JOUR 109

For some reason, Brandeis blogs don’t allow me to embed video or audio files directly into my posts… but here is the link to my podcast! Just hit the “play” button on the top-right black mp3 player.

I am interviewing a recent college graduate about Obama’s student loan plan and how it affects her.  Enjoy!

[song credit: “Happy” by Seattle-based musician, Brandi Carlile. Click here to listen her live performance of the song.]

A 2006 poll conducted by CNN revealed that racism is still a contemporary issue in the American society, but it seems to have interestingly taken a different form.  Instead of the overt hate that was associated with the post-war civil rights era, today’s racial discrimination is expressed in ”subtle, indirect ways” to the point that “some people may not even recognize it in themselves.”  How then can racism defined in the 21st century, if it is not accompanied with hateful discrimination and malevolent bias? Can it actually even be called racism? And what has the media done to curb or perpetuate racism in America?

I was fortunate to have had a very international upbringing, thanks to my parents’ jobs of travelling the world as diplomats.  I went to international schools, and met people my age from all over the world.  There was never any concept of “the other”, because every single one of us was so different from the next person.  In first grade, my three closest friends were Korean, Indian and English… adding myself as an African, we must have looked like a real-life UNICEF commercial running through the playground!  It was interesting though; none of us looked at each other as different, and the difference in our ethnicities barely ever came up in discussion, talk less of it serving as a source of conflict in our friendships.

What I find in the media, however, is quite the opposite.  Below is a very short outtake from one of the most popular comedy shows on American television right now, Family Guy.

Family Guy – White Track Stars **

 In addition to jokes like these, some television shows even have “token minority characters”, making a play on policies such as Affirmative Action.  In South Park, the only African American student’s name is Token, and on 30 Rock one of the characters goes by the nickname “Toofer” – explained: “with him you get a two-for-one; he’s a black guy and a Harvard guy.” 

These kinds of jokes are seen very often on just about every comedy show on television these days. The gags target people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds too – not just black vs. white. They are not written with hateful intent, nor are they to be taken seriously. In fact, some argue that the use of comedy in such serious issues like ethnic diversity makes it less of a taboo, thus opening the door for people to comfortably discuss on a neutral ground. But are these jokes really a good thing?  Are age-old cultures and languages “funny” just because they do not parallel the kinds of things we are used to seeing every day?  Should we be okay with the fact that ethnic diversity is severely under-represented in American media, even though the USA is commonly referred to as a “melting pot”?

I personally don’t take serious offense to these jokes. 30 Rock is one of my favorite shows on television, and I haven’t met one person who hasn’t spent an evening watching Family Guy – even if out of boredom.  The problem arises when one really realizes that jokes like these continue to highlight differences, perpetuate negative stereotypes and under-represent a very large proportion of the American population.  Even though television watchers find comedic relief in the jokes, the fact that we are okay with them means that we feel there is an element of truth behind what we are watching.  Although seemingly harmless, television is one of the most influential means by which prejudice and discrimination is perpetuated in society.

Keep this in mind the next time you tune in to your favorite comedy show.


** – for some reason, I was unable to embed the YouTube video directly into the blog post, sorry about the link!

If there is one thing I have learned from this semester, it’s that it sure take guts to be a journalist! A lot of people who watch TV and read newspapers never really give much thought to how much work is done to make such information available in the first place. A simple five-word statement from a primary source can take weeks to obtain due to conflicts in interview scheduling and requesting permission to publish certain statements.  In cases of time restraints, which are very common in the newspaper industry, it is all the more challenging to make sure you are getting the information you need and writing it in such a way that people will be willing to read it.  This semester has really given me some great practical experience so far; I think I am a lot more prepared for the possibility of taking on a profession in the media sector.

The first assignment we had was to cover a speaker event.  I chose to attend a speaker panel at Harvard University with the Boston Globe to discuss their new online paywall strategy.  For this assignment, we had the challenge of ensuring we got newsworthy quotes from the speakers and attendees and taking photos from the event.  I think the most difficult aspect was taking the pictures, as I have never done journalism photography before.  A lot of the time I felt conflicted with what was accepted as socially acceptable versus the responsibility of a news writer, covering a story (i.e. sitting down to listen to the panel attentively, as opposed to constantly moving around the room to get the perfect photographic angle).

If I ever have the chance to cover another speaker story in the future, I will definitely make use of a voice recorder.  As opposed to a personal interview, where you have the chance to pace the interview according to how quickly you take notes, one is forced to keep up with the speaker at a speaker event.  I was lucky that the Boston Globe event was being recorded, so I was able to go back online and get some quotes I had missed out on, but obviously this won’t always be the case at every event I attend.

The issues story that our class recently did was a lot more challenging than the speaker story.  We had to get interviews and quotes from experts in whatever field we were researching.   Since I was doing a story on student loans, I tweeted College Board to ask if they had any information on student loan statistics for me to use for my story.  I was actually surprised when they tweeted me back!  The internet has definitely made communication a lot easier and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get in touch with people just for the purpose of getting information.  Even though we had the challenge to having to reach out to someone over the internet, I thought it was quite enjoyable.  I also interviewed a Boston University graduate for my anecdotal story, and I thought it was fun to write a “news piece” in the format of a story.

Moving forward, I think I still have a lot to learn in terms of spinning a news angle that will capture readers, as well as working up the courage to do journalism-related tasks like making direct contact for research and interviews, taking photos at events and.   Like I said, it takes guts to be a journalist, and I look forward to pursuing these challenges in class and possibly as a future career!

