Better Content, Right At Our Fingertips

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A Facebook Instant Article by the Washington Post. Photo courtesy of The Atlantic.

Since the start of the 21st century, the news has been going digital. Newspapers started publishing their content on the Internet in addition to their papers, and have since begun publishing some things only online. There is also a general consensus among media organizations that it is just a matter of time until hardcopy newspapers are eliminated completely, since a majority of consumers would rather read the news online.

While the news has certainly met the highly-accessible, fast-paced digital age, the revolution of modern journalism is still taking place. Within the realm of online news production, an increasing number of media companies are now catering specifically to consumers using smartphones and other mobile devices instead of desktops.

Jackie Kucinich, the Politics Bureau Chief for The Daily Beast, can attest to this.

“We are moving more and more towards mobile. The majority of our traffic comes from mobile, so there is of course a big push there in terms of innovation and expansion,” Kucinich said in an interview.

Kucinich attributed this transition to today’s rising generation of millennial news consumers, who have all come of age while clutching a smartphone. “Every news organization wants the demographic that has the buying power. That’s what this is all about at the end of the day. It has to do with getting readership that will grow with them,” Kucinich said.

Social media platforms like Facebook have been instrumental in generating Internet traffic as media organizations have become more digital, and has helped kickstart online-only organizations like BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. However, the influence of Facebook in journalism does not stop here.

Over half of Facebook’s daily users only access the social network on mobile devices. Based on 2013 data, smartphone users check Facebook 14 times a day. Mashable also reported that Facebook is the third most-used app for smartphone owners, behind email and web browser. Because Facebook generates so much smartphone activity, media organizations are looking to incorporate the social network in their plans to target mobile consumers.

For Facebook, the desire to collaborate is mutual. Recognizing an opportunity to publish stories and act as an intermediary between mobile news consumers and media organizations, Facebook launched Instant Articles in April 2015. The publishing platform, which was originally offered to a select group of media organizations such as the New York Times, BuzzFeed, National Geographic, NBC, The Atlantic and BBC News, allows outlets to publish content straight to Facebook as opposed to their own websites.

Now, when readers select a story published by Instant Articles, they are taken to a page within the Facebook smartphone app instead of being redirected to a separate web browser, thus creating a mobile reading experience that features faster loading times as well as a phone-friendly article layout. Content published as an Instant Article also shows up earlier and more frequently in users’ timelines, and media organizations can customize their article layouts to closely resemble their own websites. These features have been of great interest to companies trying to solidify a business model in the now-digital—yet still unpredictable—media world. Last month, Facebook extended the invitation to publish Instant Articles to all interested media organizations.

The popularity of Instant Articles has led many to wonder if Facebook aims to become more than just a news publisher. Some media leaders fear that the social network will use its popularity and user-base to create its own news content, thereby making media organizations irrelevant. Benjamin Mullin, the managing editor at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, says this is very unlikely, however.

“Social platforms like Facebook aren’t going to invest heavily in producing quality journalism,” Mullin said in an interview. “Rather, Facebook wants to be an intermediary for journalism. Tech companies can provide the lens through which we view the news.”

It may sound counterintuitive that media companies are targeting mobile users, who have been generally characterized as easily distracted and therefore less likely to have the patience to read anything longer than a listicle. Yet according to Pew Research Center and Parse.ly, a media analytics firm, mobile readers are willing to spend more time viewing long-form stories than short-form.

“Despite small screen space and multitasking often associated with cellphones, consumers do spend more time on average with long-from news articles than with short-form. Indeed, the total engaged time with articles 1,000 words or longer averages about twice that of the engaged time with short-form stories: 123 seconds compared with 57,” Pew researchers wrote in a summary of the report.

These findings are a good sign for journalists feeling tired of writing clickbait articles whose only purpose is to generate buzz on Facebook. According to Mullin, as media organizations increasingly gravitate towards mobile-friendly news production, the overall quality of content will improve as well.

“There has been a shift towards the production of quality online journalism. There is a growing consensus among media leaders that simply aggregating content and serving it up to a vast audience is no longer the path to building a sustainable business,” Mullin said. “The next phase of the media revolution will be creating content of consequence and value. It will continue to be messy, but the trajectory for the coming decade is promising.”

