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, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

  • Archives

  • April 2017
    S M T W T F S
    « Sep    
     1
    2345678
    9101112131415
    16171819202122
    23242526272829
    30  
  • Categories

  • Subscribe

Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Catching up: A brief social media summary

Posted by James McPherson on June 10, 2015

A couple of nice comments on my most recent post made me realize that it had been more than three months since I’d written anything for this blog. Twitter, Facebook, my classes and one letter to the editor about Baltimore protests have been my only outlets for commentary during that time.

I can’t recapture here what happened in classes, but thought it might be worth sharing a few highlights of what I’ve posted on social media. I’ll exclude my regular ranting about the ineptitude of the Seattle Mariners, and there’s no way to include my hundreds of witty or snarky or reflective comments; after all, I’ve posted more than 1,300 tweets since February. For those comments, you’ll need to friend me on Facebook and check out my Twitter feed.

Topics, in no particular order, have included:

The idiocy of John Thune complaining that a Supreme Court decision against the Affordable Care Act (a decision scheduled for this week or next) could cost 6 million people their health care subsidies, which helps show “why Obamacare is bad for the American people.” Of course, the subsidies would not exist without Obamacare, and are at risk now only because of a Republican lawsuit, King v. Burwell. And even Ted Cruz has signed up for Obamacare.

Related to health care, as many of us already knew, Americans pay more for worse care than some people elsewhere.

Evidence that American politics have shifted far to the right, even as the American people have not. The good news about that is that it makes it more difficult for Republicans to ever again win the presidency.

The unprecedented secrecy of the Obama administration (also here).

Evidence that the economy performs far better under Democrats than Republicans.

“Altruism pornography” via “The Briefcase“: Just because reality television and privileged Americans’  disdain for the poor haven’t quite hit bottom in a country that is become increasingly divided economically.

Doubts that allegations regarding the Clinton Foundation will amount to anything, though I also have concerns about the foundation and its donors.

Problems with journalism in regard to dying newspapers, how Facebook filters news, and Fox News viewers being LESS informed than people who watch no news.

Lies or hypocrisy by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, in a fundraising email; Jeb Bush in talking about his brother’s rationale for the Iraq War; Ted Cruz over federal aid; Mike Huckabee over military service; Carly Fiorina about Chinese ingenuity; the State of Tennessee over a law making the Bible its official book; Idaho legislators worried about Sharia Law; the NRA restricting guns at its national convention; Cruz again about a variety of topics; Fox News over Benghazi.

In education, separating Wheaton (College) from the chaff (Dennis Hester), an arrogant professor, and the largely mythical idea that political correctness is scaring teachers. Plus God helping Ben Carson cheat in a chemistry class.

Craziness involving guns in Idaho, TexasHollywood (Vince Vaughn), an NRA seminar and the NRA’s national convention.

Race issues on Twitter and elsewhere on the World Wide Web, and new “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.

The “American tradition” of rioting, the deadliest hate crime in U.S. history, LGBT equality and Republicans who favor it.

An old negative review of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics, along with the insanity of Paula Geller, who compared herself to Rosa Parks, and of a Playboy-posing veteran who wants to “protect” the American flag.

The stupidity of war as tied to patriotism and the end of the world by the end of this year.

Why Americans should slow down and take it easier. Huh; maybe that’s why I haven’t posted for so long until now.

So there’s a small sample of what I’ve been thinking and writing about. But I’ll try to make better use of the blog as the political season heats up.

 

Posted in Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 19 Comments »

Riding, writing and resting

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2013

For the past six months, politics has been relatively low on my list of concerns. Call it burnout, or simple disgust with almost everyone in politics (including those in the media who cover it), but after my sabbatical began at the end of May I probably watched and read less about contemporary politics (especially from cable news) for the next several months than during any similar period in perhaps a decade. I have to admit that I didn’t miss it.

Nor have I missed most things about my “real job” as a professor. Someone asked me a while back the most important thing I’d learned during my sabbatical. My answer: “That I probably won’t have any trouble adjusting to retirement in 12 to 15 years.” I love being in the classroom and interacting with students, but certainly haven’t missed grading, course prep or meetings.

During my sabbatical I added a regular Wednesday “guys’ breakfast” and a regular Thursday golf game to my Tuesday and Friday morning basketball games. I’ve read more — and more for fun — than usual. I worked in the yard and garden. I spent time with parents, siblings, kids and a grandchild.

Most importantly, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my wife of almost 33 years, especially during a 25-day 5,700-mile drive that included visits to various family members and the cities of Boise, Tucson, Santa Fe, New Orleans and Natchez — the lovely Mississippi city (with the troubling history) in which my wife was born. The cities of Las Vegas, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City we passed through quickly, but not too quickly to be reminded of the sprawling corporate sameness that scars the Great American Landscape (though perhaps not for much longer, if my brother and other “doomers” are correct about the fate of the world).

More directly related to my profession, while in New Orleans I attended the annual convention of the American Journalism Historians Association. The convention was held in the beautiful historic Hotel Monteleone, where, despite a steep discount, the nightly rate was more than I paid for my first car, and where it cost more to park my pickup each night than I’ve paid for a room in some motels.

Back home, I attended a breakfast at which I chatted with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and then (at her request) sent her a copy a book I wrote. (Unlike a similar event with George Will a year earlier, I didn’t notice any errors worthy of correction here.) Later that month I helped out with a high school journalism workshop.

In terms of writing, I have revised a book chapter, chipped away at a novel, compiled notes and done research for a new academic book, and written more than 90 posts for an ongoing blog project. Today I even started our annual Christmas letter, having put up and decorated the tree a couple of days ago. And naturally I’ve been writing on the most pervasive medium in America today: Facebook.

Yes, I’ve devoted too much time to one form of anti-social media, though I’ve managed to forego Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, Pinterest and Alltherest. I don’t tweet, or even text, and I definitely don’t twerk, Thanks to modern media, sometimes I twitch.

What I’ve written on Facebook  was typically far less important than what I “shared” from elsewhere (the same sorts of things that have no doubt prompted some “friends” to hide me from their feeds). And in retrospect, at least some of what I took the time to share via Facebook also seems worth sharing here. Some examples follow, though for space reasons I obviously can’t include oh-s0-witty-and/or-insightful comments I offered with each post.

The eclectic mix includes: an 1812 test for eighth-graders that few of us today could pass; a professional football coach (who knocked me out in practice when we were on the same college team);  the discovery of a new dinosaur; police brutality in New Mexico; empathetic high school football players; a revised “U.S. map” based on watersheds; Boeing’s anti-union efforts; Richard Cohen’s racism and sexism; how some of Apple’s overseas employees end up as virtual slaves; “15 Ways The United States Is The Best (At Being The Worst)”; the highest-paid employees in each state; a lesson on being quick to judge; some bragging about my workplace; and “the incredible story of Marion Stokes,” an obsessive librarian who taped — on VHS videocassettes — 35 years of television news.

Related to media, I posted items about the dangers of texting while driving and  sexist cyber-bullying by football fans. I explained why my local newspaper screwed up, placing a beautiful photo of a Native American mother and child next to an unrelated headline stating, “Child porn cases result in prison.” I pointed out that a widely quoted ESPN piece about NFL hazing used faulty math and therefore probably drew erroneous conclusions. I made fun of a local television station for misusing a word during a hostage crisis. And I shared a funny piece about a newspaper that retracted its criticism of the Gettysburg Address as “silly remarks” worthy of “a veil of oblivion.”

As a feminist who sometimes teaches a class on women and media (while serving on the board for a local nonprofit devoted to media literacy), I shared various items related to women’s issues: a story about “how we teach our kids that women are liars“;  a piece about sexist treatment of Janet Yellen; how women like working for women; and one about the Bechtel test for movies. I also addressed males, sharing “Five Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Needs.”

I shared some items about religion, including mega-churches and the fact that the region of the country most opposed to government health care is the Bible Belt. Naturally I couldn’t avoid mention of the Affordable Care Act. Posts compared: Al Jazeera America’s coverage of Typhoon Haiyan and Obamacare with the coverage by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC; how journalists were fact-checking other journalists; Sean Hannity’s lies;

I didn’t managed to ignore other politics entirely, either, discussing such issues as Barack Obama’s judicial nominations; Senate filibusters and the “nuclear option”; nutjobs who advocate killing Obama; National Security Agency wiretapping; Texas textbooks and evolution (a subject of this blog in 2009 and 2010); George W. Bush addressing the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute; some loony Sarah Palin fiscal hypocrisy; Chris Christie’s flip-flop on immigration; and Rand Paul’s plagiarism. What, you expected me to go six months without criticizing a few conservatives?

Most of those Facebook comments came during the past month and a half, suggesting that I’m being sucked back into caring more about politics than may be healthy. Too bad; I’ll have to keep working on that for the couple of months that remain on my sabbatical. Perhaps I’ll report back after that.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Religion, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »

Inane confessions of the anonymous kind

Posted by James McPherson on February 23, 2013

When I was a kid, a friend’s mother always seemed to have copies of “confessional” magazines such as True Confessions or True Romance lying around. They seemed pretty silly and I didn’t understand their appeal, though of course I wasn’t among the target audience.

Such publications do have a long history (the issue pictured here is as old as I am). As a media scholar, I now have a better understanding of why those magazines became popular — why people choose the media they do — though at a personal level I still have trouble understanding the attraction of those particular publications.

And like some other forms of other print media, those magazines have largely disappeared. But of course the inane “true confession” style of media has only spread, from Oprah and Jerry Springer to reality television to the “anonymous” Facebook sites that have now become popular with the college crowd — including, sadly, among the generally more sensible students where I teach. Though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised or too disappointed by that; such sites can also be found for the likes of Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton.

In fact, if you want to depress yourself, the next time you’re on Facebook do a search for “university confessions.” Or put in the name of your own university — there’s probably at least one “confessions” page there (some have two or more), with dozens or hundreds of undergrads sharing their supposed insecurities, misdeeds, fantasies, sexual escapades, etc., so that other students can then provide a running commentary.

I wonder: Does the “confessor” who gets the mosts comments feel as if s/he has “won” something?

The Facebook confessions craze is relatively new, but seemingly nearly as ubiquitous as renditions of the “Harlem Shake.” “Confessions” pages have caused problems at a few schools, including the National University of Singapore, the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and Sam Houston State University. Mostly they just reflect poorly on the students involved and their universities.[Update: At the high school level, perhaps cause more problems have come from both confessions pages and the “Harlem Shake.”]

As a writer and former college student who now spends most of his time around students, I suspect that many of the supposed “confessions” are fiction. Most seem to be trivial. A fair number are simply stupid. A few of the most troubling, whether true or not, seem to reflect a need for their writers to take advantage of the counseling services available (probably for free) at their institutions.

In part because media around the world have chosen to treat them as news, I decided to contribute my small bit here. Still, as far as making a meaningful contribution to the media world at large, the “confessions” might as well have been scribbled in crayon on notebook paper, folded into paper airplanes, and then launched into the wind.

I also suspect that the trend and the sites themselves will be fleeting, disappearing even before their student moderators graduate and go on to other things. In the meantime, the sites will worry some university administrators, titillate some juvenile readers, offend some people, and be ignored by most — pretty much like every other form of student media throughout history.

One thing I do somewhat appreciate about these Facebook sites, particulary compared to blogs: While the original posts may be anonymous, the commenters are not. That undoubtedly reduces some of the vitriol so often found among bloggers and among those who can comment anonymously on blogs — people who obviously should have no more credibility or popularity than the anonymous “true confessions” on Facebook and in once-popular magazines.

Oh, and if you’ve somehow managed to miss the whole “Harlem Shake” phenomenon (which may have absolutely nothing to do with the original “Harlem Shake”), here is a compilation of examples:

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Social networking making us stupider–and me cranky

Posted by James McPherson on April 30, 2010

I’m on Facebook even though the social networking leviathan–now the most popular Internet site in the country–apparently makes people stupider. Like we can afford that.

I tend to check in on my page relatively rarely, most often when an e-mail alert tells me I have a message, when I want to track down someone I know, or to pimp this blog or other writing. I hope my disinterest beyond that is more because I’m too busy than because I’m too selfish to care what my “friends” are up to most of the time, but in fact I use Facebook in the same way I use other technology–as a tool.

That’s why the only cell phone I own is a prepaid version that’s never turned on unless I want to make a call (which happens probably about once a month, usually when I’m trying to remember what I was supposed to buy at the supermarket), and why I have caller ID and an answering machine. I own technology for my own convenience, not, frankly for the convenience of others. As convenient as cell phones are for many things–and I no longer no anyone that doesn’t have one–I wouldn’t mind terribly going back to a world without them. I don’t text, let alone Twitter; life is too short. And I don’t understand, as I weave my way through traffic past numerous nitwits talking on their phones, how people can have so much to talk about.

One of the best things about Facebook is seeing how some people change; one of the worst things about Facebook is what it demonstrates about how many people are stuck in the past. I once imagined that years after graduation, everyone would be different–that we’d all be less petty, more enlightened. But attending a 20-year-reunion showed me that far too much of the change was external; we were grayer and heavier, and the men had less hair. But the people who were jerks and morons in high school mostly still were.

More than a decade after that reunion, Facebook lets me see that they still are. And for better or worse, they now have the opportunity to exhibit their ignorance far beyond the confines of a small Idaho logging town.

Posted in Education, History, Personal, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Social networking numbers ad up, even if they don’t add up

Posted by James McPherson on October 20, 2009

One of the things I talk about in media history is how each new form of technology brings with it an aura of credibility–as if because the information is coming via a new medium, that information automatically is more credible, more useful, etc. Now that students know that “the Internet” alone isn’t a credible source, though, I had hoped we were beyond that assumption of credibility with modern electronic media.

Or perhaps not, judging by the video below. A student sent me a link to the video, which is “wow-imagine-that” interesting and which offers a lot of startling claims and numbers about social networking (though it doesn’t seem to mention the criminal aspects). Unfortunately, with virtually no attribution of sources, we must take the video for what it’s worth, and I fear that most viewers will believe most of it. I do think that it’s worth seeing for anyone interested in marketing or mass media. That’s why I’ve included it below–with reservations.

One of my favorite claims from the video: “If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s fourth largest.” Of course it would also be the world’s most self-involved and boring country. One of the claims I would question–that Wikipedia is more accurate than the Encyclopedia Britannica–apparently led to my favorite comment in response to the video: “i could hardly believe some of those statistics…until i looked them up on wikipedia.”

Others also questioned the numbers, leading the apparent producer of the video to respond in the comments section, “All sources for the stats can be found on my blog socialnomics[dot]com.” Like the video, the blog seems to exist largely as a means of promoting a book, but by going there I was able to find sources for the material. Sadly, those sources included Facebook (hmm, no incentive for them to boost their states), Huffington Post, an unidentified “metro newspaper,” wikipedia.org (really?), some that couldn’t be found, and a couple of blogs–and almost nothing I would accept from a college junior for a class paper.

It would be nice, of course, if  American viewers also had a better understanding of media literacy. One of the more amusing things I noticed: The most recent response–from a marketing firm–calls the piece a “brilliantly illustrated video that truly highlights the social media revolution that is taking place every hour of every day! Thank you so much for posting this important piece that I will continue to share when I guest lecture to entrepreneurs about marketing! Social Media is not a fad, and will only continue to evolve into exactly what people want it to be–free of ads and full of targeted and useful content that can better their lives.”

Free of ads? The video itself is an advertisement full of other ads, many of the comments like the one just cited are themselves ads, and various clickable promos run along the bottom of the screen throughout the video. Another of its stats: “Only 14 percent [of consumers] trust advertising.” Fourteen percent is too many, of course–but it also means that 86 percent shouldn’t trust anything in this video without doing some independent research.

Posted in Media literacy, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Twit lit: Palin publisher hopes ‘rogue’ stays in vogue

Posted by James McPherson on October 3, 2009

Apparently not bothering to read much gives Sarah Palin lots of time to write, as her new book will hit bookstores next month, rather than next spring. Perhaps this Thanksgiving will go better than last year’s for Palin.

Publisher HarperCollins reportedly want to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season, though I suspect fears that the Alaska Abdicator may completely fade from relevance may also be a factor.

Some Republicans think a Palin nomination would be “catastrophic” for the party (admittedly that quote comes from a John McCain aide, but then, who knows GOP disaster better than McCain folks?), and the conservative New York Post reports that the Moose Killa from Wasilla has not proven to be much of a draw on the lecture circuit,

“The big lecture buyers in the US are paralyzed with fear about booking her, basically because they think she is a blithering idiot,” says one apparent insider. “What does she have to say? She can’t even describe what she reads.”

That doesn’t raise much hope for the book, whose “author” (not surprisingly, she has a co-author) can’t even stay honest on Facebook or Twitter (come to think of it, that seems to be a common problem on social networking sites, though most writers are lying about themselves, not about policy proposals).

Regardless, considering Palin’s level of accuracy within 140 characters, or speak coherently for 20 minutes, pity whomever decides to try to  wade through 400 pages.

Posted in History, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Want to become a convicted sex offender? There’s an app for that

Posted by James McPherson on April 8, 2009

Apparently there’s a 20-percent chance that your teenager has engaged in “sexting”–using his or her cell phone to send nude or seminude photos to someone else. That could cost you thousands of dollars.

It also means your kid could end up in jail for a sex crime, or spend eternity on a list of register sex offenders for distributing child pornography. As cell phones and technology continue to improve, unfortunately, kids don’t get any smarter. Equally unfortnately, we parents and others old enough to know better haven’t gotten any better at figuring out how do deal with “kids gone bad.”

I’ve noted previously my aversion to certain forms of technology, and my concerns about uncertain definitions of what constitutes maturity. Perhaps nothing better illustrates the problems  resulting from the confluence of those two things than the “sexting” phenomenon. 

And nothing better illustrates why I’m glad such things as cell phones and Facebook didn’t exist when I was a kid. As a teenager I was no smarter than my peers then or my students of today. And you probably weren’t, either. For most of us–whether we choose to admit (or remember) it, or not–“getting lucky” has multiple meanings.

Posted in Education, History, Legal issues, Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Twittering while Rome burns

Posted by James McPherson on April 3, 2009

I’m generally not convinced that the British are smarter than we are, despite their intelligent-sounding accents and even if they happen to think so. After all, England was the one country that mostly strongly went along with the Bush/Cheney War, and which has now pledged to join us in sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Still, one group of UK islanders impressed me with their smarts this week. Those were the folks who chased away a Google camera car that was to photograph their homes for Google Earth. Perhaps those people’s actions will someday keep me from getting a close-up view of a crime scene from my office computer, and the fact that they apparently were more elitist snobs than pitchfork-wielding mob and were acting at least as much to protect their wealth as their privacy takes some of the luster off of my admiration.

But the key fact remains: Even as a near-First Amendment absolutist who almost always thinks more information is better than less information (prompting my regular critiques of the Bush administration’s secrecy and sneakiness) sometimes we’d be better off if more often we just told more people–politely, of course–to please shut the hell up. 

I want information to be available, but that doesn’t mean I want to be buried in that information all the time. I agree with Kathleen Parker, who previously coined the term “Twitterati,” in her column of this week. She writes that information overload makes it difficult for us to put things in context: “It’s a toxic asset that exhausts our cognitive resources while making the nonsensical seem significant.”

In fact, even though Barack Obama has become famous for his use of technology, Parker notes that information overload may in fact be bad for democracy: “TMI [Too Much Information] may indeed be the despot’s friend. Keep citizens so overwhelmed with data that they can’t tell what’s important and eventually become incapable of responding to what is. Our brains simply aren’t wired to receive and process so much information in such a compressed period.”

Too much information distracts us from all sorts of things–prompting the phrase coined by my wife’s that I used as the headline for this post–while making us incapable of focusing on what’s important. It gives us too many reasons not to sleep at night.

Parker mentions a Columbia Journalism Review article that includes some fascinating statistics, and though she probably didn’t have the space for it in her column, one paragraph of the CJR article is worth repeating in full:

“There are more than 70 million blogs and 150 million Web sites today–a number that is expanding at a rate of approximately ten thousand an hour. Two hundred and ten billion e-mails are sent each day. Say goodbye to the gigabyte and hello to the exabyte, five of which are worth 37,000 Libraries of Congress. In 2006 alone, the world produced 161 exabytes of digital data, the equivalent of three million times the information contained in all the books ever written. By 2010, it is estimated that this number will increase to 988. Pick your metaphor: we’re drowning, buried, snowed under.” (emphasis added)

The fear of information overload is why I have an answering machine and caller ID. It’s why I don’t subscribe to any Twitter feeds, including those coming from volcanos or from Obama (and I hope someone else is actually tweeting on behalf of the president; I want him saving the economy, not giving me hourly updates on what he’s doing right this minute). It’s why I typically check my Facebook page three or four times per month, rather than three or four times per hour as some of my students do.

And it’s why even though I now own a cell phone, largely by accident, it’s never turned on unless I want to call someone. That happens about once a month, when I’m in a store and can’t remember what my wife asked me to pick up.

I also assume you don’t want to be buried in trivia. That’s why I don’t Twitter, even after learning that it might prompt Demi Moore to care about me. I’m not surprised to see an apparent Twitter backlash. It’s why I update my Facebook page even less often than I think to check it. And my recognition of the problem is why one of the texts for my media criticism is Todd Gitlin’s Media Unlimited, and why I advise students to critique media carefully, but also to take breaks from those media.

The combination of too much information coming at me and too much coming from me goes to an important question that I regularly pose to students, and which Parker asks in her column: “What if everybody just took a timeout?” That combination also is one of the reasons that I will stop posting regularly to this blog in about three weeks (other reasons I’ll explain in more detail as the date–April 22–approaches).

I’ve seen the value of taking time away from the media in very real terms. Most notably, once I went from being a newspaper editor and hardcore news junkie to living in a converted school bus on the Oregon Coast for more than a year. I intentionally avoiding watching television, listening to news on the radio, or reading a newspaper during that time (the Internet hadn’t yet arrived, and in those days I did my own writing on a portable manual typewriter).

My wife and I enjoyed the year tremendously. We read a lot, spent more time outside, and made many new friends. Interesting, I missed almost nothing of significance in the world that I otherwise would have known–which didn’t stop me from going back to a news junkie when I ended my media sabbatical.

Another example of the value of escape came several years later. After I had invested significant time and effort in my doctoral dissertation, someone on the other side of the country wrote about the same topic–and did it better than I could. Suddenly my topic was dead, my past year of effort appeared to have been wasted, and I began spending panicky long hours in the school library trying to come up with another workable idea. I spent hours on Web research (the Internet had arrived) and talking to people who might be able to help, burying myself in information for several weeks–to no avail.

And then I went on a backpacking trip with my parents and siblings in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. I didn’t feel I could afford to take the time, but I had promised to go, and my wife–no doubt sick of my self-pity–urged me to get away (or maybe just to get away from her; memory is a funny thing). A couple of days later, as I was standing hip deep in a cold mountain lake trying to entice a rainbow trout to smack a dry fly, a new dissertation idea popped into my head.

Importantly, the new topic had nothing to do with fishing, camping or the outdoors, and in fact incorporated much of the work I had already done. I needed to get away to see how to make it work. Or, as Parker put it this week: “If you’re looking for Eureka–as in the Aha! moment–you probably won’t find it while following David Gregory’s Tweets. Or checking Facebook to see who might be ‘friending’ whom. Or whose status has been updated. George Orwell is . . . More likely, the ideas that save the world will present themselves in the shower or while we’re sweeping the front stoop.”

Or, in the words of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby when we’re, “gone fishin'”:

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Past-cool Facebook turns 5, but offers little financial guidance to media

Posted by James McPherson on February 4, 2009

Another reminder of how fast time flies: The social networking site Facebook celebrates its fifth birthday today. Started by a Harvard student Mark Zuckerman (soon making him the youngest billionaire on the planet, CNN reports) and once primarily the domain of other college students, now it seems almost everyone who wants to connect with others or sell something is on Facebook.

“I’m on Facebook,” or “We’re on Facebook,” several media leaders told the students in my recent Jan Term class visit to New York and Washington, D.C. As a further indication that social networking is way past cool, even I joined a couple of months ago. I remember to check in about once a week, and rarely update my status (using primarily as a way to direct people here), but CNN reports that according to Facebook, some 15 million users update statuses every day, adding more than 850 million photos per month. The average user has 120 “friends,” many of whom they’ll be soon able to follow even more closely and creepily.

The story credits social networking with making Zuckerman rich and helping make Barack Obama the president of the United States. Yet even Facebook does not demonstrate a workable “business model”–a term my students also heard repeatedly, as virtually all of the mainstream media struggle to make an acceptable profit in the Internet world. Adam Lashinsky of Fortune magazine reportedly told CNN that Facebook “is selling advertising, it is bringing in revenue but it’s not wildly profitable even if it is profitable at all.”

And that’s the problem all of today’s media face–the need for money from advertising, or something to replace that income stream, via a medium via which people are accustomed to getting content for free. If Facebook, now on the downside of cool, can’t do that, the prospects aren’t promising for mainstream news media sites.

Of course, more people may be looking to the Web for news after their TV service disappears with a shift to digital (a shift likely to be postponed later today), but in fact people continue to value news. Getting people to a news site isn’t a significant problem. Getting those people to pay for anything is the problem.

Same-day update: Congress approved the digital television extension today.

Next day update: Time disses a new Facebook trend.

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

Post #200 of a stupid, outdated idea

Posted by James McPherson on December 18, 2008

Blogging apparently is stupid, at least for amateurs like myself (for whom this is my 200th post since I began April 22). We should be wasting our time and distributing our tidbits of wit or wisdom in other ways.

“It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter,”  Paul Bouten writes for Wired. Frankly, I get very few hecklers, and when I do I politely point out the error of their ways and they don’t write back. Of course, I also get relatively few readers (more on the numbers below).

Boutin points out that professionals such as the Huffington Post have taken over the blogging universe, and that “a stand-alone commentator can’t keep up with a team of pro writers cranking out up to 30 posts a day.” Incidentally, I got this bit of news via stand-alone commentator Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

I’d also argue that some of the professional blogs are doing so well because they provide more meaningful news and commentary than mainstream news sites.

Well, I’m on Facebook, but mostly to keep track of colleagues and former students. I rarely write anything there, or read much of what anyone else has written. My page has a link to my blog–if anyone cares what I think, they can jump over here.

I refuse to Twitter, at least for now (keeping in mind that less than a year ago I said I’d never be a blogger). Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it rips the soul from wisdom.

Few things worth saying or knowing can adequately be expressed in 140 characters, and most of those brief bits should be said more personally: “I love you.” “Drop dead.” “I’m sorry.” “Dear Mom and Dad: Send money.” “You’re fired.” “We’re having a baby.” “It’s time for Fluffy to be put down.” “Would you like fries with that?” “Look at all the freakin’ snow.” (Despite shoveling last night before I went to bed, I woke up to a two-foot snowdrift ON MY PORCH this morning.)

Maybe it’s a result of my experience as an academic, but I disagree with the premise that blogging is primarily a tool for self-promotion. That obviously is the case for some bloggers, but most probably feel they have something meaningful to share. Many of those are correct, and it’s not up to me–or, thank God, the corporate media–to decide which, for all readers.

Though I do get an ego boost on days when readership is up, I certainly don’t write for the attention or the money. If I did, I’d be trying to pen crime novels instead of well-researched books about journalism history and politics.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m doing this primarily for the same reason I do most things outside of my home: my students. And the number of “my students” has expanded as a result I now have regular student readers who have never taken a class from me. Responses from those students and former students are the ones I value most.

This experiment has taught me some interesting things, some more surprising than others. Not surprising is that my most popular post (approximately 1,700 views so far) was a misleadingly titled sociological experiment, sought out by people using terms that have nothing to do with media or politics.

More surprising is that the second-most popular post (about 1,300), and the one still getting a few views pretty much every day is one about the U.S. Flag Code that I wrote back in July, based on one of my favorite classroom lectures about symbols.

Also still among the top eight are my August prediction that Barack Obama would handily win the presidential election and my back-to-back June posts suggesting that the vice presidential nominees should be Joe Biden and Sarah Palin–though because a link to to it appears at the bottom of a popular CNN story, yesterday’s post (about to pass 500) about the Bush administration, science and endangered species may blow past those two. Maybe it’s because of the YouTube clip from “Them.”

Aside from the flag post, generally speaking the two best topics for generating traffic have been Palin and sex. On a typical day I get between 100 and 200 page views. The most for a single day was 876, coming mostly from one of those Palin stories (also with help from CNN).

Not surprisingly, that same Palin story generated the most comments. Many posts draw no response. Others get an occasional comment even weeks later, which strikes me as a bit odd.

Admittedly, there may be a bit of egotistical lunacy behind generating an average of about 25 posts per month in addition to teaching four classes, advising a student newspaper, remodeling my kitchen (yes, I did it myself–some academics can use a hammer and saw), helping organize and host a national journalism history convention in October, and organizing a Jan Term study trip to two dozen sites in New York and Washington, D.C.

Insomnia helps. And besides, writing is one of the fun parts of my job, and a big part of why I became a reporter and then an editor. In addition, writing these things here may keep me from verbally torturing my wife and others with my reactions to the news items that intrigue me.

Another obvious reason that I would engage in such an archaic form of communication as blogging is that I’m a media historian. I live for soon-to-be-extinct technologies. I don’t own an ipod or a Kindle, but my office holds a 1953 television set; probably a hundred pounds of newspapers, magazines and photos; hundreds of books; phonograph “records” of various sizes; a VCR and dozens of videotapes; some old film cameras; a cassette tape deck and dozens of cassette tapes; numerous CD’s, a couple of reel-to-reel tapes; and even an 8-track tape or two.

Also related to history: The American flag on my office wall, a flag that was in use when I was born, has 48 stars. At that time there was no state of Alaska for the future Sarah Palin to govern. Perhaps you think of that time as “the good ol’ days.”

Dec. 28 update: CNN names “the ascendance of Twitter” its top tech trend of 2008. Sigh. The story concludes, “One thing Twitter is lacking, though, is a profitable business plan.” In that respect, it’s like the newspapers I love so much.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »