The Power of the Knowledge Producer

In “Who Controls the Message?,” I argued that advances in technology serve to aid message sharing and knowledge production (Barker, 2015).  New media is simply the latest technological innovation that helps us communicate:

While all media serves as a vehicle for knowledge delivery, new media represents a shift in the way we receive information.  We are constantly connected.  The challenge in the modern world has changed from ‘where or how do we access information’ to ‘how do we efficiently sort through the information at our fingertips.’ (Barker, 2015)

While I believe my original assessment was correct, perhaps new media has introduced a different dynamic to the communications process as well.  With citizen journalists and bloggers, we are now exposed to a mass media environment that is largely unregulated.  We seem to be experiencing the Wild West of communication eras.  As consumers we must remain vigilant that what we read is credible.  Does the author have an agenda?  Does the author explore different viewpoints?  How has the author vetted her sources?

Media literacy is important to help decipher fact from misinformation.  Unfortunately, fallacy and misinformation are abundant in today’s media landscape.  The speed at which information is expected by the public, together with the enormous volume of information, creates a scenario where both citizen journalists/bloggers and trusted media entities are tempted to publish before properly vetting sources and verifying facts.  As consumers of mass media, we must perform our own assessment of the messages we receive to determine whether the information is valid.

In addition, writers who publish information for public consumption should hold themselves accountable to the highest ethical standards.  Our Founding Fathers protected freedom of the press as a matter of public interest: it is in our interest to encourage an informed public that can make good civic choices.  When misinformation is spread, it undermines our body of public knowledge and, thus, does a disservice to us all.  In the most extreme case, propaganda can spread lies and hatred, and, ultimately, undermine freedom.  The press, communications professionals and citizen journalists must be mindful of their influence and take responsibility for the content they produce.

 References

Barker, C. (2015, February 10). History Geek. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from https://courtneyajbarker.wordpress.com/page/2/

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The Power of the Knowledge Producer

Using Multimedia to Enhance your Posts

We do not live in a static world.  The web, with its ability to deliver text, audio, video and other media, offers a unique platform for conveying information in an interactive way that appeals to our restless nature.  Adding multimedia to your blog or website can have a significant impact on your reader’s experience while, at the same time, improving search engine optimization (SEO) and overall exposure (Smith, 2013)

As I mentioned in my last post, reading content on the web is physiologically different than reading print on paper (Writing for the Web, n.d.).  Reading large long winded material on the web may seem extra arduous (Writing for the Web, n.d.).  Aside from minimizing the length of your posts, breaking up text content with multimedia elements may help hold readers interest (Smith, 2013).  Pictures and video adds visual interest to your narrative while audio offers a rest from reading (Smith, 2013).

The website Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek offers a compelling example of combining multimedia elements – video, text, still photos and audio recordings – into a coherent narrative (Branch, n.d.).  The visual elements and informative widgets provide context and add to the viewer’s understanding of the size and nature of the catastrophe (Branch, n.d.).  The photos, video and audio recordings also add a very human element to a story that may have been less emotionally moving if presented via text alone.  Plus, the author, John Branch, presents a huge amount of text which, while masterfully written, begs to be broken up with multimedia elements.

In addition to strengthening your content, multimedia improves your SEO and exposure (Smith, 2013).  Google (and other search engines) favor sites with multimedia over sites with text alone meaning multimedia elements will improve your ranking (or SEO) in user search results (Smith, 2013).  In addition, pictures, videos and audio are easily shared through social media providing link-backs to your site (Smith, 2013).  Pictures incorporated in your website will also appear on Google images, adding another source for link-backs (Smith, 2013).  For example, if you search for “avalanche” in Google Images, your search results will include a picture from Snow Fall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek with an option to link to the site:

pix

Likewise, a YouTube search results in video from the site:

(The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek: Disaster on the Mountain, n.d.)

What multimedia tools are most effective?  Experts indicate that it doesn’t matter what multimedia tools you use as long as you try to incorporate a few (Smith, 2013; Sundar, 2000).  A mixture of text with both visual and audio elements will create an appealing sensory experience attractive to the modern audience.

 References

The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek: Disaster on the Mountain. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjzT15-oQq0

Branch, J. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/#/?part=word-spreads

Smith, M. (2013, March 28). Why Multimedia Blog Content Is Good For Your Site. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.benchmarkemail.com/blogs/detail/why-multimedia-blog-content-is-good-for-your-site

Sundar, S. (2000). Multimedia Effects on Processing and Perception of Online News: A Study of Picture, Audio, and Video Downloads. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 77(3), 480-499. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.journalism.wisc.edu/~dshah/blog-club/site/Sundar.pdf

Writing for the Web. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2015, fromhttp://www.uakron.edu/webteam/docs/dm_webwriting.pdf

Using Multimedia to Enhance your Posts

Best Practices for Blog Writing

Professional writers spend years learning their craft and perfecting their techniques. They are aided by volumes upon volumes of information on best practices. What does this mean, if anything, for modern bloggers? Should they be expected to maintain certain standards?

The answer is ‘yes’… if you want to be reputable. The question a blogger must ask themselves is ‘Do I want to be respected and accountable,’ like a reporter for The New York Times (to make a mass media parallel), or ‘Do I want to be a hack,’ like a reporter for The National Enquirer.

What are some best practices for blog writing? Overall, bloggers should be mindful of three key elements: content, visual appeal and ethics. To define and illustrate these elements, I will use Deborah Blum’s blog Elemental which covers the fascinating subject of poison.

Content
Reading content on the web is physiologically different than reading print on paper (Writing for the Web; n.d.). Not only does reading a backlit screen hurt our eyes but, as the Internet is associated with speed, reading long winded material on the web may seem extra arduous (Writing for the Web; n.d.). Content, therefore, should be kept short and sweet (Writing for the Web; n.d.). Blogs should be formatted using journalism’s inverted pyramid where the most important content is served up immediately (Writing for the Web; n.d.). Language should be simple and concise (Writing for the Web; n.d.). As an example, in her post “Chocolate as Poison,” Deborah Blum introduces the topic using conversational language and tells the reader what the post is about in the second (short) paragraph:

Well, sure you say. Obviously. This is chocolate, after all. Almost goes without saying. Which is why I won’t. Actually, I’m mostly trying to explain why the most potent chemical compound in chocolate – a plant alkaloid, slightly bitter in taste, surprisingly poisonous in some species – is called theobromine. (Blum, 2014, February 14)

Ethics
Blogs, like all published writing, should be written using thorough research and transparency and credit sources when appropriate (Montecino, n.d.). Blum’s posts are littered with links to outside sources backing up her statements (Blum, 2014). She cites academic studies, articles, government databases and websites to support her claims and incorporates quotes when appropriate (Blum, 2014). For example, in a post about poisoning pets, she quotes the medical director for the ASPCA’s (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Animal Poison Control Center:

“Cats love to eat it [Venlafaxine],” says Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director of the Animal Poison Control Center operated by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). She speculates that it may be something about the way this particular antidepressant smells. “It’s crazy when you think about how hard it is normally to give a cat a pill. But in this case they’ll swallow multiple pills.” (Blum, 2014, March 20)

Visual Appeal
A blog should incorporate pictures and a professional look to engage readers (Rowse, 2014; Writing for the Web, n.d.). In addition, headlines should be kept short so they are easy to quickly scan (Rowse, 2014; Writing for the Web, n.d.). Blum is a master at this. She uses short (mostly two to six word) headlines and professional photographs to entice the viewer. My favorite was a picture of the Snow White exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History that she used for her post “Lessons from Snow White” (Blum, 2014, May 8). The photograph features Snow White laying in a glass coffin with blue, iridescent lights hovering over her (Blum, 2014, May 8). The picture made me want to discover what the article was all about.

