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Tag Archives: media

A thing about encouraging the media to do better

11 Jan

Y’all see that Trump presser today? Where he threatened BuzzFeed, argued with a CNN reporter, and basically called everything that doesn’t praise him fake news? Meanwhile, reporters there to ask questions seemed flumoxed on how to proceed — asking too many things at once, allowing Trump to weasel out of questions, not taking up the deeply salient questions of a reporter when he was ignored by Trump, and struggling, often on whether to soften questions in hopes of potential increased access. A lot of reporters tried valiantly, but on the day after  a day with ninmajor breaking stories and with a confounding entertainer who does not adhere to U.S. political norms, it was sort of a hot mess.

And that’s just one day! How do we make sense of a news media that covered an FBI announcement about Democratic emails that amounted to nothing, but has seemed to go soft on Trump and Russia in the midst of an oft confusing and hostile relationship between intelligence services and and incoming administration? Everyone is screaming about Fake News, no one can keep up on the real news, and Americans have largely lost any understanding on what journalists can and should do (hint: when interpreting, interpretation should be clear; the ideal of neutrality is not a real thing; journalists are not stenographers but must contextualize facts; audience service does not mean providing audiences only what they want to hear). Journalism is a risky profession that helps to safeguard democracy around the world. Good journalism is aggressive in investigation, thoughtful on possibilities,  and cautious — but not timid– in conclusions.

Anyway, a friend just texted me asking how to encourage the media to do their jobs in a political climate that is rapidly violating all sorts of norms. The answer to that is really long and involves multiple types of action, so I said I would write this up.

Context to the below is I’m a former AP journalist, with a degree in journalism, who also has a day job related to media analysis. I speak only for myself.

What you can do as a consumer of news media without talking back to the news media:

1. Stop saying “Mainstream Media” when discussing news content. No one knows what this means anymore . Some people use it to mean liberal bias. Some people use it to mean print media. Some people use it to mean non-cable TV media. Some people use it to mean non-Internet media. No one can agree on what it is, so when talking about the media critically, don’t use the term, just define the specific media or category of media you mean, otherwise the stuff you’re saying isn’t super helpful.

2. Stop saying “Fake News.” Say what you mean — satire, propaganda (foreign? or domestic?), doctored email, leaks, rumors, lies, websites pretending to be for newspapers that don’t actually exist, opinion outlets, partisan think tanks. Be prepared to say why something is what you describe it as.

3. Get your news from multiple sources. This includes from multiple platforms – TV, print, internet, and as widely across the political spectrum as you can stand.

4. Read foreign English-language news about the U.S. and the rest of the world. This doesn’t just mean going to BBC.com, this means foreign language news media with English language editions. You can find these on every continent. I rotate through English language editions of papers in Germany, France, India, the Middle East, and Africa over the course of the week. Google is a wonderful thing. (If I make a list it’s going to be wildly incomplete and I don’t have time. Google. And if you make a list let me know and I’ll add a link to it).

5. Trace stories back to the original reporting. Okay, so you found out about something from a partisan newsletter, a friend’s Tweet, or even a Wall Street Journal article that references another media source. Google the original reporting and read that. Media can be a game of telephone. Get the first story. Read follow-on stories that go more in depth across other media, but don’t rely on tertiary sources.

6. Understand the actual media relationship with objectivity/neutrality.  Media in the U.S. are not legally required to be unbiased. In fact, the idea of “unbiased” reporting is a convention of network TV and big-5 American newspapers in the mid-late 20th century. Historically, and in the 21st century, American media and those in many democracies around the world have specifically been organs of particular viewpoints. For heaven’s sake, The New York Post was founded by Alexander Hamilton to talk trash about his rivals. Media neutrality is not, and cannot be, a real thing. What is the neutral viewpoint? That of a white straight cisgender Christian man with a traditional U.S. university education? Are reporters from other demographics less considered neutral? To consume and evaluate news you need to know: 1. Your own biases, 2. Our cultural biases in defining neutrality, 3. The actual objectives of any news organization which can range from “as neutral as possible” to extreme partisanship.

