Digitizing Your Life and Your Journalism in the Age of “Information Overload”

Briggs begins chapter nine of Journalism Next by quoting author Clay Shirky, who says, “There is no such thing as information overload, only filter failure” (233).

I sometimes, actually more like all the time, feel as though I am drowning in the sea of information. After a rare three-day weekend of disconnecting from the digital world for a little everyone will experience the same phenomenon of opening your laptop and immediately being engulfed by a wave of stress. You have a hundred new emails to read, and then your other email to check, your Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to attend to, and your class pages, websites, news outlets, and feeds to catch up on. Everything imaginable you subscribe to, use, and communicate through seems to be yelling, “Where have you been!” It can be overwhelming, but as Briggs explains in sections of chapter 9, and this article by Reportr.net about Amy Webb’s “10 Top Tech Trends that Every Journalist Should Know” discusses, there are ways to lessen the stress of the data driven day-to-day craziness of living in the digital world, as a person and as a journalist.

Briggs discusses how the constant “onslaught of information” presents challenges for most, both personally and professionally. Obviously, today just about everyone is part of the data-driven world and has to some extent digitized their life. Everyone has to adapt to the constant barrage of information and new technology, but for journalists it is imperative that we not only embrace the “information overload,” but learn techniques for managing all of the digital tools available to us and using them effectively to get the most we can out of them. While every day people may find the tips Briggs gives in this chapter helpful, for journalists it is vital that they at least explore most of these aids, to find ones that they find beneficial for them and learn to use them, in order to keep up with the constant information intake. Briggs writes about how digitizing your life is the first step in digitizing your journalism, which I agree with because as a journalist your personal life and your work are becoming increasingly intertwined due to the new technologies for receiving and spreading information and data.

While digital capabilities have in one way put more expectations on journalists by causing audiences to expect fast, real-time, data-driven journalism, the way in which technological advancements and the web have made data available is unlike anything journalists thirty years ago could have dreamed for. Briggs explains that when news outlets publish their data on the web “…it can sing–with depth, customization, search ability, and a long shelf life,” which is not possible in its full potential through a printed newspaper (242). Briggs explains how technological advances such as sites and apps that facilitate data gathering and information sharing benefits media outlets, journalists, and readers alike. Applications, like Mapbuilder used by The Salt Lake Tribune during their coverage of an earthquake in 2009, allow journalists to get out information on breaking news stories within minutes in an effective way that is helpful for readers who are looking for quick answers during a breaking news story.

While news outlets now have access to hundreds of applications to aid them in breaking news coverage, it is social media outlets, especially Twitter, that allow such quick exchange of information that we could consider tweets the main form of breaking news. Mathew Ingram even wrote about how during a series of forest fires in California, Twitter and Facebook helped spread the news so quickly that “a study by sociologists later found they did a better job than either the official emergency information networks or the traditional media.”

While the information overload we experience today is often stressful, the convenience it allows is something we, especially college students, would be lost without. It is difficult to imagine a time when the answer to any possible question was not literally at your fingertips. The ease and availability to access information has benefitted journalists probably more than it has any other professionals.

Briggs, Mark. Journalism Next: A Practical Guide to Digital Reporting and Publishing. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ, 2013. Print.


From a Lecture to a Discussion: News as a Conversation

In Chapter 10 of Journalism Next, Briggs focuses on the progression of news from a lecture to a conversation. Gone are the days when a journalist would write a story, print it in a newspaper, and occasionally respond to one or two letters to the editor. Now almost everything published online has a comments section, and almost every comments section is filled with a mix of both positive and negative feedback. This transition of the news from a one-way to a two-way conversation requires serious adaptation on behalf of the journalist, and ethical norms have yet to be set for this new back and forth between the journalist and the audience.

Briggs points out three areas of evolution suggesting a brighter future for comments on news stories;

“the technology is getting better, newsrooms are accepting more responsibility and the commenters are expecting more from each other”

Briggs also writes about Doug Feaver of washingtonpost.com and his opinion that even through horrible comments and reader feedback journalists benefit.

Feaver discusses that even though comments are “‘…sometimes profane, frequently off point and occasionally racist…'” the transparency they allow journalism is worth it, as comment sections “‘…provide a forum for readers to complain about what they see as unfairness or inaccuracy in an article (and too often they have a point)…'”

Briggs identifies social media as an emerging and integral part of todays news cycle, presenting statistics  proving how in the past few years the number of adults with profiles on social networking sites has skyrocketed, jumping from 8% in 2005 to 66% in 2012. This means that today over 2/3 of all adults are regularly creating content on social networking sites. Also, among adults ages 18 to 29 this number is even greater, being 86%.