Best practices are invaluable for guiding writers (professional or amateur) to produce content that is both appealing and responsible. I have been writing professionally for years but I found DM Consulting Services’ Writing for the Web, for instance, extremely useful as a source (Writing for the Web, n.d.). It not only includes many thoughtful dos and don’ts, but provides examples to illustrate best (and worst) practices (Writing for the Web, n.d.). Personally, I am guilty of being a little too wordy (perhaps bordering on academic) in my blogs and could use some visual elements to spice up my site. But, I do think I am utilizing the inverted pyramid. In the future, I will try to be more conversational, dear reader.

References

Blum, D. (2014, February 14). Chocolate as Poison | WIRED. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.wired.com/2014/02/poisonous-chocolate/
Blum, D. (2014, March 20). Poisoning our Pets | WIRED. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.wired.com/2014/03/poisoning-pets/
Blum, D. (2014, May 8). Lessons from Snow White | WIRED. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.wired.com/2014/05/lessons-from-snow-white/
Montecino, V. (n.d.). Helpful Hints to Help You Evaluate the Credibility of Web Resources. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/web-eval-sites.htm
Rowse, D. (2014, March 5). Beginner Week: My 43 DOs and 25 DON’Ts of Blogging. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.problogger.net/archives/2014/03/05/beginner-week-my-43-dos-and-25-donts-of-blogging/
Writing for the Web. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.uakron.edu/webteam/docs/dm_webwriting.pdf

Best Practices for Blog Writing

Three New Media Tools for Reaching Your Audience: Widgets, Instagram and Twitter

With the advent of Web 2.0, a number of new media tools have been introduced to help people connect and share ideas. For the communications professional, an understanding of these tools is critical for reaching the modern public: while television is the number one source adults turn to for news, 21% use the Internet as their primary source of news surpassing newspapers, magazines and radio (Saad, n.d.). I chose three new media tools – widgets, Instagram and Twitter – to try out and review from the vantage point of a marketing professional. Here is what I found out:

Widgets
“A widget is a stand-alone application that can be embedded” on a website (Web widget, n.d.). Widgets include interactive maps, polls/surveys and “photo and video viewers” (Widgets, n.d.). Snacktools enables you to create free widgets through a fairly simple process (see a screen shot of their website below). You have the option of signing-in using Facebook, Twitter or Google (I love this! It saves so much time.). You can choose to create a slideshow, an audio or video playlist, polls, surveys, a flip book or create notification bars. (Examples are provided to show you what each widget looks like.)

Creating a poll on Snacktools
Creating a poll on Snacktools

I chose to create a poll on social media. After signing-in, there was a really fast and easy three-step form to fill out:

Step One: fill-in the question and answer options for your poll
Step Two: customize the look of the survey (there are various background color and design options)
Step Three: publish

You can publish to Facebook, WordPress, tumblr, Blogger and a number of other social media sites. However, with the free version, I don’t think there is a way to upload the survey directly onto your site. Instead, it shows up as a link back to Snacktools. (I posted a link to my survey in the post below this.)

A widget could be used to target just about any audience. Polls, surveys and other interactive content are widely used on websites for many different purposes. As my survey asked for opinions on social media, a younger audience would likely be more attuned as they utilize social media extensively.

Instagram
Instagram is a photo sharing and editing site. I downloaded the free app for Instagram on my iPhone. If you sign in using Facebook, all you have to do is create a user name and password. The site then imports your Facebook friends on Instagram and asks if you want to follow them. Easy!

Once you are set-up, you can upload photos to the site. Instagram then takes you through a series of editing options that include adjustments to highlights, sharpness, saturation, etc. It also allows you to place a filter on the pix for effect. You can then share your photo on Facebook, Twitter, tumblr or Flickr. Here is a photo of my son I uploaded to Facebook using 3 different filters:

Instagram filter options
Instagram filter options

According to Business Insider, Instagram is most widely used by 18-34-year-olds (Smith, 2014). It also attracts more female and urban users (Smith, 2014). This would be a great site for reaching those demographics. Instagram is also a great tool for media professionals who want to use images to reach people but don’t have access to professional photo editing tools.