7. Bias your news exposure towards outlets that provide access to source materials/documents.  This allows you to evaluate news interpretation for yourself.

8. Observe and note patterns of portrayal Who discusses what issues on a given program? Are people impacted by a particular issue given the opportunity to speak to a particular issue. Is crime framed on a racial basis? Are women relegated to discussing only lifestyle issues?

9. Make sure you consider local news too. I don’t watch a lot of local news, but I’ve started to recently. It’s helped me understand the sentiment so many people have of America facing lots of problems even as crime has dropped and employment has gone up. Local American news is about fear on every axis imaginable. Just like fashion magazines sell women products they don’t need lest they fail to get a man; local news sells us fears only they can solve. Yes, it’s true, “if it bleeds, it leads,” but news doesn’t have to be like this. I’d encourage you watch this video from Ulrik Haagerup on the “constructive news” approach he implemented in Denmark. Constant fear-based local news reporting in the U.S. contributes to the extreme polarization we face on race, politics, and the urban/suburban/rural divides, and it’s something we need to address.

10. Read journalistic review and criticism, such as Columbia Journalism Review to understand how the media is struggling with itself right now.

What you can do as a consumer of news media by interacting with the news media:

Okay, by now, both from reading this and your own experiences with the media, you probably have a sense of what you’re watching and what you want the media to do. But how can you encourage the media to do those things?

1. Social media makes news outlets and journalists accessible. Misleading headline? Tell them. Unclear writing? Tell them. Need more details on a thing? Tell them. Like their work? Tell them. Learned something new? Tell them. Have gratitude? Say thank you.

2. Most newspapers and broadcasts have a public editor or ombudsman, whose job it is to evaluate coverage and determine if the publication is meeting a public need. Think coverage is unclear? biased? or inadequate? Contact this person via email, phone, or snailmail. I have looked and looked for a comprehensive list of these people/contact addresses and can’t find one. If you’re aware of one or create one, please let me know and I’ll add a link here. If you cannot find a contact for a public editor then just contact a more generic point at the media outlet.

When contacting about coverage, be specific. “Your coverage is biased” is not helpful. “I watched the PEOTUS press conference today and felt your news outlet could have asked tougher questions” or “Many people don’t know what the Alt Right is, please make it clear in your coverage this is a loose affiliation of groups that support white supremacist agendas” is helpful. You must clearly articulate what’s wrong, what you would like them to do, and what action you might take (will you unsubscribe? will you subscribe if coverage improves? Do you own a business that might stop advertising with them? Do you teach a class that uses news sources in the curriculum and you might go elsewhere?).

Be aware that the contact that takes the most effort is the contact taken the most seriously. Email doesn’t take as much time out of an employee’s day as a phone call or paper mail.

3. Support media you like with $. Let them know why you subscribe and what you think they are doing right.

4. Are you an expert? Join the mediaI mean it. If you know about a thing, make sure you’re registered with a speaker’s bureau. Write and submit op-eds (you get paid for those, unlike letters to the editor). Realize expertise is a broad concept. Make yourself relevant based on demographics, where you live, your creative life, a thing hat happened to you, your day job, whatever. ACA saved your life? You’re an expert. Have family that has fled fascist governments? You’re an expert. Have a disability? You’re an expert. Been harassed because of your identity? You’re an expert. Scientist? Expert. Teacher of any sort? Expert! Religious professional? Expert. Author? Expert. Super into Star Trek? Expert on pop-culture and the future we envisioned vs the future we’re getting. Everyone is an expert on something. If you can’t figure it out, ask your friends, they totally know what you’re an expert in. Write stuff and submit it. This is another case of, someone else needs to make relevant lists here — let me know and I’ll update this document.

Got stuff to add? Or stuff that’s relevant? Comment/link and I’ll add as appropriate. Thanks!

