?

Until a few years ago some made Wikipedia the culprit. But even before that there were stories circulated via email, that travelled through an unverified friend-of-a-friendsnetwork. They contained dubious facts no one bothered to fact check. Fast forward to now, and we like to blame the trolls.

How easy it is to blame someone else when the onus ought to be on us.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2017 in Education, Journalism, Media

 

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Cartoonists and bloggers under siege

It’s odd how politicians hold a cartoonist and bloggers up to tough standards once reserved for ‘The Media.’

Political cartoonists in particular, hold a lens up to our world, enabling us to see events in a different perspective. I think of a cartoonist as more than a lens, in fact. A mirror and a lens – a kaleidoscope. You see something new every time you turn your head.

Malaysian cartoonist, ZUNAR, known for his powerful editorial cartoons for 20 years, has been getting under the skin of the ruling class. In 2010 he was arrested just before his book “Cartoon-O-Phobia” was launched. The crime? Sedition! Interestingly sedition laws exist in many countries.

We often hear of France’s Charlie Hebdo being threatened. But cartoonists have been under siege.

  • Likewise, bloggers, especially political writers have been attacked in countries such as Ecuador, South Africa, India, and Sri Lanka.
  • In Bangladesh, four bloggers have been murdered.
 
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Posted by on December 9, 2016 in Journalism, Media

 

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Former copyboy, Scott Pelley’s optimism in the face of ‘bad information’

Last week, Scott Pelley, anchor of CBS News made some timely observations about the news business. Which, we should not forget is indeed a business. Pelley was awarded the Walter Cronkite award for Excellence in Journalism by the Cronkite School at ASU.

Now I regularly watch his broadcast, so I admire his candor  when he observed that:

“Never in our history have we had so much bad information.”

Let that sink in, against the other platitudes we hear that ‘never in our history have we had so much information at our fingertips’ etc. In 2013, Pelley warned that the media was getting the Big Stories wrong, over and over again. How prescient, considering most media misread the 2016 electorate. They are, after all our filters, and when their filters get trapped in the same gunk, we lose our faith in them.

At the ASU event he went further to warn, “We’re in our digital citadels, unchallenged by ideas. Biased reporting closes minds. Journalism is meant to open them.” Pelley, kicked off his career at age 15, as a ‘copyboy’ at a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas. If you’ve never heard of the job of ‘copyboy’ this person was, to put it nicely, a delivery boy who was given a sheet of butcher paper (on which stories were then written), to deliver it to the sub-editors’ desk.

Like Kelley, Cronkite was also optimistic about delivering the truth, alluring to the movie Network, when he said:

“We’ve got to throw open our windows and shout out these truths” 

Just for larks, here’s Walter Cronkite, as he signed off on March 6th, 1981.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2016 in Arizona, ASU, Events, Journalism, Media, Technology, TV

 

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Filtering the news for our kids

It gushes out of multiple channels, often without any context.

For young people, especially those under 10 years, what passes for news is almost toxic. Our challenge is to find ways to keep them ‘well informed’ and yet not overwhelmed.

And of course, there’s no wonder app for that. Even the ones that promise to filter the crud (so-called ‘news aggregators‘ like FlowReader, Flipboard etc) are often accomplices when it comes to ‘TMI,’ or To Much Information.

But wait, there was once an filter for this which we have put to pasture. We called it ‘conversations.’ The human 1.0 app that helped us sift through day-to-day details, layering over the minutia with ‘big picture’ ideas, and cross-referencing them with stories.

We re-framed topics too ugly to ponder and yet too important to ignore. Children posed questions, and found answers to them at the dinner table. We didn’t need to fact-check everything on the spot because…. yes, you guessed it: Our conversations were not hijacked by a smart device sitting next to the casserole dish.

So I like to pose the question to you readers: ‘How do you filter the news for your kids? Common Sense Media has a useful guide for different age groups of children.

Whether you’re a teacher of a parent, I like to know. How do you filter the fire hose?

 

 
 

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Farewell LMD readers – I’m retiring after 20 years

Dec. 2015 was my last column in LMD Magazine. After 20 some years, I’ve decided to put down the pen and become a consumer, rather than a contributor. (And yes, it’s always been a pen!)

I began writing for the magazine back in 1994, as an ‘occasional’ contributor. By 1995, publisher Hiran Hewavisenti cajoled me to start a column after we returned to the US, and …the rest is history.

I admit, ‘retiring’ as a columnist was a tough decision, considering how much it connected me with many of you readers in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. It’s funny how ‘old tech’ print publications like this have been the precursors of our fancy schmancy social networks. It’s how I’ve met tech evangelists, entrepreneurs, and a wide range of thought leaders in emerging sectors. You’ve helped me cover topics such as US political campaigns, and advertising to diplomacy, from the tsunami to the ‘Uber economy’, from mobile learning, and cyber wars to artificial intelligence.

I like to thank the staff at LMD for their wonderful support, and my fellow columnists who sometimes became my sounding board, as they covered complimentary, emerging topics from different corners of the world. And last but not least, I have to thank my readers, many of whom write back, or send that occasional tweet.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2016 in Journalism, Media, Social Media

 

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Selfies, a gift for lazy journalism

Oh please, stop it will you! Newspapers and magazines appear to trot out the staple photograph, the selfie, whenever someone important is being covered.

It’s become old. Self promotion at its worst. Lazy photo-op at best.

What’s the real story of photographing a child running up to someone and taking a selfie? That he/she was brave enough to approach the subject with a phone? Of is it that we are so infatuated with children wielding phones, that it just looks cute – so ‘story’ ain’t important.

I’m all about taking human interest photos, but there’s more to humanizing the photo than a glob of a nose (in the photo itself) or two people staring at a piece of glass.

And it’s not just teenage territory. Grown-ups do it all the time.

 

It’s become a rite of passage that getting close to a pope or politician is really to grab a selfie, not to have a real conversation. And it’s getting seriously, seriously, boring to hear a story begin on TV or in print that “…It was a selfie seen around the world!” or “Today a selfie taken by (insert subject here) went viral!”

WHILE WE ARE AT IT: could we outlaw the term “went viral” once and for all, now that it’s in the same cliché bucket as “Information superhighway” and “World Wide Web”?

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2015 in Journalism, Media, Social Media

 

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Baiting the media, achieves nothing – except an ego boost

Donald Trump is more entertainment for the media, than a front-runner per se. They may not want to admit this, but especially in the US, where campaigns are fought and won with war-like strategy, it’s always been useful (to the media) when there’s a wild-card.

Think Sarah Palin. 

It seems as if Trump is trying desperately to fill the void left by Sarah Palin (remember her attack on lamestreammedia?) Which is why his attack on Jorge Ramos of Univision, is enlightening. He knows it will guarantee coverage.

Sadly this is also the strategy of terror organizations, as we have seen in recent months.

Think ISIS, and its despicable acts against journalists.

Or Wednesday’s cold-blooded murder of two reporters in Virginia. The killer seemed to anticipate that this would get him media coverage, making sure he distributed the story himself, via social media. A pretty pathetic use of social media,or any media for that matter. He was just looking for attention, not change.

 

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