Twitter
Twitter is a micro-blog site. It allows you to create and send messages using 140 characters or less. You can also follow other people and organizations: their tweets show up on your Twitter feed like a RSS feed. Twitter uses hashtags to categorize posts by keywords.

Setting an account up was simple and fast: Twitter asks you about some of your interests to personalize your Twitter feed, uploads your email contacts and voila! You’re ready to go! (Below is a screen shot of my Twitter page right after I created it.)

My Twitter page
My Twitter page

Although this is the simplest tool I chose, I think Twitter has the greatest potential to reach audiences. The ease of use (it’s like texting to the public) enables messages to get good traction really fast. Twitter’s use of hashtags also enables you to track engagement with your messages so you can experiment with what works best. Conducting a quick Google News search of “viral on Twitter” results in a few really high profile news items from the past month:

#WeaselPecker
#WeaselPecker

“#WeaselPecker image goes viral on Twitter” (Cullinane, 2015)

#TheDress
#TheDress

“Dress Color Debate Goes Viral on Twitter” (Rahman, 2015)

#NeverTellMeTheOdds
#NeverTellMeTheOdds

“#NeverTellMeTheOdds Goes Viral on Twitter…” (Diente, 2015)

I don’t think a post on Instagram or a widget on your website has the potential to reach millions the way a viral tweet does.

References

Cullinane, S. (2015, March 3). #WeaselPecker image goes viral on Twitter – CNN.com. Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/03/europe/uk-woodpecker-weasel/
Diente, T. (2015, March 9). #NeverTellMeTheOdds Goes Viral On Twitter Following Harrison Ford’s Plane Crash. Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://au.ibtimes.com/nevertellmetheodds-goes-viral-twitter-following-harrison-fords-plane-crash-1427841
Rahman, A. (2015, February 26). Dress Color Debate Goes Viral on Twitter. Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/dress-color-debate-goes-viral-778218
Saad, L. (n.d.). TV Is Americans’ Main Source of News. Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/163412/americans-main-source-news.aspx
Smith, C. (2014, August 17). Here’s Why Instagram’s Demographics Are So Attractive To Brands. Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://www.businessinsider.com/instagram-demographics-2013-12
Web widget. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_widget
Widgets. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2015, from https://www.aids.gov/using-new-media/tools/widgets/

Three New Media Tools for Reaching Your Audience: Widgets, Instagram and Twitter

Defining the Journalist

The advent of bloggers and citizen journalists has challenged the traditional norms of journalism and news reporting.  No longer must we rely on local television crews to deliver breaking news for there is likely an eye witness tweeting or posting at the scene.  The Internet has changed the dynamics of news reporting: once, news reporting was the lofty realm of the trained and educated journalist; now, just about anyone can create and distribute information to a vast audience.

The playing field has been leveled.  This new technology has had profound implications for the marginalized and disenfranchised.  Would we, as westerners, ever have heard much about the 200 school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 15, 2014 without the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign (Kirkland, 2014)?  What would we have learned about the Arab Spring if young revolutionaries had not shared their experiences on social media (Omidyar, 2014)?  Would the Arab Spring have even succeeded with social media (Omidyar, 2014)?

The question then arises: are blogger and citizen journalists professional journalists?  Bloggers and citizen journalists do not necessarily receive the education or training a professional journalists receives.  This becomes an issue when information is not properly verified, facts are not checked or sources not properly vetted.  However, a writer need not have worked for a traditional news outlet to exercise good judgment and utilize an ethical approach to news gathering and creation.  I would argue that a ‘professional’ journalist is one who practices ethical journalism.

To examine this concept further, I took a look at Oconee County Observations author, Lee Becker, to determine whether he is a credible or ‘professional’ journalist.  Oconee County Observations is a hyperlocal blog written to inform the citizens of Oconee County, Georgia about local developments.  Lee Becker purports to be an amateur: “[t]his blog is one of my hobbies” (Becker, n.d.).  But, perhaps he is selling himself short?