 

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Ebola and the “good victim” narrative

17 Oct

When I write here,  I am almost always writing about entertainment content and rarely about news content. But analyzing the news is what I do in my desk job, and we’re all lying when we say the news isn’t entertainment anyway.  Information is entertainment.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I am rather engaged with this Ebola story. Because news content in general behaves in a viral way (stories spread from nodes of information), it’s particularly interesting in an abstract, science-driven way when the news content is actually about a virus.

But quite outside of that very academic, numbers-driven interest, I’ve noticed something else: The emergence of the “good victim” in the Ebola narrative.

Since Ebola arrived in the U.S. (which was always going to happen the second it reached a major city anywhere in the world in significant numbers), the media has become very interested in telling us how well-liked, church-going, or family oriented individuals who have been infected who get media coverage are. They assure us the first nurse in Dallas to get infected “did all the right things.”  They show us cute pictures of her with her dog.

Meanwhile, the second nurse, and the original man diagnosed with the disease here get a lot less coverage. They are blamed for travel, although they either did not have symptoms at the time and/or were given the go ahead by CDC employees. No cute family stories or dog pictures for them, nope.  Little coverage on how the man helped a dying pregnant woman who may have been the source of his infection (and whom he may have not known was infected).

There’s a clear racial component in this.  The African and African-American victims in the U.S. have received less overall coverage and more critical coverage when visible, much like the thousands of people dealing with the disease in western Africa itself.

The “good victim” narrative also interests me, because it — much like every overheard discussion on the New York City subway system for the last week — recalls the early days of the AIDS plague years. Then there were “innocent” victims who were such heroes because this never should have happened to them. They were largely straight, white, female, and young.

AIDS should never happen to anyone.  Neither should Ebola.  And yet they do.  And the good and bad victim narratives — which I thought might be avoided this time around because of no overwhelming focus on a sexual component of the disease — is incredibly dangerous because you can’t stop an epidemic when you only care about protecting some people from it.

Case in point? AIDS rates amongst blacks in the U.S. and AIDS rates in Africa. For lots of people the epidemic hasn’t gone anywhere but on and on and on. And how we talk about people with AIDS is part of how that has happened. We’ve never had the same urgency for everyone. And it’s resulted in a lot of deaths.

It is reasonable and wise for the news media to use personalization to cover Ebola. People often connect to stories better when they can engage with them as they affect singular individuals. But coverage that suggests only some people deserve that personalization increases danger, both from the epidemic itself, and from the hideous fear-based non-solutions that people start shouting about when there are “good” and “bad” victims of a disease.

Travel bans, camps, euthanasia. We’ve heard all that and more out of politicians’ mouths in the last week. For those of you who weren’t there, we heard the same things in the 80s about AIDS.  We even made miniseries about some of those ideas. And that they were talked about so seriously, that they were so terrifying to me in my childhood, is why I name none of the people diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. here.  I’m not a news source and I don’t wish to contribute to risks they face from stigmatization of those with Ebola (although I also acknowledge that not naming names may actually increase stigma; it’s a hard choice).

But clearly, that cautionary entertainment in the 1980s (and fictional media about epidemics is entertainment no matter how cautionary, just as news is entertainment no matter how fictional) has taught us nothing. A recent spate of period pieces about the plague years haven’t reminded us of past mistakes either.

Instead, we’ve got a media banking on fear and an overly frightened American populace being taught that only some people don’t deserve to get sick (being female, light-skinned, and godly seem to help individuals get placed in this category), and that it’s perfectly fine to ignore everyone else. Even if it’s a lie, and even if that act of ignoring is what helps epidemics spread.

While it’s likely there will be no further transmissions in the U.S. from this set of cases, and despite all sorts of actions being taken out of an “abundance of caution” — some of which have made no sense at all; can we really sustain national panic attacks over every case of morning sickness or food poisoning? — it’s fairly likely that another case will show up in the U.S. because of the current nature of global travel and the incubation period.

So right now, the news media needs to make the choice to be one of the tools that helps to contain Ebola in America and globally.  Dispensing with “good victim” rhetoric is a key part of that.

Exciting word related things

20 Jun

td-lakeeffect1400This weekend, Erin and I are in the deep edits from our publisher on Starling.

