Journalism during the 2016 Presidential Election

Journalism was either praised or criticized by many during the 2016 Presidential election. During this week’s class, we were asked what grade (A through F) would we give journalism during the 2016 presidential election race. I found it interesting that each of us graded differently, but majority were in the B to D range. Many of us shared the same points and reasons why we placed journalism in the “below average” category.

Read: How the 2016 campaign changed political journalism by Kristen Hare and Alexios Mantzarlis to see what 20 journalists graded the election coverage, as well as advice for the future. 

First, many agreed the night of the election coverage was off. I stayed up for the entire thing, flipping through a few different mainstream news channels, and all had different results. I actually noticed that Google had the most accurate results in terms of electoral votes coming in, and then Fox News was the second most precise (from my experience). This shouldn’t be the case – we should be able to see realtime results on all stations.

Second, a lot of the election mainly focused on now President Donald Trump. While he certainly put himself out there to gain the attention of voters and mass media, I think that journalists could have done a better job of highlighting the other candidates more. I felt that the whole election was full of attacks rather than the good of each candidate.

Third, all of the news headlines have become more about what small point in that article or news coverage captures a person’s attention, rather than what the story as a whole is about. I noticed a lot of news stories shared on social media would have a crazy headline, usually attacking Trump or another candidate, and then you open the story and it’s all about another issue, with one or two sentences about that headline. The changing of headlines can  be the journalist skewing what the person said or did to make a story interesting. As someone said in class, it’s like all the headlines these days are for tabloids. (I also found Column: Why click-bait will be the death of journalism by Jeffrey Dvorkin to be an interesting article!)

One final point I’ll make is that numerous mainstream news channels have turned their morning and other shows into talk shows, criticizing other journalists during them. It’s almost like a battle of the news stations – who can sound more truthful or more journalistic?

I’m sure we will continue to see changes in journalism in elections as the Internet keeps evolving. What would you grade journalism during the 2016 election?

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Can Big Data Prevent Fake News?

In this week’s Introduction to Digital Communication class, we discussed “Big Data” and how it influences what we do in our daily lives. According to SAS Institute Inc., “Big data is a term that describes the large volume of data – both structured and unstructured – that inundates a business on a day-to-day basis. But it’s not the amount of data that’s important. It’s what organizations do with the data that matters. Big data can be analyzed for insights that lead to better decisions and strategic business moves.”

The bold part of the definition is important to consumers because it changes our buying experience. For example (a favorite example mentioned in class), if I am booking a flight on Expedia and it says “20 people are looking at this flight right now” or “2 spots left on this flight” – typically I would purchase the flight quickly so I don’t lose my spot. But, this is just marketing. Big Data is helping Expedia and other companies create tactics like the ones stated above to make consumers spend money.

Big Data changes how we shop, travel, eat and even how we interpret news stories. While their are tools to fight against fake news, sometimes it relies on the user to determine the validity of a story.

“The problem is that users are generally disinclined to take the extra effort to check. Even going to a website, tool, or app to verify a story before sharing it is more effort than most people will take,” Bernard Marr said in his Fake News: How Big Data And AI Can Help article. “Until big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning enabled tools become more sophisticated and reliable, we need to focus on educating people (starting as early as primary school) to be critical thinkers and not take every story at face value.”

While the above article mentions the tools that are helping fix this void of sharing or reporting fake news, I agree that the problem does rely on the user. We talked a couple weeks ago in our class about how the Internet has changed how we read, write, speak and listen – all of which definitely apply to social media. Our attention span is short; we want to read something short and know the point behind it immediately.

Many people don’t open an article before reading it – they just assume it is true. I believe this is how fake news is spread. Users see a headline of an article that sparks their interest, they share it, it keeps circulating, and before we know it – it’s everywhere (and it is fake). Most articles like this would be reported as “fake” if the users simply read it before sharing. I see this happen a lot on my personal feed.

Unless we educate users from the very beginning to be critical thinkers, will fake news ever stop being shared? Will users read more than just the headline? To that end, can Big Data really prevent fake news? I’m interested in your thoughts – leave your comments below!

P.S. Here is some other news about Big Data:

How digital convergence has changed us

Digital convergence is coming together of multiple media entities over time. This combination of media platforms allows us to view content in many ways. For example, we no longer get the news just from the newspaper or television; we can get it on social media and mobile applications, too. The way we read or listen to the news is a combination of the five eras of communication: oral, written, print, electronic and digital (Campbell, Richard, Christopher R. Martin, and Bettina Fabos. Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age (2016 Update), 10th ed.. Macmillan, 2016.). The way we define digital convergence focuses on one, some or all of these eras.

Along with the various ways we get our news, comes “fake news.” How do you know the difference between real and fake news? It can sometimes be obvious, and sometimes be hard to determine. People share articles without reading them (they just read the headline) and we may not know if they’re valid unless we do some investigating. Here are some ways I verify real news:

  • Check for grammatical errors.  Editing is key with breaking news! If there is an error, that means the person or organization is not paying close attention to how users will view the content.
  • Check other news-related websites to see if there is a similar story. If I don’t find another story that is related to the original article I saw, especially if it’s breaking news, I won’t believe it until multiple news channels push it out.
  • Check out the source who pushed out the news. With all the satire websites out there, it’s important to check where the news is coming from. I typically will trust the national organizations (CNN, Fox News, NBC, etc.) and some local channels.

The examples above were some of the verification procedures we discussed in my first “Introduction to Digital Communications” graduate class. While there are many other ways to determine fake news, I believe the three above are the most important. The way digital media has changed news, it’s more important than ever to fact check the article.

Digital media has completely changed the way we function in society – it truly amazes me how different the communications world is from when I was little and how it is now. My age group was probably the last group to experience childhood without cell phones and know what life without social media was like; however, I do see the advantages of social media and I embrace it! Social media has been very good to me. Here are some things that I was able to achieve with it:

  • My job. I was living in Columbus, Georgia and was trying so hard to find a job in Syracuse for when I knew my husband and I were moving back. I luckily was able to find my job, Web Specialist II at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, through a LinkedIn post.
  • Maintain relationships. Digital media has helped me stay in touch with family and friends all over the country. Not only am I able to share updates with my Facebook friends on my life, but it’s another way to communicate via messenger, photos, status updates, etc. One great example is when my husband was deployed overseas. He had no access to a phone, but with the magic of Facebook, we were able to talk almost every day. Back when my mom deployed in 2002, I unfortunately did not have this advantage. I’d have to wait days to get a phone call from her.
  • Save lives. I am a huge advocate for animal rescue. When I lived in North Carolina, I learned how harsh animals are treated in certain states. Through the power of social media, I was able to connect with others at numerous shelters, especially Harnett County Animal Shelter, and join groups to help save lives. I can honestly say my family was able to save many lives all because of social media!
  • My dream of doing a flash mob! It was always been a goal of mine to participate in a flash mob dance, and I was able to successfully do this on our wedding day! It sounds crazy to include this as an example, but it really is crazy how it all came together with a group of girls scattered across the country – thanks to private Facebook groups and other social media outlets. You can read more about the flash mob here.

With that said, I think my age group had the best of both worlds – life with and without social media. I can truly say that I benefited greatly from both times in my life. While digital media has been around for many years now, it still continues to change. I’m excited for what the future holds!