By BEN LYONS / Social media have helped us cocoon ourselves into comfortable ignorance of “the other side” — so goes the prevailing notion of the last few years, since Facebook has been king. A team of researchers at Facebook published an article Thursday that claimed to detail how much the site contributes to political echo chambers or filter-bubbles. Published in the journal Science, their report claimed Facebook’s blackbox newsfeed algorithm weeded out some disagreeable content from readers’ feeds, but not as much as did their personal behavior. A flurry of criticism came from other social scientists, with one, University of Michigan’s Christian Sandvig, calling it Facebook’s “it’s not our fault” study.
By ROY J. HARRIS, JR. / There’s a line in the “first rough draft” of recent Post-Dispatch history – the paper’s own account of winning its first Pulitzer Prize in 26 years on Monday – that sounds a bittersweet note, at least to me. “The mood in the newsroom became tense as [Pulitzer administrator Mike] Pride read through the awards for reporting,” writes Tim O’Neil. “When he started into the next-to-last category, breaking news photography, and uttered the words ‘…to the St. Louis…,’ the room erupted in joy.” The sweet is obvious: “Photographers hugged each other to the cheers of their colleagues.” Echoes, to be sure, of 17 other newsroom celebrations held by Post-Dispatch staffers over nine decades. The bitter? That the remarkable, intensive news coverage by Post-Dispatch reporters and editors – of the same Ferguson nightmare of violence that led to the photography Pulitzer – received no mention, either as winner or finalist.
The last time Achilleas Zavallis packed his camera gear for Syria, he changed his airline ticket twice within 48 hours because he couldn’t make up his mind whether he should go to a country considered the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. His stomach was tied “in a million knots,” he recalled, as it is every time he travels to a war zone. A photographer based in Greece, Zavallis is a freelance journalist. When he goes into danger, it is nearly always “on spec,” freelance parlance for covering a story and then trying to find someone to publish his work. But in November 2013, after changing his ticket and second-guessing his motives and re-assessing the risks, Zavallis went anyway, traveling to northern Syria to document the country’s Christian minority. He stayed for about two weeks. A photo essay from the trip was published three months later in the National, an English-language publication in Abu Dhabi. “I believe that the story must be told,” Zavallis said, “so that no one can come after 100 years and say that in Syria nothing happened and that no one died.”
By BEN LYONS / “Journalism matters because we have the responsibility to inform readers of the truth of their world, even when they don’t want us to.” That was the message Michel Martin, host of NPR’s “Tell Me More,” and journalist of more than 25 years gave guests at Gateway Journalism Review’s First Amendment Celebration March 19. Drawing journalists and friends of news from around the region, the event took place at the Edward Jones headquarters in Des Peres, Mo. “We are following the story of ourselves as a nation,” Martin said of the media’s Ferguson coverage. Just as we as a people are imperfect, journalism should “hold a mirror to both flaws and beauty,” she said.
By GEORGE SALAMON / On April 19, 1945 the New York Times published an obituary for nationally known war correspondent Ernie Pyle who “died today on Iejema Island, just west of Okinawa, like so many of the doughboys he had written about…killed instantly by Japanese machine-gun fire.” Pyle, the Times added, had become World War II’s beloved “chronicler of the average American soldier’s daily round, in and out of foxholes in many war theatres.” He had also become the role model for journalists covering a war. After 1945, American reporters pursued that ambition in Korea in the 1950s and in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. But when Great Britain and Argentina squared off in their 1982 squabble over the Falkland Islands and during America’s first war in Iraq in 2003, government restrictions and censorship made it impossible. Thus reporters’ dreams of heroism on the field of battle or in the field of journalism came to an end. “The age of the war correspondent as hero appears to be over,” Phillip Knightly, reporter for the London Sunday Times, wrote in his book “The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq.” (2004 edition). This is not an excuse for the embellishments of the experiences Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly made to his reporting on the Falkland Islands war or NBC’s Brian Williams to his stint in Iraq, but as context around their original claims, lost in much parsing of the phrases or terms with which they initially described their encounters with the dangers of covering frontline carnage.
By GEORGE SALAMON / President Obama was unaware of or undeterred by that warning when in a February 18 Los Angeles Times op-ed piece he wrote: “Our campaign to prevent people around the world from being radicalized to violence is ultimately a battle for hearts and minds.” To many American journalists and their audiences the campaign’s more immediate strategy was not voiced in his remarks: stopping ISIS and other jihadist organizations and individuals from killing people around the world. Many had hoped to discover it. Moreover, the administration is faring badly in the media battle against the terrorist organization ISIS, particularly in the social media. The task of leading our battle was handed to CSCC, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. This bureaucratic entity has not found ways to compete with the gruesomely bloody materials released by ISIS that immediately go viral. The suggestion that CSCC should expose the nihilistic destructiveness through competitively vivid releases has not yet been acted upon. Our Department of State wallows in goody-two-shoe mini-lectures as responses as well. A day before his op-ed appeared, Department of State spokesperson Marie Harf insisted that a short-term strategy would not prevent the radicalization to violence the president hopes to thwart. Instead, she proposed that “we have to combat the conditions that can lead people to turn to extremism. “We can’t kill every terrorist around the world, nor should we try. How do you get at the root causes of this?…It’s really the smart way to combat it.”
By TRIPP FROLICHSTEIN / Media guru Tripp Frohlichstein dreams of delivering a “State of the 2014 Local News” address to St. Louis’ three TV stations (he considers Channels 2 and 11 one station as they share facilities and people). This is his dream address: “Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to discuss the state of local news. There are times when the local media perform well and serve viewers in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, there are too many times when the opposite is true. So today, let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly of local news in St. Louis…”
By GEORGE SALAMON / The first issue appeared on March 4. It was, as the editors noted, the first launch of a national magazine in 20 years, since Sports Illustrated in 1954. In an introductory note to that first issue the editors did not talk about how their publication might propel the advance of the rising “celebrity-gossip-scandal” journalism and contribute to the decline of “general interest” publications (think of LIFE, Look and Collier’s). Their goals were more modest. “Journalism has, of course, always noted and dealt with people,” they wrote, “but we dedicate our entire editorial content to that pursuit.” The American people were ready and eager to get away from issues and conflict about them to the “up close and personal” approach television was pursuing. Ideas, history and social, political and economic matters could remain the province of those pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals in Washington and on campuses. But what kinds of people would PEOPLE reveal to us?