Jim VandeHei, the co-founder of POLITICO, has a similar opinion. According to VandeHei, as more and more content and production techniques are geared towards mobile consumers, the content that is put forth will be better. Good reporting and writing are still the most valuable things to media organizations.

“Just like the web destroyed the newspaper world, mobile will destroy the desktop world. But from the rubble will emerge a much better, more eclectic, more efficient way for all of us to read, watch and listen,” VandeHei wrote in an op-ed. “This is the golden age of content creation.”

Whose Side Are We On Anyway? How Media Biases and the Business of News Affect Accuracy and Objectivity

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Bernie Sanders with journalist Chuck Todd on Meet The Press. Image courtesy of The Humanist Report.

The pressure to break or make news has existed since the beginning of mass journalism. While this pressure has potentially been magnified since the birth of online news sources and social media, the pressures journalists feel today to be the first to report, to have unique information, to appeal to readers from certain political parties, or to increase readership and the number of advertisers, among others, are relatively similar to the challenges that journalists have faced since the nineteenth century. While the pressures to be newsmakers or news-breakers are longstanding elements of journalism, it must also be understood that they are rooted in biases and desires to make profits. By acknowledging where the pressures come from, we are better able to understand the nature of the inaccuracies that we sometimes encounter in the media.

Accuracy, or lack thereof, can be defined in more ways than one. Reporting that distorts facts or favors certain storylines over another because of the benefits they may bring to a publication or outlet is a form of inaccuracy. Fact-skewing and subjective reporting have existed since the birth of mass journalism, and remain present in today’s digital media age. Bruce Thornton, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, explains the history of media biases in a piece published by the Institute in 2013.

He claims that newspapers have almost always had some sort of bias, especially when it comes to politics, and that the media’s tendency to sensationalize, obsess over scandals, and exaggerate certain elements of a story have been a commonality since the yellow journalism era of the late nineteenth century. Yet Thornton claims that as the number of newspapers across America increased over time, they have counterbalanced whatever biases have existed across the board.

He also points out that since the start of the television news era in the 1960s, journalists have been commonly viewed as shapers of public opinion instead of just fact reporters, which is a role that persists today in our social media-driven news environment. Furthermore, Thornton notes how mainstream media has evolved to be the profit-minded businesses we know today, and how that has enhanced biases and subjectiveness, especially when it means a publication can make more money.

While subjective, swayed or exaggerated journalism has existed for years, it is important to understand where it stems from. There is a pressure that most publications and news outlets face that compels them to sway or distort the facts. It can really be boiled down to the need to generate support from readers or viewers from certain political camps; the business incentives to maintain or increase readership and advertisers; and the competition to be the first to report something, which has intensified since the birth of the Internet and social media.

These things do not not always lead to inaccurate reporting, but they certainly increase the likelihood of it. Facts get distorted to better fit a political agenda, certain storylines are chosen over others because they may be more appealing or interesting to readers and advertisers, and sources are not vetted or double-checked in the interest of time and the race to be the first to publish or post a story. All of these things can be found in the coverage of the current presidential campaign.

Ezra Klein, the founder of Vox, analyzes why there are both media biases for and against Bernie Sanders. The case for media bias towards Sanders can be found in the fact that the media likes his messages. They are interesting and usually positive, which makes for happy readers. On the other hand, Sanders has been a longtime political figure and has offered reporters a lot of access for most of his career, meaning that most journalists already have opinions of him, some of which may be less than stellar.

Klein points to his colleague Matthew Yglesias to support his theories, who explains in a previous article the rationale behind why modern media is often biased to begin with.

“The media has a systematic self-interested bias toward exaggerating how close the race is . . . Television networks want people to tune in to their debates and town halls, which they are much more likely to do if they think something is at stake. And Sanders’s big fundraising has been transformed into big advertising dollars, which is literally money in the pockets of media companies,” writes Yglesias.

Klein broadened the conversation on biases to more than just presidential campaigns, however. He writes, “Whether reporters are trying to be ‘objective’ or not, we all constantly have to make decisions about which stories to cover, which gaffes to take seriously, [and] which storylines to follow.”