I see these statistics as warnings for journalists of the future, that we need to keep up, move forward, embrace new technology, and learn how to produce news for the two-way conversation. Moving into the future, our generation, the 86% creating content, is going to be the older generation, and a younger generation of news consumers is going to emerge. This audience is going to be even more technologically savvy, they are going to be even more involved in social media, and they are going to expect much more from their news makers.

Transparency in the reporting process in one of the main benefits Briggs identifies as stemming from reader involvement through comment sections on news sites and social media outlets. Transparency is something I predict will become a demand rather than a request from the audience of the future.

Briggs also delves into the ethical issues surrounding comment sections on news stories. While he clearly supports reader involvement and the two-way conversation, he does identify the downsides of the comment sections. Comment sections on news outlets allow anyone, anywhere, to say anything they want. This, ironically, is both the main advantage and the main disadvantage of the comments section. While these outlets allow people with legitimate opinions to have their voice heard, they also allow mean-spirited, out of line bullies to have their voice heard. We have all either personally experienced this or seen it time and time again, and sometimes this makes me question why a news site even allows a comments section at all. I often read an article then skim the comments section to find extremely over the top and disgustingly offensive reader feedback, and too often I notice these comments have nothing to do with the article they are commenting on.

Briggs recognizes this, saying, “At their worst, story comments are nothing more than senseless drivel.”

Briggs goes on to explain how “Hot-button topics are obvious triggers, but locally sensitive issues tend to spill over into all areas as well” giving the example of how in 2008 editors of the San Diego Union Tribune noticed that the debate over illegal immigration seemed to pop up in almost every comments section, no matter what the article was on, because that was the hot issue at the time.

You literally see it everywhere, no matter what article or what news site, if it has a comments section there are bound to be some idiotic and insensitive remarks. Just now, I was reading a short article on CNN about the tragic death of 6 teenagers in a car accident, and scrolled through the comments section, wondering what anyone could possibly have to say, to come across some anonymous post about how women should not drive and blond women are “statistically more likely to get into accidents.” Most of the rest of the conversation in this comments section was a heated debate on religion. It is obviously hard for me as a journalist, and ethically as a person, not to get a little angry seeing this.

However, what I remind myself is that no matter how much I may dislike some comments, the commenter has just as much of a right to say what they want to say as anyone else does. The first amendment is just as legitimate for them as it is for a professional journalist, and they are entitled to give their opinion whether it is right or wrong. That is the beauty of America, isn’t it? The question is; as journalists are we obligated to provide people with the forum for voicing these opinions?

Closing of Hampshire Dining Common for Renovations this Semester has Not Only Affected the UMass Community but Sustainability Efforts as Well

Members of the University of Massachusetts Amherst community have noticed an alteration in sustainability with the closing of Hampshire Dining Common, located in the Southwest Residential Area, this semester.

Berkshire Dining Common, the most popular dining hall on campus, also located in Southwest, expected an increase in traffic among students when Hampshire closed. In an effort to reduce crowding at Berkshire, the University introducedHampden Dining Common, located below the Hampden Convenience Store, added hours at Berkshire, and gave students the option to use a Residential Meal Plan swipe at the Baby Berk and new Baby Berk 2 food trucks.

One of UMass’ efforts to lessen traffic at Berkshire was to provide more choices at Grab n’ Go locations. Sustainability has become a focus for the University, however, Hampden Grab n’ Go and the Baby Berk trucks provide students with plastic water bottles and soda cans for a meal swipe, contradicting the UMass Sustainability Mission Statement.

“We’d love to just have water coolers at Hampden Grab n’ Go but we want to give students an option. We don’t provide the water bottles and soda cans at Berkshire Grab n’ Go because it’s less of a carbon footprint and more sustainable,” said Tim Lane, Operations Manager at UMass Amherst.

Lane said that the installation of portable soda fountains into Hampden would have been an unnecessary renovation since it would only be used for one semester. The only way to provide students with beverage options was to resort to water bottles and soda cans.

