James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Associated Press’

Democrats panicky: read all about it (while you still can)

Posted by James McPherson on March 11, 2009

Apparently some Democrats want Barack Obama, in the words of a CNN headline, to “Hurry up and fix the economy.” Put another way, members of the party without guts are joining members of the party without ideas in begging the new president–now in office for more than a month and a half, after all–to undo all that they have done (or failed to do) through greed and  partisanship for the past decade. Perhaps they wanted him to reject the funding bill they just passed, rather than offering threats about future such bills?

And speaking of a part of the economy near and dear to me, my home state legislature is about to approve a tax cut for newspapers (which may not be enough to keep one of the two newspapers in our biggest city from shutting down next week). Even politicians who proclaim to hate the media recognize the importance of newspapers for getting out their messages, and for citizens to be able to govern themselves.

Citizens themselves don’t get that, though–as demonstrated by a Time article listing 10 more newspapers about to fail, and a Wired article saying that even a New York Times employee thinks newspapers don’t matter. He’s wrong, of course. But more and more newspapers are disappearing, and all of us suffer as a result. Face it; even Obama can’t save us from ourselves.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Clift note keeping hope alive: Dr. Dean gaining steam for HHS?

Posted by James McPherson on February 7, 2009

Writing for Newsweek, Eleanor Clift notes that the obvious choice to replace Tom Daschle as the nominee to head Health and Human Services is none other than Howard Dean. Clift, perhaps better known as the token liberal of “The McLaughlin Group” on the supposedly liberal PBS network, joins The Nation and a number of bloggers in recommending Dean, as I did back on Jan. 31 and Feb. 3.

Unfortunately Clift also notes, in more detailed terms than I used previously, that the doctor is unlikely to make a White House call:

Dean’s nomination probably won’t happen because he crossed swords with Rahm Emanuel over the allocation of resources during the lead-up to the congressional elections of ’06. Dean was the Democratic Party chairman and focused on implementing his brainchild, a 50-state strategy for a party that had narrowed its electoral base to 16 states. Emanuel was leading the Democratic effort in the House to regain the majority. He wanted money targeted to districts where Democrats had a real chance to win while Dean, despite being the brunt of several shouting matches, stuck to his script of spreading money and staff around even into states Democrats wouldn’t win in the short term.

The fact that Dean’s 50-state strategy proved to be the best one–and, I argue, is one of the reasons Barack Obama later was elected president–probably won’t matter, especially since Dean has a habit of appealing to the common man while insulting the monied interests that run American politics. Still Clift leaves room for hope: “Obama prides himself on how magnanimous he is, so you can’t rule out that he might reward someone who like him was an early and consistent opponent of the Iraq War, who helped lead the party out of the wilderness and who many Democrats think has been badly treated.”

Speaking of ‘hope,’ you may also have noticed that Obama’s nominees aren’t the only ones having legal problems: Shepard Fairey, the artist who produced perhaps the most popular image of the new president, has been arrested as a vandal. He also will have to cough up some dough to the Associated Press for basing his painting–which appeared as a Time magazine cover–on an AP photo. You can see both versions below:

obama-hope

Posted in History, Journalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Print media not going away, even if ads and employees are

Posted by James McPherson on January 16, 2009

Most of the media experts we’ve met with here in New York (more than a dozen people in all) agree with what I’ve written previously on this blog: Print media will be with us for a long time to come.

At the same time, all of those experts agree that the media of the future won’t look like today’s–and no one knows exactly what they will look like. Though the experts disagreed somewhat on how much today’s students need to know about new media “tools and toys,” the specific technology increasingly used by news organizations, there is no doubt that new media will be increasingly important.

Several of the experts agreed that this is an exciting time to be a  a prospective new journalist, as the energy and skills of our best students combine with an increasing desire for news among consumers.

For more on the perspectives of a wide range of experts, and on student views of those perspectives, check out the class blog.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Media literacy, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

Posted by James McPherson on December 30, 2008

It’s the time of year for lists, and not surprisingly, the election of Barack Obama topped the annual Associated Press list of the top 10 stories of the year. The next three were the economic meltdown, oil prices and Iraq. The order of those three stories help explain the election of Obama.

In fact, Iraq has faded so much in importance that now NOT ONE of the three major broadcast networks has a full-time correspondent there (reaffirming once again how far the news operations of the Big Three have fallen).

China made the AP list in fifth and sixth place, with the Olympics and the May earthquake that killed 70,000 people.  I was happy to see no “Nancy Grace specialties (“pretty dead white woman stories) on the list, while two women in politics–Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton–finished seventh and ninth. Two more international stories, the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Russia-Georgia war, filled out the list.