In general, the pressure to make news that corresponds with publications’ goals of aligning with a political agenda, achieving business goals in the form of revenue or readership, or being the first to post about something on Twitter, leads to an overall decrease in accuracy. Facts are spun or worded in certain ways, sensationalized to draw attention from readers, and are often not double-checked or confirmed in the interest of time.

It may seem as though journalistic ethics and objective reporting is doomed more so now than ever with the amount of information available online. Yet with the proliferation of news blogs, cable news channels, and social media engagements, Thornton’s idea of the relative self-corrective element of publications’ agendas and accuracy still exists, and ensures that the truth, although it may have to be pieced together over time, comes out and issues get reported accurately.

“Citizens have numerous options for news and information, and numerous alternatives that challenge, balance, and correct the partisan biases of the mainstream media. More importantly, this new media world means that in a democracy ruled by the people, the responsibility for sorting out truth from partisan spin lies where it should, with the free citizens who have the civic duty to seek out and evaluate information before voting for a party or policy. Media bias is no longer an excuse for neglecting that responsibility,” Thornton says.

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Cartoons courtesy of MediaMatters.org and TheConservativeCitizen.com

The Zigzag Lines of Cristina Del Sesto

Cristina ‘Cris’ Del Sesto is an excellent reason for young people to not be afraid of wandering off the well-beaten path. A 1986 Georgetown graduate with a degree in art history, Del Sesto’s first job was at the Washington Post, where she started as a copy aid.

One of her biggest responsibilities was giving the layout mock-up from the newsroom to the layout workers, who would then transform it into the front page of the paper. Del Sesto found herself often working past two o’clock in the morning, making sure that each edition that was printed throughout the night was the best it could be.

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Del Sesto describing her adventurous career path, which led to the National Gallery of Art’s acquisition of a Mary Cassatt painting.

“There was always a lot of ink on my shoes,” Del Sesto said on her time at the Post.

Del Sesto was not necessarily planning on being a journalist when she got the job, however. She had only taken one journalism class during her senior year, as Georgetown did not offer a journalism minor at that time. As graduation approached, Del Sesto had gotten the contact information of Post employee Ann Oldenburg, whom she reached out to for a job.

“I was a senior in this journalism class, and my father said I couldn’t come home. I had to have a job. I was calling Ann twice a week and sent her letters. I kept saying that I wanted a job, and she kept saying that there were no positions. I called her and asked, ‘Can I just come in for an informational interview?’ and she wouldn’t even let me do that,” said Del Sesto. “Finally, she relented and said, ‘Oh, alright!’ I went in and about a week after, someone quit and there was an opening as a copy aide.”

Pursuing journalism careers is not uncommon for Georgetown students. However, it is what Del Sesto did after her approximately twenty-year stint with the Washington Post that makes her rather tumultuous career path a unique one. While listening to her describe all of the things she has done, one realizes that Del Sesto is a jack of all trades. Since first starting at the Post, she has worked on a tugboat operation that supplied petroleum products in Martha’s Vineyard, attempted writing a novel, helped launch the music portion of Amazon.com in 1998, and has also worked at an international development company, among other things.

After taking five years off to raise her son, Del Sesto landed a job at the National Gallery of Art, where she continues to work today. There, she is a corporate relations officer in charge of recruiting companies, for example, Faber-Castell and Exxon Mobil, to sponsor special exhibitions within the Gallery. Although the National Gallery is publicly funded through Congress, the funds granted by the federal budget are only spent on things such as building maintenance and paying the guards. It is private funding that brings in art and special exhibitions, which is where Del Sesto’s role becomes crucial to the museum.

“My task is is to figure out for which companies it would make sense to have sponsor something at the National Gallery, and then I have to figure out how to get to the right person. When I figure out who the right person is, I still have to communicate with that person and track them down,” Del Sesto said. “It is exactly like journalism. It’s a lot of leg work, and I do a lot of research.”