This past weekend, I read this 2010 article from the New York Times, and I thought it was really interesting because it closely relates to a lot of the discussions we’ve had in class over the past few weeks.  Print circulation has been on a downward spiral over the past decade, and one of the most obvious causes being attributed to this is the increasing popularity of the internet.  One of the most affected newspapers cited in the article was the San Francisco Chronicle, which lost 22.7 percent of its weekday sales!

The article went on to highlight some other causes for decreasing popularity of printed news.  Some of these included:

  • The 2008 recession, which caused readers to cut down on extra expenses such as newspaper subscriptions;
  • newspapers consciously raising prices to increase revenue, while
  • narrowing down delivery services to save money on printing, packing and shipping

The economic recession of the late 2000s is definitely not a point that one can argue with.  However to me, the two other points still seem to be a result of the influence of the internet and its (mostly) free content. People stopped buying newspapers and magazines because they could get the information they needed online for free, which then prompted the newspaper industry to find ways to save money and increase revenue.The fact that the internet has become people’s first choice for access to breaking news and free information is something that is unfortunately inevitable.  Things that are posted online can be viewed immediately and stories can be updated and corrected 24/7.

Furthermore to the internet’s advantage, this information is readily available to ANYONE who has internet access (and doesn’t live in a country where internet content in censored).  The speed and efficiency with which internet disseminates news makes online content much more desirable than print, and it is now a challenge for the news industry to see what they can do to use the internet to their best (financial) advantage.

Perhaps news corporations have already found the solution to making online news profitable: the introduction of paywalls.  Well, at least it is serving as a temporary solution, seeing as paywall implementation is a highly debated topic in the news industry.  Since most of us access the news using phones, laptops and other hand-held devices, major news corporations have turned to the use of a web-based news subscription.  People can now pay a monthly, weekly or per-article fee to read online news content. The New York Times was one of the paywall movement pioneers and it looks like it has been relatively successful, thus paving the way for other news corporations to follow suit.

The Boston Globe is one of the most recent news sources to set up the online paywall.  However, they have taken a pretty unique approach to this business strategy, posting free content to and more journalistic news pieces behind a paywall on The verdict is yet to be reached on how effective this will be in regards to increased revenue, but one can imagine that there will be much to gain from the Boston Globe’s loyal readership… if they are, in fact, as loyal as the Boston Globe hopes.

The easiest argument against newspaper paywalls is that that there will always be an abundance of competitors, willing to provide news for free:

“The biggest flaw from a business perspective, particularly for smaller newspapers, is that walling up your content is an invitation to free competitors — from AOL’s and Huffington Post to Mainstreet Connect andNeighborhoodr and — to come and take away your readers.” –Mathew Ingram

Sometimes reality can veer from theory though, so only time will tell whether paywalls are the way to go as newspapers make the transition from print to online content.  Til then, take a minute of your time to think about where you’re getting your news from and what effect it’s having on the newspaper industry… you may actually consider starting up a subscription!

“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.”
– Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962, p. 43)

Take a walk around your block today. Count the number of people you see fully engrossed in their electronic devices, be they in the form of laptops, smart phones, mp3s, tablets or portable readers. People with these gadgets are everywhere: sitting in your neighborhood café, riding the bus, waiting for the next train, brushing past you on the sidewalk; people have even (unfortunately) taken their devices with them behind the wheel!  Can anyone look up from their screens long enough to tell you what the time is?

Perhaps at first glance this observation may cause one to think that people have become more distant, as they turn to technology before direct human contact as a source of comfort. After all, we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve begged someone to turn off their phones in an attempt to have their undivided attention.  In his book, “Technopoly” author Neil Postman does say that this overexposure to information divides us because we are not united by the views of a common news source. Why then would author Paul Levinson argue that the internet is, in fact, bringing us closer to the idealized global village than ever before?

In Levinson’s book “Digital McLuhan,” he discusses the stages of media dissemination.  This approach gives his argument a strong foundation, which I find quite hard to argue against.  Media evolved from print to radio to television, to what we now have – the internet.  what makes the internet so special is that it is the first human media creation that allows for reciprocity.  We can listen to the radio, read a newspaper and watch TV, but there is no avenue for immediate dialogue with the person who addresses us through these forms of media.  Take a look at the internet on the other hand. Do you have a point of view on a news article? Leave an open comment. Did you just watch a profound video online? Post it to Facebook and share it with your friends.  Hate your President’s policy on economic reform? Feel free to let him know via Twitter!

The internet is a forum for us to create our news and to comment on the news stories of others. Information is transmitted immediately and is available every second of every single day.  Of course, the factor of constant immediacy may give rise to information overload and error but Levinson says it best:

“If the internet allows us to do everything well, it will be not because of the time for  careful work that its speed sets free, but also because the “us” in that hopeful equation is a vastly bigger group of minds than it ever was in the past.”
– Paul Levinson, Digital McLuhan (1999)

There is absolutely no guarantee that the news you read online is completely accurate; most major news corporations post news stories as “developing” on their websites to allow for error and updates on new information as it comes in.  The beauty of information exchange on the internet is that you and I have the opportunity to contribute to it.  People own their own channels on YouTube, CNN has launched iReport, an ordinary man became famous for unknowingly livetweeting the Osama Bin Laden raid. It’s time to get with the program.  We no longer live in a generation where we are told how to think or what to talk about. We are the media, and we have the power to reach out to each other in ways we never could have dreamed of before.

So sure, perhaps people on the street are too busy tweeting and texting to tell you what time it is, but I invite you to take a look at the silver lining. Cheers to mankind’s evolution from voyeurism to a generation of participation; welcome to the actualized global village!

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