CNN let readers and viewers vote on the top stories, and as of today those readers the respondents agreed with the AP on the top three. Further down, however, Michael Phelps, O.J. Simpson, Rod Blogojevich and same-sex marriage all made that list.

Fox News also lets “you decide,” though just through a running blog that lets people sound off. Some respondents’ ideas for “top story” (as written): “The biggest story of 2008 is that Barack Obama is not eligible to hold the office of the President, because he is not a Natural Born Citizen”; “It was the Democrat spawned credit crisis which they have worked so hard for to have it happen when the election was close”; “a made up money crisis to sway an election and Muslim financing in our institutions”; and “How the Democrats highjacked the economy and the white house.”

Time‘s list was considerably different and more internationally oriented than the others. The magazine put the economy at the head of its “top 10” list, followed by Obama’s election, but the next eight were the Mumbai attacks, terrorism in Pakistan, international piracy, the war in Georgia, poisonous Chinese imports, the Columbian rescue of hostage Ingrid Betancourt, and “Mother’s Nature’s double whammy” in China and Burma.

Time also offered a number of other top 10’s, including lists of crime stories, political gaffes (the Huffington Post also offers its own list of “top political scandals“), oddball news, and medical breakthroughs.

I found Time‘s list of underreported stories among the most interesting and disturbing. For example, No. 9 on the list: the shipment of 6,700 tons of radioactive sand–created by U.S. weapons during the first Persian Gulf War–from Kuwait to Idaho.

Fox News contributer K.T. McFarland offered her own “most important story everyone missed this year,” one particularly close to my own heart: “the death of news delivered in print and the birth of news delivered over the internet.” She also engaged in a bit of snarky broadcast-style self-promotional hyperbole: “Perhaps the most intriguing new way to deliver news is something FOX News came up with this summer–online streaming programming delivered right to your computer screen. FOX’s first foray into this medium, The Strategy Room, is part news program, part panel discussion, part chat room. It’s been called ‘”The View” for Smart People.'”

Actually, like “The View,” “The Strategy Room” is sometimes informative, sometimes a trivial and inane collection of posers. But if you want to be really afraid–and disgusted with the shortcomings of fading American journalism–read Project Censored’s annual list of the top 25 “censored stories.”

In truth, the stories were simply underreported or incorrectly reported rather than censored, but the fact remains that every story on the list is more important than the “accomplishments” of Britney Spears (who topped MTV’s list), Paris Hilton, and every other Hollywood nitwit combined. And speaking of nitwits, Fox News also produced a “top” list. On its Christmas Day front page, Fox–the great “protector” of Christmas–offered “2008’s Hottest Bods.”

Finally, on a personal note related to another list: I was excited yesterday morning to see my blog at #5 on the WordPress list of “top growing blogs,” with my post about Christmas killers hitting at least as high as #76 on the list of top posts for the day. Less encouraging were the responses from nutball racists (mixed in with several more thoughtful and thought-provoking comments) on both sides of the Iraeli-Arab issue over both that post and yesterday’s.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Bettie Page & Robin Toner: Two women who made media history

Posted by James McPherson on December 13, 2008

Two women who made media history in different ways died a day apart this week. If you’ve heard of either one, it’s probably the first, Bettie Page, who died Thursday at age 85. The iconic 1950s pinup queen-turned born-again Christian had received a second round of fame in recent years because of books, a movie and television programs about her.

Bob Thomas of the Associated Press wrote that Page’s “controversial photographs in skimpy attire or none at all helped set the stage for the 1960s sexual revolution.” She inspired Madonna and numerous other stars, was perhaps the second-most-famous sex symbol of all time behind only Marilyn Monroe, and became famous in an age before Photoshop. She also suffered from molestation as a child, two failed marriages, and schizophrenia, spending almost two years in a mental hospital.

Page’s death was followed a day later by that of Robin Toner, who died yesterday at age 54. Toner was the first national political reporter for the best newspaper in the United States, the New York Times. The daughter of a former “Rosie the Riveter,” Toner covered Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, and faced the tough choices that confront many women: “A few years later, after marriage and motherhood made long months on the campaign trail less practical for her, she became chief of correspondents on the paper’s national desk in New York.”

Toner joined the Times in 1985. That was just a few years after the newspaper agreed to settle Boylan v. New York Times and finally allow women into senior editorial and management positions. 

Perhaps the best part of Toner’s obituary from a journalistic standpoint: “In a craft in which small errors are commonplace and bigger mistakes a regular occupational hazard, Ms. Toner devised a meticulous personal method for checking and re-checking names, dates, facts and figures in her own raw copy, a step few reporters take. As a result: only half a dozen published corrections over the years, on more than 1,900 articles with her byline.”