While Del Sesto spends a lot of time reaching out to companies who might be interested in funding an exhibit, she occasionally works with individuals on a more personal level as well. The most prominent example of this is the Gallery’s acquisition of Portrait of Eddy, by Mary Cassatt.

“I happened to have brought in Portrait of Eddy, which is why it’s one of my favorites right now,” Del Sesto said.

Del Sesto had lived in the Middleburg-area of Virginia in the nineties and developed many friendships during that time. However, she moved away, and when she returned to the D.C. area to work at the National Gallery, she reconnected with some of those old friends.

It was then that the Gallery was in the process of opening an exhibit on Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt. During the preparations, Del Sesto remembered that one of her friends from Virginia had a connection to the great-grandniece of Mary Cassatt, a woman named Julie Thayer Vehr.

“I invited my friend and her mother to come to the gallery to see the exhibition, and I suggested that they bring [Vehr] with them,” Del Sesto said.

Upon seeing members of her family hanging on the walls of the gallery, Vehr became very emotional, Del Sesto recalled.

“[Vehr’s] great-grandfather was Alexander Cassatt, who was Mary’s brother. She saw a male portrait in the exhibition that was of Alexander Cassatt and his two sons, one of which was Eddy, the younger brother. She started talking about Eddy, and kept saying, ‘I would feel like Eddy if I gave the painting away,’” Del Sesto said. “I then realized that she must have had a Cassatt.”

Vehr indeed had her own Cassatt painting. Cassatt had done a portrait of Vehr’s grandfather when he was four years old, and it eventually made its way into Vehr’s possession. An artist herself, Vehr had grown very attached to the painting and was reluctant to give it away.

After about a year of negotiations and meetings, most of which were conducted by Del Sesto, Vehr agreed to donate Portrait of Eddy to the National Gallery. Until then, she had been keeping the painting in her home in Virginia, where it was uninsured and improperly stored. Vehr ultimately felt concerned for the painting’s safety and decided it was best to give it to the National Gallery.

“The reason that this is such an important work to me is not only the story of meeting [Vehr], but of taking something from a private collection to public access. I think that’s the reason why I’m at the National Gallery of Art, because it’s giving public access to art,” Del Sesto said. “A lot of people would not make the decision I’ve made of going from corporate to non-profit. The only way I could justify it in my mind is with Eddy and stories like that—of bringing art to the public.”

When not stumbling upon unknown masterpieces, Del Sesto, who is originally from Rhode Island, enjoys reading and traveling, and has recently started tap dancing.

“I often try taking up various things with no success. I have started taking tap dance. I’m fifteen classes in. We’re doing a routine to “Singing in the Rain”,” Del Sesto said.

Del Sesto continued to reflect on her career since graduating from Georgetown and the jobs she has held since.

“I have had so many jobs and I have lived in so many places. If you were to look at [my career], you would say it makes no sense at all. Yet now, looking back, I am where I started. When I graduated from Georgetown there were two places I wanted to work. I wanted to work at the Washington Post and I wanted to work at National Gallery of Art,” said Del Sesto. “And now, I’ve come full circle.”

As Del Sesto spoke to a group of current Georgetown students, she encouraged them to take risks throughout their lives, especially in regards to their future careers.

“Today I see a lot of young people—and I think it’s older people’s fault—coming in so directed and sure about what they’re going to be for the rest of their lives, and they don’t step off one bit,” Del Sesto said. “So many things happen when you explore and you aren’t so prescribed to something.”

Del Sesto is living proof that when we allow ourselves to take advantage of every opportunity given to us, even if it feels random or unrelated to our broader goals, we discover things—whether that is a painting worth seven-figures, or a job that, if anything, gives us a good story to tell.

Students Vote to Keep Pre-Registration in GUSA Election Referendum

In conjunction with the annual Georgetown University Student Association Executive election on Feb. 18, students also casted votes in a campus-wide referendum on course registration.

The referendum, which was added to the election ballot with the goal of  quantifying students’ views on a potential switch in registration processes, asked students the following question: “Would you rather keep pre-registration or switch to live registration?” The response options were “keep pre-registration,” “switch to live registration” and “no preference.” 83 percent voted to keep the pre-registration system, 7 percent voted to switch to live registration, and 9 percent of votes indicated no preference.