“I think the fact that Hampden Grab n’ Go lets students take plastic water bottles and soda cans is a huge issue because with Hampshire closed, so many more people are using Grab n’ Go to avoid the crowd at Berkshire,” said Conner Kelly, a kinesiology major who has been working at Berkshire for almost two months.

“It is costing us more to have the water bottles and soda cans, but it was our best option. And, it is only for one semester,” said Lane.

Lane said that having the Baby Berk trucks outside and Hampden Grab n’ Go have both lowered the number of students in Berkshire, which was the main goal.

“I haven’t seen as much of a crowd at Berkshire because of both Hampden and the trucks, but the amount of waste being used is over the top and I think the plastic bags they use for Grab n’ Go are a big issue too,” said Kelly.

However, according to Lane, the objective is simply to feed as many people as possible. So with the addition of a new Grab n’ Go and the Baby Berk trucks, Lane said that students have more options and more variety when it comes to choosing their meals.

“I just think that the University could be doing more, like offering reusable drawstring bags or reusable water bottles. Having that Permaculture gardendirectly outside Hampden is a huge contradiction because of the damage being done,” said Kelly.

UMass has invested $15 million into the new “green” renovations at Hampshire Dining Common, which is expected to have a one-of-a-kind design with 15 different New England-themed options. The new D.C. will be a sustainable facility with recyclable Grab n’ Go containers and meals that are not only flavorful, but also healthy and environmentally conscious.

Kelly hopes that in the upcoming semester, the Dining Commons will return to their sustainable habits and that the carbon footprint left from Hampden and Baby Berk has only been a phase for the University.

What makes a website credible!?

John R. Henderson, librarian at Ithaca College, presented this tutorial as a tool for deciphering which web sites are reliable and which are not. Henderson offers six suggestions for using the web wisely and efficiently:

1. Make sure you are in the right place 2. when in doubt, doubt 3. consider the source 4. know whats happening 5. look at details 6. Distinguish web pages from pages found on the web

He also provided six suggestions for evaluating sources:

Authority, Accuracy, Objectivity, Currency, Coverage, and Value

I used Henderson’s recommendations to analyze six websites on the topic of “Reliving the Sixties”

When I clicked on this link for “The Sixties Project” and was brought to the home page  I was immediately confused. I saw “.edu” in the url, usually a good sign of legitimacy, yet the homepage layout just screamed early 90’s. Then I read the information under contact information and saw that the last time this site was updated was Thursday, January 28, 1999. When a website hasn’t been updated in over a decade, there is absolutely no point in continuing on the site. For a topic such as the sixties, I feel some people would argue that all the information is history, therefore it is not changing and does not need to be updated, but that is just false especially in the case of this site. Under the “news” tab the site lists all of their “upcoming events” with their most recent event coming up March 5, 1999….

“The psychedelic 60s” website is not quite as bad but pretty similar to “The Sixties Project.” Again, the major issue is that the site is outdated, having been last modified December 16, 2009. Putting that major issue aside, the design of the website is almost incomprehensible. The home page has one extremely outdated graphic drowning in a white background, which is especially weird considering the article is called “The psychedelic 60s.” Then, as soon as you click on a topic from the homepage, a million things pop up and it goes from boring to overwhelming immediately. Looking at this site the rules above of “when in doubt, doubt” and “look at details” came to mind. A homepage is the first thing that any new visitor sees, and although this may be “judging a book by its cover,” it matters when you are trying to sell your website. Personally, if a website’s homepage looks like it was designed by a child, it is going to be hard for me to trust that your content is extensively researched and reliable.

“The Sixties” website is a class website at the University of Miami, which made me think of Henderson’s recommendation to consider the source. Although in some ways the fact that it is for a class could make it more reliable, as you know the author’s objective is to teach. On the other hand one must consider that what is on the website is probably being contextualized in the class, so the site alone might not make very much sense. Also, it does not contain enough information for someone who would be trying to do an extensive research project. The site is not set up in a typical way; there are no links within the stories, but rather a separate bibliography that is far more extensive than the articles themselves are. I am sure this is done intentionally for the class, but for a random person reading the website it may not be the best choice as a source.

“The 1960s” piece by History.com is the most reliable source I have examined of the bunch thus far, passing all of Henderson’s tests to be considered a reliable website. Like I mentioned before, the homepage, design, and lay out provide the first impression for a reader, and if a site is not eye-catching there is another site that is just a click away. The integration of multimedia in this piece is done very effectively, and in a way that will pull someone in and separate the piece from others on the topic.