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Category Archives: Journalism

Algorithms do make mistakes! A teaching moment after Vegas

It’s so easy to assume that ‘algorithms‘ can do no wrong. Did you even use the fancy word prior to ‘Search Engine Optimization’ ?

So Google’s statement that, after the Las Vegas tragedy (and the inaccurate news that ensued via social media) they had to go in and over-ride the algorithm, says volumes.

“Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries. Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Here’s what is worth teaching.

  • A search result that pops up may not be accurate. In fact it can be deliberately misleading. (The Tom Petty headline, being the latest in ‘inadvertent’ mistakes.)
  • Cross-reference your ‘facts’. Read the whole article before drawing a conclusion.
  • The headline in a tweet or a trending FB post is an incomplete picture. Or often carries a bias. Former Facebook ‘news curators’ have admitted they were instructed to artificially inject selected stories into the trending news module.

An algorithm is just “a process or set of rules” that are set up in advance for sifting through data, and making calculations with complex variables. Algorithms are not writ in stone. Especially when there is some Artificial Intelligence involved, they are supposed to ‘learn’ from the complexity and adjust. Sometimes they aren’t good learners, and are easily misled, or tricked.

And so are we!

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Writers wanted. Start Here!

Is writing a dying skill? It appears to me that good writers are in short supply – analytical writers, storytellers, creative writers.

I am talking up writing and publishing in my school because I see the huge gap between what people read, and what (or how) they write. Young people read Dr. Seuss, but hardly take a stab at poetry. They may binge watch on Netflix, but never consider a screen play, or even coming up with a skit. They consume the news, but seldom look at the nuts and bolts of news writing, features, or Op-Eds.

You want to write? Here are a few places to start.

  • WriteTheWorld, an organization I have been talking to, has a very interesting Poetry and Spoken Word Competition. It’s open to students between the ages of 13 and 18. And there are prizes. $100 for the first prize! More details here.
 
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Posted by on April 3, 2017 in Ed-Tech, Education, Journalism, Workshops

 

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Digital storytelling on Digital Learning Day

Today, being Digital Learning Day, I plan to get students to rethink cameras. How could camera create digital ‘stories’?

  • How would a background give your subject context and proportion?
  • What could you filter or manipulate a picture before you take the shot?
  • How could you change the ISO settings to get a different result with the same subject?

Who knows? Some of my students may turn out to be journalists, or take to photography in some shape or form. Despite the fact that most pictures today are taken on phones, understanding lighting and perspective will always be an asset. My 5th grade class was divided into three groups. One with a Digital SLR, and two with regular digital cameras and two tripods if needed.

Here is how one group shot a Lego device. Interesting how one chose the robotics table, and another chose the Moon landing poster as a backdrop.

lego_2

lego_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or take how they approached this subject. Long shot with an outdoor context vs a close-up shot, adding the human element.

rose_1     rose_2

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2017 in Ed-Tech, Education, Journalism

 

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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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