After learning that the University will be changing its registration software by February 2017, Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA)’s Outreach Committee organized a town hall discussion this past December to examine the future of course selection at Georgetown. The University is deciding between two course registration software options.

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Former-Georgetown University Registrar John Q. Pierce explaining the benefits of a live registration system at a town hall event in December. Courtesy of Karla Leyja, photographer to The Hoya.

One software is called  Workday, which offers a similar pre-registration process to the one currently in place, and as such, allows students more time to determine which courses would best suit their needs before schedules are finalized. By offering pre-registration, Workday allows them to rank their course preferences and provide alternative course options. The other software that the University is considering is called Banner 9, which is a direct update from the University’s current Banner 8 software, but uses a live registration process instead.

According to the Office of the Registrar, the Banner 9 software is slightly less expensive and potentially easier to use, while the Workday software is still under development by its creators. Regardless of which option the University chooses, the update will cost approximately $17 million.

Adopting a live registration process would stagger entry to courses by class year and leave courses open on a first-come, first-serve basis. Students would know their course results instantly and a number of seats would be reserved in specific classes for majors and underclassmen, to prevent potential instances of unfairness.

During the December town hall discussion, University Registrar John Q. Pierce, who has since retired from his post and been replaced by an interim registrar, spoke to students about the two software options.

“We think the [Banner 9] registration process might be actually better; it would facilitate the mobile app, and if we went to cloud computing where we didn’t have to invest so much money in it … it would cost less to maintain it and thus keep tuition dollars down,” Pierce said in an interview with The Hoya

Following the town hall, GUSA Senators immediately started advocating for a student referendum to be attached to the GUSA Executive election ballot as a way to quantify students’ registration preferences. GUSA Outreach Committee Chair Richie Mullaney was one of the first senators to promote a referendum on course registration, citing that students must be represented in the decision process. On Jan. 24, the referendum was approved to be added to the GUSA Executive election ballot.

After the referendum’s ballot approval, the GUSA Intellectual Life Committee launched a 2-week informational campaign leading up to election day. Members of the committee created a Facebook event page called “Pre vs Live,” which encouraged students to state their preferred registration process by voting. In a final effort to raise awareness of the referendum and encourage participation, members of the GUSA Intellectual Life Committee hosted a pancake breakfast in Red Square on the morning of the election.

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Members of the GUSA Intellectual Life Committee at the “Pre vs Live” pancake event, encouraging students to vote in the referendum. Courtesy of the Pre vs Live Facebook page.

“Georgetown students have this perception of live registration as if it is the Hunger Games. I understand why it is scary because you don’t have the security of pre-registration, but it is really not that bad,” Sam Granville, the GUSA Senator of Village A, said.

The results aside, the purpose of the registration referendum was to simply collect student input that the University could use in their software selection process. “We provided objective information to the student body so that they could decide what they wanted. One of the biggest criticisms of GUSA is that we advocate for issues without knowing what students want, so we had this referendum to understand how students felt,” GUSA Senator Richie Mullaney said in an interview with The Hoya. The University is not obligated to act in accordance with student opinion in their software selection process.

“Now with the overwhelming mandate for pre-registration, I expect GUSA to have a full-fledged campaign to keep pre-registration.”

Dorm Construction Inconveniences Students

VIDEO: Dorm Construction Inconveniences Students (courtesy of Claire Schansinger) 

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Photo courtesy of The Hoya

The construction of Georgetown’s newest residence hall is still underway, and it is negatively impacting the lives of many students on campus. The Northeast Triangle Residence Hall, tucked in between Henle Village and the Reiss Science and Math Building, is the product of Georgetown University’s 2010 Campus Plan, which increased the number of years students must live on-campus from two years to three.

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Photo courtesy of The Hoya: 4E

The Northeast Triangle will help give the University the necessary space to house the additional students, but its construction has proved to be a major inconvenience, especially for individuals living or taking classes in the northern part of campus.