Meanwhile, our short story “Lake Effect,” is out from Torquere Press.

When Kyle and Daniel return to their hometown to get married, they find themselves facing an obstacle course of family drama and small-town misadventure in their quest to make it down the aisle.

Misbehaving relatives and a reformed high school bully, along with an ill-advised hookup in the wedding party and a weird late-night meal with a cabbie and his ex-wife, leave the happy couple doubting whether they want to get married at all. But a hot quickie before their walk down the aisle helps remind them that the most important part of getting married is being married.

You can purchase the story as a standalone at Amazon, Torquere, or any number of other major retailers. Or you can purchase it as part of the They Do M/M anthogy, which is also available at Amazon, Torquere, and lots of other retailers.  If you choose to purchase from Torquere, the code PRIDE will give you 20% off everything in your cart until the end of the month.  Please remember, this story does contain sexual content.

Next up, is a thing I can’t announce yet, but will be able to any day now. The information is floating around the ether, and I found out through a Google alert on my name.  I love the future!

Finally, I continue to blog at Romance @ Random, but this weekend I switch from the Penny Dreadful beat to the True Blood beat.

As soon as I can catch a moment (once these Starling edits are in), I plan to catch up here with pieces on Penny Dreadful, the Broadway show Matilda, and another bit of thought on House of Cards.

Blogging about this whole romance author process thing is happening regularly on Avian30, and if you scroll through the last few posts there, you have the chance to win stuff, so you might want to check that out.  Erin and I also have some readings announced in NYC and elsewhere during the Fall and Winter, so you can take a look at that, although I will update the information here once I catch that mythical moment.

Valerie’s Letter Day

5 Nov

It’s Valerie’s Letter Day, and so I’m posting it again, the way I always do, despite the fact that I have not reread the graphic novel in years or rewatched the movie ever.  Mainly, because I’m afraid to.

Both forms of the story hit at sort of terrible moments in my life.  The college situation, when I first read the graphic novel, I’ve talked about before to probably the fullest extent I’ll ever want to; it leaves out a lot.  The day I watched the V for Vendetta film, alone at a crappy theater in Chelsea, was the day I got sick.

At I first thought was food poisoning, what my baffled doctors suggested might be anything from gall bladder disease to cancer, and what ultimately turned out to be my far less scary but seriously unpleasant celiac disease.  But, for the first week, before all that happened, I thought I was have a psychosomatic reaction to the film’s long montage-based sequences of medicalized torture as political punishment.

When I read Valerie’s Letter, I know grace, poetry, survival, and pride.  When I engage with its larger context, however, I just feel afraid.  As much as that’s terrible, it’s also probably should be.

I’ve whispered I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot to myself more times than I really know how to explain.  I’ve wished that to be something I’ve been less needful of, and over time, it’s even been true; the world as I experience it today is, as relates to Valerie’s letter, barely recognizable from 1989.  And as glad as I am of that, that we have roses (again) and that Valerie never quite was, I am also remain so damn glad of that sentence about a place I’ve never been and a year fifteen before I was born.

I don’t know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care. I am me, and I don’t know who you are but I love you. I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper.

I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl’s grammar. I wanted to be an actress. I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class.

Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful.

I sat in biology class, staring at the pickled rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew… Sara did. I didn’t.

In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I moved to London, enrolling at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart, but it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…

… But within that inch we are free.

London: I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all the breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I’d go to Gateways or one of the other clubs, but I was stand-offish and didn’t mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition, all they talked about… And I wanted more than that.

Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in ‘The Salt Flats.’ It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth working on that. We loved each other. We lived together, and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.

In 1988 there was the war…

… And after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.

In 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I seduced her. I didn’t blame her. God I loved her. I didn’t blame her… But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch.

Oh Ruth.

They came for me. They told me that all my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon.

It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish…

… Except one.

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or a woman. I may never see you. I may never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.

– Valerie

Kindle Worlds: Not bigger on the inside

22 May

Today Amazon announced Kindle Worlds for Authors, which is a self-publishing tool to allow authors of fanfiction to monetize their work as long as it adheres to certain guidelines, including no porn, no offensive language, and no crossovers.

