Friday, March 23, 2012

The Anatomy of Media Bias: Trayvon Martin, Mike Daisey, and the Press - Megan McArdle - Business - The Atlantic

The “right proportions of the truth.”  Too bad “fair and balanced” has already been co-opted. 

The peculiar problem of the information age is that we now have access to far more true stories than any one brain -- evolved for life in groups of a few hundred -- can possibly process. Our natural tendency to extrapolate from the subset we're exposed to means we can wind up with wildly inaccurate views of the world as a whole, even when all the stories we hear are true. For people with a storytelling gift as powerful as Mike Daisey's, or a job that empowers them to choose which of a hundred newsworthy tales makes the evening broadcast, that implies a responsibility beyond the traditional obligation to speak the truth. What we need today are the right proportions of truth.

The Anatomy of Media Bias: Trayvon Martin, Mike Daisey, and the Press - Megan McArdle - Business - The Atlantic

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Enough to Make You Retch

Embarrassed by the gag-inducing realities of industrial meat production, the industry fights back by criminalizing investigative journalism. Information Irresponsibility, Legislative Division.

From The Atlantic:

Earlier this month, politicians in Iowa bowed to corporate pressure when they passed a law designed to stifle public debate and keep consumers in the dark. Instead of confronting animal cruelty on factory farms, the top egg- and pork-producing state is now in the business of covering it up. As one of the people this new law is designed to silence, I'm concerned that Iowa is shooting the messenger while letting the real criminals go unpunished.

HF 589 (PDF), better known as the "Ag Gag" law, criminalizes investigative journalists and animal protection advocates who take entry-level jobs at factory farms in order to document the rampant food safety and animal welfare abuses within. In recent years, these undercover videos have spurred changes in our food system by showing consumers the disturbing truth about where most of today's meat, eggs, and dairy is produced. Undercover investigations have directly led to America's largest meat recalls, as well as to the closure of several slaughterhouses that had egregiously cruel animal handling practices. Iowa's Ag Gag law -- along with similar bills pending in other states -- illustrates just how desperate these industries are to keep this information from getting out.

The Ag Gag Laws: Hiding Factory Farm Abuses From Public Scrutiny - Cody Carlson - Health - The Atlantic

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Data Quality is King. The King Is Dead. Long Live The King.

Twitter can spread false information just as quickly as true.  An essay on the website of the American Journalism Review suggests that this is why Twitter cannot be said to “break news.”  For starters:

While they might not mean it literally, bloggers and news organizations that credit Twitter and other social networks with "reporting" or "breaking" news are implying a contest between social networks and the press, in which lumbering news organizations are smacked down by a faster and more agile rival. And what journalist with healthy competitive instincts wouldn't feel a bit goaded or threatened by that? The far less provocative truth is that the media are working through Twitter, not racing against it.

What’s more, it appears that the pattern of tweets about Whitney Houston’s death—and actual death in this case—supports that view:

While nearly an hour passed between the first known mention of Houston's death and the AP's report, Twitter's timeline clearly shows that the story flatlined until the AP tweet. It was that properly attributed post by a credible news organization with a broad following that broke through the noise.

The relatively few people who saw the initial Whitney Houston tweets had reason to be extremely skeptical. Social media death hoaxes have befallen countless very-much-alive public figures, including President Obama, Lady Gaga, Eddie Murphy, Jon Bon Jovi and Chuck Norris (who, as fans noted, is invincible and cannot be killed). "Twitter Death" has become a near-daily occurrence, prompting a great many users to respond with caution when they hear that Madonna, Jackie Chan or Snookie has gone to the great beyond.

In that context, it's tough to make the case that a handful of dubiously sourced Twitter posts by unknown individuals with relatively small followings broke the news of Houston's death in any meaningful way. Those early tweets were indistinguishable from other celebrity death rumors, except that they turned out to be true.

And information consumers might be learning something about the differences between electronically supported rumor-mongering and actual journalism:

Rather than marginalizing the news media, Twitter and other social networks may be reinforcing their value. A generation of social media users is learning―through debunked reports and hoaxes ―the difference between saying something and reporting it. The ways in which people first hear information may have changed, but their reliance on reporters to separate fact from fiction and provide depth and context to the news has not.

The Twitter Death Epidemic  | American Journalism Review