The construction has blocked-off a major pathway that leads to Red Square and the Intercultural Center, where many students congregate for class or to socialize. By cutting off the pathway that normally weaves just behind Reiss and feeds into the entryway of Red Square, pedestrians now must navigate through a maze of chain-link fencing alongside the Leavey Center, which adds at least five minutes to the original route from the north-side of campus.

“It’s so annoying. I have so many classes in the [Intercultural Center] and it just takes forever to get there. And then anytime I want to go to M Street, I have to walk all the way around instead of walking down the stairs and right through the pathway,” said Maggie Chauette, a current student.

Earlier this semester, the construction caused a malfunction in the heat exchanger that supplies hot water to Henle Village, resulting in a hot water shortage. The University advised students to shower at “off-peak times.”

“I didn’t take a hot shower for two whole weeks,” said Harshita Gaba, a resident of Henle Village.

Considering the grievances at hand, the conclusion of the construction process, scheduled for this summer, will perhaps bring just as much joy to campus as the new residence hall itself.

Super Bowl 50 Halftime Performance: Coldplay’s Stage, But Beyonce’s Show

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Although it was technically Coldplay’s stage at the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show, it was Beyonce who shined the brightest. Just yesterday, the unofficial queen of hip-hop released a surprise music video for her never-before-heard song Formation, which has sparked a craze on social media for the past day as a full-length album is expected to be released in the coming months.

Beyonce performed the new song, featuring the original female-only dance number from the music video, and proved once again that she, to quote her own lyrics, “slays.” As if the hype of her new song alone wasn’t enough, the halftime show concluded with an announcement for her upcoming Formation World Tour, whose tickets go on sale Feb. 16.

The rest of the show, which also featured Bruno Mars, was entertaining but not very memorable. Coldplay’s frontman Chris Martin tried too hard to put on a good show, leaving an impression that the performance was very forced, and the singer’s acoustics also sounded a bit weak. The band performed their popular songs Viva La Vida, Paradise, and Clocks.

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Bruno Mars came on stage with his own dance crew, dressed in nothing but black leather and gold chains. Mars sang his hit song Uptown Funk, and after Beyonce graced the field and gave her solo performance, the two dueled it out in a sing-off, which Chris Martin awkwardly tried to get in on towards the end.

The intense flower and rainbow themes of Coldplay’s stage seemed slightly random, especially in contrast to Beyonce and Mars’ all-black ensembles. The inclusion of a student marching band, as well as the colored placards held by the audience in the stands that spelled out “Believe In Love,” felt out of place.

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Considering Beyonce’s string of major releases and recent announcements, a solo performance would have generated just as much excitement, if not more. The lackluster of tonight’s three-artist mashup proved that perhaps a halftime show is best as a one-man, or in the case of Beyonce, a one-woman show.

 

*Disclaimer: All photos were taken with the screenshot laptop feature.*

Experimenting With Podcasts: Stress Culture at Georgetown

I wrote and produced my podcast in response to a recent article written by a fellow Georgetown student, Sydney Jean Gottfried. She wrote a piece for Huffington Post College titled, “Is ‘Sleep When You’re Dead’ Georgetown’s Unofficial Motto?” The piece examined stress culture, extracurricular involvement and sleep habits on campus, and the verdict wasn’t good. Gottfried’s article was in part a response to a film posted by Georgetown students in 2014 called, “Sleep When You’re Dead.” This podcast analyzes the contents of both the article and the film, and proposes some solutions for the problem.

Link to Podcast: Stress Culture At Georgetown

In regards to my overall podcast experience, I found myself struggling to use Audacity at first due to its foreignness. I made sure to use some of Shannon Green’s podcast tips like recording under a blanket. I found myself having to repeat several lines of my script multiple times to avoid error or mispronunciations, and despite my efforts, I still found a few words during the editing process that I wish sounded better. This goes to show the challenges of recording a great podcast, let alone editing one.

I found supporting audio to add to the beginning as sort of a lead-in to the podcast, courtesy of a Georgetown University video whose audio I downloaded through a Youtube converter. I also used a quote by President DeGioia explaining the “Georgetown experience” and the university’s expectations for greatness from both students and faculty.

Overall, making this podcast was challenging but rewarding, and I hope to further explore this field of journalism in the future.