Sadly, Toner leaves behind a husband and two 11-year-old twins. Her own daughter will face tough choices of her own, and perhaps will make some decisions she will later regret. Better news is that because of Toner and women like her, today’s girls have more options than did the girls of Page’s era–even if Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and innumerable other stars of today still far too often go the Bettie Page route.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Visiting D.C. during inauguration week

Posted by James McPherson on November 29, 2008

In January my wife and I will go with a dozen Whitworth University students to New York and Washington, D.C., to meet with about two dozen leaders and experts in various mass media agencies and industries. Sites and people we will visit include the Associated Press, Columbia Journalism Review, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Public Relations Society of America, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, NPR, PBS, Fairness & Accuracy in Media, the Onion, a couple of academics, a telecommunications lobbyist, and representatives from finance, newspaper, television and magazines.

The first version of this “media impact” study program went to those same two cities two years ago, meeting with some of the same people and some others. I remain impressed with how giving some very important people are of their time when it comes to helping students (and somewhat surprised at the outsized egos of some other people with jobs that are far less important).

The biggest difference between this trip and the one two years ago is that this year Barack Obama will be inaugurated during the same week that we’ll be in town, a day after Martin Luther King Day (which fell during the New York segment two years ago). As you might guess, scheduling for that week was a bit tougher this time around, and some folks we’d have liked to chat with will be unavailable. We’ll talk to a few more people in New York and not quite as many in Washington. Still, I expect the excitement of being in the city at that time, and seeing how the media cover the inauguration events, will be worth the tradeoff.

On the other hand, our group of 14 will be among more than a million extra people expected in the city during that week. Who’d have thought that of the two cities we’ll visit, New York might seem the less crowded? Fortunately our lodging was booked well in advance. One of the Washington media people I was talking to recently suddenly asked, “How did you get a place to stay?” It’s a logical question, considering that the New York Times reports today that the non-availability of Washington-area rooms has people asking for up to $60,000 to rent out their homes for the week and $25,000 for a weekend rental of a one-bedroom apartment.

And folks thought it was expensive to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom during the Clinton administration. I guess yet another area in which Democrats are better for the economy than Republicans is real estate prices.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sarah suddenly ubiquitous; MSNBC falls for Palin hoax

Posted by James McPherson on November 13, 2008

Before the election, the press rarely got to speak with Sarah Palin. Now she seems to be on a campaign to have an “exclusive” interview with every talking head on television, while offering public addresses wherever possible. Perhaps the oddest note, so far: Palin decrying “extreme partisanship” just after telling Wolf Blitzer that she still had “concerns” about Barack Obama’s “affiliations” with a “domestic terrorist.”

Though I recognize that her rambling, folksy answers may be appealing to some parts of the base, for some of us the Palin road show is demonstrating why the campaign kept her under wraps. But even Republicans seem to be acknowledging that Palin should not be the leading voice of the GOP if their party is to recover from the devastation of a week ago Tuesday.

Still, Palin’s performance continues to be no worse than that of many in the media. Fox News is trumpeting an Associated Press story about MSNBC “retracting” a story stating that Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent. The story, bound to be highlighted on “The O’Reilly Factor” tonight, was a hoax designed to rely too quickly on “experts” with fancy titles, especially if the story supports already-held biases.

Naturally MSNBC is not highlighting the hoax story or its retraction (I couldn’t find any mention of it in an admittedly hurried search of the network’s Web site), and somehow II doubt that Keith Olbermann will make himself one of tonight’s “worst persons in the world.” The same hoax perpetrator has fooled the Los Angeles Times, the New Republic and Mother Jones.

Same day update: Here’s a New York Times story about the perpetrator of the hoax. The story points out that SourceWatch.org had identified the supposed source, “Martin Eisenstadt,” as a hoax months ago. Perhaps one of MSNBC’s interns can teach the news folks there how to do a Google search.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments »

2008 Election: the biggest TV night in four years, and why I’ll miss it

Posted by James McPherson on November 4, 2008

Considering the name of this blog, obviously election night is bigger for me than the Super Bowl and the World Series combined (and not just because I cheer for two Seattle pro sports teams that have never won a single championship). Normally tonight I might be at an election party, or hunkered down with my wife in front of the television from mid-afternoon on, sometimes yelling at the screen (much like I do during Mariner and Seahawk games), making occasional derogatory remarks about the comments coming from various spin rooms.