It’s not the first time someone’s tried to make money at the corporate level off fanfiction and it won’t be the last.  As a big believer in the idea that creative people deserve compensation for their creativity and that as a legitimate form of storytelling fanfiction should not be considered a pale shadow of traditional professional writing, I’m not even, necessarily, inherently opposed to the idea.

But Amazon’s project raises a bunch of compelling questions that we’ve been hurtling towards for a while now, especially as fanfiction has increasingly received positive, mainstream, and significant news coverage in outlets like Time Magazine and a property of The Washington Post.

Question 1: To what degree does Kindle Worlds suggest that fanfiction can only be legitimized through the eradication of fan culture’s gift economy?

Question 2: Fanfiction has significantly changed our media culture.  Kindle Worlds isn’t just capitalizing on it, but arguably represents an attempt to shape it.  Is this a feedback loop in action or an attempt to stop the catalyst that is fan work?

Questions 3: The contractual terms of Kindle Worlds are the sort traditional professional writers would be strongly advised against signing on to.  Is fannish work worth less?  Should it be?

Question 4: Fanfiction has, arguably, always been about the option to use use all the tools, particularly those often discouraged by corporate content production (e.g., sexuality), to tell story.  If the toolbox is limited, whether a given writer would choose to use all the tools or not, is it fanfiction or is it some other form of derivative (vs. transformative) work?

Question 5: How will fan readers view/treat fan writers who use a tool like Kindle Worlds? And how does that impact our communities, hierarchies, and barriers to entry?

Please play in comments below.

MASH 2013: Journalistic Artifacts, Transformative Works, and the Assemblage of Persona

22 Feb

ImageNow it can be told.  I’ll be presenting a paper at Mash 2013, the Making and Sharing Conference on Audience Creativity.  The event will be taking place over July 4 -5, 2013 in Maastrict, The Netherlands, and registration will open soon.  Meanwhile, you can see the preliminary schedule at their WordPress.

My paper, The Media Tells Me So: Journalistic Artifacts, Transformative Works, and the Assemblage of Persona, will be presented on the first day of the conference and the abstract is below:

 Many texts with significant fan communities utilize journalistic media as characters in order to enhance the believability of narrative and support and encourage the free marketing that often comes with ironic believer communities (“Clap If You Believe in Sherlock Holmes: Mass Culture and the Re-enchantment of Modernity.” Saler, 2003).  Such narrative use of journalistic media is often taken up by fan audiences in response to source texts.  These audiences not only include news media elements in the transformative works they produce, but sometimes create journalistic media artifacts – newspapers, magazines, video and audio broadcasts and recordings – specifically as transformative works.

Such use of journalistic media to enhance both original texts and transformative community participation does not represent a dialogue that flows solely in one direction, or that happens outside of the gaze of the news media.  In fact, there have been multiple instances of fan-created, transformative, journalistic artifacts that have been picked up by news outlets as factual reportage.

This paper will examine the use of journalistic media as a character in subject texts and transformative works. It will also document the dialogue that occurs between fan communities and news media outlets when transformative uses of journalistic media styles are encountered by naïve believers (Saler, 2003) and subsequently reproduced as fact, transmuting fiction into reported truth. This will be achieved through a focus on the relationship between FPF (Fictional Person Fiction) and RPF (Real Person Fiction) fan communities. It will examine how texts use journalistic media content to acquire naïve, ironic and enchanted believers (“A Tangible Reality of Absence: Fan Communities and the Mourning of Fictional Characters.” Maltese, 2010), and highlight the role fan-created, transformative, journalistic artifacts play in the invention and reinvention of both fictional texts and celebrity personae.

Can you see me rubbing my hands together with glee on this one?  I’m always talking about how I want to do serious work regarding RPF fan-culture, but this is the first time I’ve had a good excuse.  Of course, I’ve already found multiple instances of fandom accidentally morphing media and persona truth for this, but if you happen to know of any, I would love to hear from you in comments and email.