According to Stephen J.A. Ward, who defined criteria for digital media ethics, journalism can be defined in a few different ways (Ward, 2010).  What is universally considered journalism, however, is writer with “highly developed skills, acquired usually through training or formal education… [who] honor certain ethical norms” (Ward, 2010).  Lee Becker studied journalism as an undergraduate and holds a Ph.D. in Mass Communications (Becker, n.d.).  Thus, it would seem he has had plenty of formal education.  An examination of Becker’s ethics will reveal whether he is a ‘professional’ or an ‘amateur.’

While not explicitly identified in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, many journalists consider objectivity to be essential to ethical reporting.  As a resident of Oconee County, Lee Becker must be considered to be an interested party in the goings-on of the county.  This bias, however, is characteristic of hyperlocal blogging and should be expected.  Plus, Becker uses multiple sources with differing points of view which lends credibility and equitability to his work.  For instance, in “Commercial Development Leads To More Crime, District Attorney Told Oconee County Commissioners,” Becker quotes sources that provide insights into both the positive and negative aspects of commercial development.  He quotes the District Attorney, Ken Mauldin, as he discusses the negative outcomes of commercial development:

“The more stores you have out there, you’re going to have more shop lifting,” Mauldin said.  And it costs money to prosecute those who commit the crimes, he added. (Becker, n.d.)

To balance Mauldin’s point of view, he quotes the Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman, Melvin Davis, who expounds upon the benefits of commercial development:

“Any time a retail facility opens of this size (over 300 seats), we would expect the volume of business to make an impact on sales and SPLOST revenue for the County,” Davis wrote.

“Also, the projected new growth in commercial property tax for this facility will increase the County’s revenue,” according to Davis.

SPLOST is a reference to the county’s 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

(Becker, n.d.)

Becker strives to be responsible to the public by remaining “accurate, fair and transparent” which denotes he is making an effort to maintain the highest ethical standards (Becker, n.d.).  In addition, Becker meets the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics standards in the following areas:

  • He supports pieces with links to source material allowing readers to evaluate the accuracy of his articles themselves (SPJ Code of Ethics, 2014).
  • He serves as watchdog to local government action (SPJ Code of Ethics, 2014).
  • He encourages feedback and the exchange of ideas on his blog (SPJ Code of Ethics, 2014).

Because of the high level of responsibility he employs with his writing, I consider Lee Becker a ‘professional’ journalist and Oconee County Observations a credible source of information.  Is the label of ‘professional’ journalist important?  It may be to some.  Lee Becker seems not to care for such labels.  As E.B. White said, “A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter” (E.B. White as cited in Popova, 2012).  That seems to be the model Becker employs.  At the same time, though, a writer has “a responsibility to society… a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error” (E.B. White as cited in Popova, 2012).  In other words, by taking up the pen, a writer has the obligation to be “accurate and fair” because she has the ultimate responsibility of imparting knowledge (SPJ Code of Ethics, 2014).

References

Becker, L. (n.d.). Oconee County Observations. Retrieved March 4, 2015, from http://oconeecountyobservations.blogspot.com/

Kirkland, P. (2014). Can Twitter activism #BringBackOurGirls? Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/07/23/can-twitter-activism-bringbackourgirls/

Omidyar, P. (2014). Social Media: Enemy of the State or Power to the People? Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pierre-omidyar/social-media-enemy-of-the_b_4867421.html

Popova, M. (2012, April 17). E.B. White on the Responsibility and Role of the Writer. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/04/eb-white-on-the-responsibility-and-role-of-the-writer/256005/

SPJ Code of Ethics. (2014). Retrieved March 2, 2015, from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.aspj.org/ecs8.asp

Ward, S. (2010, October 26). Digital Media Ethics. Retrieved March 4, 2015, from http://ethics.journalism.wisc.edu/resources/digital-media-ethics/

Defining the Journalist