But as much as we love/hate election night television, my wife and I both have chosen in recent elections to be more involved in the process. We voted early by mail; as with most years, I voted for mostly Democrats and a couple of Republicans. She is volunteering with a get-out-the-vote effort that runs through the afternoon, then will be watching the election night coverage on her own or with a friend. She and most of you will know results before I will. (If you want some good tips on how to watch the coverage, check out Thomas Edsall’s Huffington Post piece.)

For my part, a bunch of my Whitworth University students and I (along with students and a few faculty from Gonzaga and Eastern Washington University) will be immersed in a small part of the electoral media process, a part in which no other universities in the nation outside of New York can participate.

Here in Spokane County, we’ll be working for the Associated Press keeping track of results of every race in 31 states. Those of us working in downtown Spokane will be the first to hear the results from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, among others. If you hear the networks make a call for one of those key states, they’ll do so largely based on the numbers from here, which will be updated via computer and sent to major news organizations every 30 seconds. (Incidentally, the Associated Press may have been the only news organization not make a faulty projection call during the 2000 election.)

Those of us in the call center, though, will hear the results one county at a time, and will be immersed in keeping track of numbers given to us over the phone for individual races. We won’t have time to check out who is winning overall, or to listen to the talking heads on the various networks. I will videotape the coverage, though with my home technology it will have to be from one of the major networks–I don’t have TIVO and my old machine can’t record from our CNN, MSNBC or Fox News stations.

I’ll tape coverage on the local ABC affiliate, KXLY, mostly because one of my Whitworth colleagues (academic vice president and political science professor Michael Le Roy) will do election night commentary for that network and I know that he is very good at it. KXLY has also invested quite a bit in technology for this election. You can see a preview of it at the station’s Web site. Le Roy has done the KXLY gig for years, though I did get the opportunity to fill in for him when he had to be out of town during the 2006 election.

I won’t be on television tonight, but if you’re in the Spokane area you can catch me on AM 790 radio with local journalist Rebecca Mack from 8 to 10 p.m. I’ll take a break from the AP call center and walk a block to the studio for the two-hour live show, then hustle back afterward to rejoin the call center.

I’ll get home in the wee hours of the morning, check out CNN, Fox and MSNBC before I go to bed, then teach three classes tomorrow morning. Since several students from the various classes will be with me at the call center, I assume they won’t expect me to be particularly coherent in class. Assuming, of course, they ever do.

I hope you, too, have found meaningful ways to be involved in this historic election. The American electoral system has numerous flaws, and the past two presidential elections have cause many to become cynical about the process. For that reason alone, we’d probably all benefit more from a Barack Obama landslide (which even Karl Rove predicts) than from a narrow John McCain victory (though even if Obama wins Virginia and Pennsylvania, indicating a landslide is in the offing, don’t expect an early McCain concession speech–both parties learned in 1980 how Jimmy Carter’s early concession affected other races in the West).

Frankly, unless you’re in a “swing state,” your individual vote for president won’t matter much. But you have a much greater chance of affecting local races, so take a bit of time to study the issues and local candidates, or to discuss them with trusted and more knowledgeable friends. Regardless of your favored candidates, you’ll probably feel better if you vote–and it might actually make a difference in the outcome. As Sarah Palin and I would agree about whether voting matters: You betcha.

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Straight Talk Express derailed, falls off “bridge” to become mired in mud

Posted by James McPherson on September 13, 2008

It’s an old story, of course: Politicians lie. But usually in presidential campaigns the candidates let their surrogates take on the most egregious fabrications, staying somewhat above the fray themselves. John McCain and Sarah Palin seem to be the exception, cheerily tramping through the mud on their way to a lead in national polls.

The lies range from tales of the infamous “bridge to nowhere” (see video below) to taxes to health care to immigration (bilingual lying!) to sexism to Alaskan oil production to pig lipstick to kindergarten sex education to Cindy McCain’s drug theft problems to even the findings of  FactCheck.org. In the words of the Associated Press’ Charles Babington, “The “Straight Talk Express” has detoured into doublespeak.”

Considering how much admiration I once had for McCain, I am troubled that he has become not just a typical campaigner but even worse than most. The campaign he has chosen to run is costing him other one-time fans, as well, while supporting the latest Obama camp claim that McCain “would rather lose his integrity than lose an election.”

The lying has become so bad that even the women of “The View,” a morning show watched mostly by stay-at-home wives, feel compelled to question McCain about it. His response: Lying, of course. Unfortunately Barbara Walters, long one of the most overrated journalists in America, helped McCain out by following up his lie with a trivial lipstick diversion rather than confronting him with the truth.

I don’t think McCain and Palin can lie their way to the White House. But a part of me fears that too many voters don’t care about the lying even if they recognize it. If those voters happen to help McCain win, they deserve what they get–four more years of Bush Administration nonsensical tough talk and bumbling policy. Unfortunately all of us may get an even more conservative and out-of-touch Supreme Court that will last for a generation.

Same-day update: Apparently the McCain/Palin camp also misrepresented her “world travels,” falsely claiming she has visited Iraq. And in a lengthy story about Palin today, the New York Times reports: “Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records. ” She appears, as one of my colleagues noted recently, “Dick Cheney in a dress.”

Next day update: To John McCain–When you’re on the same side as Karl Rove and even he calls you a liar, maybe it’s time to dial it back.

Palin’s bridge to falsehood:

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Posted by James McPherson on June 2, 2008

Surprise, surprise, surprise–“The news consumption of younger readers differs profoundly from that of of previous generations,” notes Fox News reporting on the results of a survey apparently done by a research firm on behalf of the Associated Press. The story (from today, not from 10 years ago as might be expected from the “news” value) reports that the project “analyzed the news consumption patterns of an ethnically diverse group of 18 men and women in six cities between the ages of 18 and 34 in the United States, Britain and India.” Near the end of the article we learn that the repondents came from four U.S. area (Houston, Philadelphia, Kansas City and the Silicon Valley), Brighton, Britain, and Hyderabad, India. Why those locations were chosen isn’t clear–perhaps those are locations where the researcher had MySpace friends.

According to the Fox story (titled “Young Adults Hit by ‘News Fatigue,’ Study Finds”), the results were to be presented in a 71-page report “to media executives and editors from around the globe at at the World Editors Forum in Goteburg, southwestern Sweden.” What, the execs don’t have e-mail?

And pardon me, but EIGHTEEN people? I probably can do a more comprehensive survey than from one class at any major university in the country. And though we don’t know what AP paid, I’d probably do it cheaper than the Context-Based Research Group, a company formed less than a decade ago “to help marketers and product designers do better work through the power of ethnography.” By the way, this is ethnography without all the time and effort required through traditional research: “Context clients don’t have the luxury of spending years in the field, as traditional ethnographers do. We’ve developed a series of rapid information gathering techniques we call upon to make the most of every second we spend with a participant–to go deep, fast.”

The company’s husband-and-wife leaders apparently both did graduate research with the Sokamin hunter-gatherer community in Papua, New Guinea (no word on Sokamin use of the Internet for news content). Context also has a page listing various articles citing its research, producing such deep and/or fast quotes as, “People are slowly coming up with new ways of thinking about thin” (about technology); “Novelty is driving the market for virtual gifts and goods” about virtual gift-giving); and, “When people have kids, they want them to fit into their idea of who they are, of the identity they’ve carved out for themselves. ‘If I drive a BMW, my child has to have a Bugaboo stroller, etc.'” (about high-end baby haulers).

Actually I see why marketers rely on ethnographic research–it can mean big money, as “Frontline” documented in “The Merchants of Cool.” “The new core competency is ethnography,” BusinessWeek reports, while the Economist notes, that “corporate anthropology is now mainstream.”

But isn’t the Associated Press made up of news people, who might have been able to report the obvious on their own? Or AP could have just watched the Kansas State video I’ve shared previously–after all, it includes the feedback of two hundred young people, and reports such things as “I will read eight books this year … 2300 Web pages & 1281 FaceBook profiles.” Also, “I will write 42 pages for class this semester … and over 500 pages of email,” and “I spend 1 1/2 hours watching TV each night … I spend 3 1/2 hours a day online.” The students also added many other things that go into their day, totalling 26.5 hours per day, reflecting their ability to multitask. And of course the students did the estimates themselves, so some of the figures may be off a bit–but they paint a pretty good picture of the obvious conclusion arrived at by the Context researchers, which is that “participants were unable to give full attention to the news because they were almost always simultaneously engaged in other activities, such as reading e-mail. That represents a shift from previous consumption models in which people sat down to watch the evening news or read the morning paper.”

In truth, there was another key finding (which I reported here a few weeks ago, based on a single-class-period survey of one of my classes): “Participants yearned for quality and in-depth reporting but had difficulty immediately accessing such content because they were bombarded by facts and updates in headlines and snippets of news.” My students said, “The media should seek out and provide more contextual background information and critical reporting–that is … and engage in less speculation and infotainment.”

The Context recommendation? “The authors recommended that news producers develop easier ways for readers to discover in-depth content and to avoid repetitious updates of breaking news.” That has seemed obvious to a lot of us for a long time. But now that AP has paid for the information, maybe they’ll use it.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »