Models, Media, and News Coverage

Last month, model Cameron Russell gave a TED talk titled “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.” In the aftermath of that talk, Russell’s idea that models are just individuals who won and capitalize upon a genetic lottery gained a lot of attention.

In a way, this is a good thing. We live in a society where looks are given a lot of attention, and this attention can have detrimental side effects: eating disorders, self-confidence problems — the list goes on. However, as Russell herself says in an editorial published through CNN after her talk, is it right that journalists only started this conversation after a model herself brought the issue up?

Suppose, for a moment, that we look away from the issue of societal beauty standards. Do journalists measure up in that regard? Possibly not.

Colin Powell gave a talk at the same TED conference as Russell, but only got a quarter of the attention (if you consider views of both talks online). Russell is the one who has been on morning shows in the past month, not Powell.

If we look at the Pew Research Center’s data for most discussed issues of 2011, we find out that this is actually a common occurrence. Journalists tend to cover some topics to a great extent (like the economy) but then leave other — possibly equally important — issues and either disregard them or give them little attention.

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Foreign Policy was even able to compile a list of major issues that weren’t discussed in the news in 2011 — and some of them are rather important (Indian military growth, US immigration issues, and drug wars in Mexico, to name a few). At the time of the article, they supposed that many of those issues would show up with greater frequency in 2012. In hindsight, though, did that happen?

So, what does this say about journalism in general? Are journalists, knowing full well that agenda setting is a reality, doing their jobs? Does it really take a model to start the conversation on how well journalists are doing? Is a change necessary? If so, what can be done?


Google, Journalists, and Myanmar

Several journalists from Myanmar reported that their email accounts had been hacked this past weekend after receiving alert notifications from Google. These notifications told journalists that their accounts had been hacked by “state-sponsored attackers,” but neglected to give the journalists any other information about the attacks. 

According to Google, whose representative Taj Meadows cited a June 2012 statement from the company, Google could not discuss how they had obtained their information, since this would give hackers the upper-hand, and allow them the opportunity to avoid detection. 

However, both journalists and government officials in Myanmar remain discontent with this statement. Journalists view the hacks as yet another infringement on their freedoms, and the government views Google’s accusations of state-sponsored hacks as unwarranted. 

Naturally, this leads us to wonder about the relationship between journalists and the government in Myanmar — a relationship that can be called tenuous at best. The government has admittedly eased restrictions on the press in the past couple of years. However, along with those restrictions have come a great number of email hacks, causing some journalists to even keep two email accounts, one for government reporting, and one for everything else. 

All this subterfuge, both well-intended or otherwise leaves journalists and citizens everywhere with some questions. Does Google’s refusal to reveal its technical knowledge really hurt the public’s image of Myanmar’s government? Does this same refusal also help journalists in Myanmar, or does it hurt them? Also, are the journalists in Myanmar really better off with less public restrictions, but more private infringements on their rights? If not, is there a way to address this problem? Most importantly, what does this scenario, and others like it, say about the state of journalism in Myanmar? 


Social Media and Journalism

That social media is changing the field of journalism is no understatement. Facebook, Twitter and other forms of news sharing are all instant – someone posts or tweets, and then the whole world can know what is happening.

No longer does journalism follow a strictly 24 hour news cycle, where newspapers come out daily and citizens wait for the 5 o’clock news to learn of new happenings. Now, newspapers have websites. They have Facebook and Twitter accounts, share what news is happening right now, and start a conversation minutes after something takes place.

 In some ways, this is a good thing. Citizens know what is happening instantly, and can make informed decisions based on those happenings. However, social media also raises some questions for journalists.

 How do you know when a post or tweet is a reliable news source? In the Arab Spring, for instance, an entire movement was started through social media – not through a press conference. What is the proper way to verify information found through social media? And what if that information is not available anywhere else?

 NPR journalist Andy Carvin, who recently published a book discussing social media’s impact on journalism, told NPR that using social media as a journalist is “kind of like running a newsroom on Twitter that’s become transparent. And rather than having news staff fulfilling the roles of producers, editors, researchers, etc., I have my Twitter followers playing all of those roles. So it ends up becoming this rather large, convoluted media literacy experiment in many ways.”

Is this a thought process that more journalists will end up using? How do you think the futures of journalism and social media will shape up? 


Publishing Private Information in the Aftermath of Sandy Hook

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Shooting, the issue of gun control was given a considerable amount of attention. One publication, The Journal News, actually went so far as to publish a map of with both the names and addresses of people who had registered gun permits.

As New York Times author David Karp mentions in his coverage of the incident, this publication brings about a number of ethical issues. Yes, the American people do have access to information on registered gun permits. Yes, The Journal News did not do anything illegal when they published the map. However, we as journalists have to ask ourselves if the behavior The Journal News exhibited was ethical.

Why? First of all, the map and accompanying article were published at a time when the issue of gun control was very sensitive. Publishing a map declaring to the world the whereabouts of gun owners could put those gun owners in danger.

However, the map can go more ways than one. Now, in addition to information about who does own a gun permit in Westchester County, Pa., citizens also have access to an aggregated collection of the addresses of those people who do not own guns. Does doing so put these citizens in danger? It is an issue that the publication of the map brings to light, and one that must certainly be discussed.