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Category Archives: Journalism

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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Attack machines. Two elections, different priorities

It’s two days away from General Elections in Sri Lanka. And 15 months away from the US Presidential Elections. Comparing these could be a study in what has how personalities (and by this we mean character and reputation) and priorities differ.

Oh, and how the media conducts itself.

This week there has been a virtual political firing squad in the US, as presidential contestants attack each other as a way of differentiating themselves from the pack. And there is a pack, as far as Republicans go! Take this classic, if not representative battle between Rand Paul and Donald Trump. Rand calls out Trump for lack of political finesse in these words:

“He is devoid of ideas other than he likes the idea of power and getting attention for foolish statements and bluster.”

This was a comeback to Trump going out of his way to attack Rand, thus:

“You look at a guy like Rand Paul: He’s failing in the polls, he’s weak on the military — he’s pathetic on military…I actually think he’s a far better doctor than he is a senator.” 

Indeed, all this gets into play because there is media to cover every sound bite.

SWITCH TO A DIFFERENT CONTINENT, and attacks are less about personality and more about substance. Character comparisons are about political expedience or the controversy surrounding it past deeds. Amantha Perera just contributed to a balanced analysis about the two contenders, president Maithripala Sirisena, and his ousted predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Though it is a general election, the personality of the party leader is in play. But by comparison, despite digging through the past (a recent exhumation, for instance), there is a certain maturity in the political process that’s quite evident.

As Americans must put up with the tripe as Trump and Paul, or Clinton and Bush duke it out over golf games, business reputation, or emails (!), Sri Lankans must consider how its future party and its leader plays on an geo-political stage, with its allegiance to India and/or China.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2015 in Journalism, Media

 

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Triva floods our media while real news slips by

I don’t know if this is an age thing, but commercial radio and TV ads irritate me. They seem to be eager to drown us in triva –not to mention groan-worthy humor. (have you seen that latest McDonald’s ad about French Fries and chicken something? If not, avoid it like the plague!)

Why is it that a British baby that’s 4th or fifth in line for a ‘crown’ that nobody quite cares about fills our channels? Or why the obsession with the other royal family over on this side of the pond? I’m not talking about the Clintons, but the Kardashians. So many important local and global events are unfolding, but we get non-stop coverage of trivia.

Here’s a glimpse of what went unreported last week.

  • NASA tested a 10-engine aircraft capable of vertical take-off, that could change idea of unmanned vehicles. Interesting, since Amazon seems to think the ‘delivery drones’ are actually becoming more possible.
  • Speaking of books, there’s the Arthur C. Clarke Science Fiction award in the UK, to a young writer, Emily St. John Mandel. It’s been described a novel about the ‘hyper-globalized’ future. Perhaps John Kerry, and Jeff Bezos are reading it right now, while ignoring the Clintons-in-waiting, and the princess of Cambridge, or whatever she is called.

 

 

 

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