A Rather grim outlook

“I felt a shudder down my spine yesterday watching Donald Trump’s fusilade against the press. This is not a moment to be trifled with. It wasn’t his first tirade and it won’t be his last,” wrote legendary newsman Dan Rather. Rather’s recent Facebook post on Trump’s tirade on the press this week perfectly sums up what’s at stake when you examine the public’s growing (and in some cases disillusioned) discontent with “the media” paired with a bullish political figure. The extent to which Trump has the ability to galvanize this base seems only to be bound by his temperament that particular day.

Now that Trump has sured up the Republican nomination and is drawing support from GOP party leaders it will be interesting to see what line he walks with the media. Will he continue to bash reporters and publishers for unfair coverage, will he cozy up to journalists as the road to the White House shortens, or will he continue to fluctuate? For that matter, what would a Trump presidency look like in relation to the media and access to public information? Would reporters be stonewalled after an unprecedented period of access to government data?  The answers could could soon enough. There are only 158 days remaining until the country elects its next president.

(Read the Rather’s full post below)


Tipping Point

dominoes-3-18A new study released this week from the Pew Research Center details a major tipping point in news consumption, as more Americans turn to social media to get informed. A staggering 6-in-10 respondents reported getting news from social media, with 1-in-5 reportedly using social media “often” to consume news. That number is up from roughly half of respondents reporting that they get news from social media just four years ago. Think about it—in just one presidential term the way American’s consume news (and likely what’s considered news) has drastically transformed.

The results of the study offer interesting insight into the consumption habits of those getting their news from social media. Of those who use Facebook, two-thirds of people said they got news from the site, followed closely by Twitter with 59% of respondents getting news from the microblogging site. Surprisingly, Reddit is tops with 70% of users going to the site for news. But it should be noted that Facebook and Twitter have much larger audiences. Of much smaller significance, only a fifth of respondents admitted to getting news from Instagram, YouTube, or Linkedin. However, 17% claimed to get news from Snapchat. This is interesting given Snapchats overwhelmingly young audience dominated by millennials.



Perhaps the most useful findings for media companies are packed into this table (left). The majority of Instagram (63%), Facebook (62%), and YouTube (58%) users said they stumbled upon news on the respective sites. These users are passive consumers of news on social media. The demographic split (Facebook leaning more middle-aged while Instagram is far younger) makes this stat hard to draw correlations from. Conversely, a majority of Linkedin, Twitter, and Reddit users reported to actively searching for news on the sites. As social media maven Sree Sreenivasan explains in an article with Mashable, media outlets should be reminded “about the importance of being on various platforms and connecting with them there.”

A brave new (confusing) world

Snapshot of VR headsets currently on the market

In 2013 it was Google Glass. In 2015 it was Apple’s Watch. 2016 is the year of the virtual reality. VR is no longer a concept imagined in the not-so-distant future — it’s here. As wearable technology becomes a more user-friendly and less obtrusive experience, VR seems to be the next logical progression. From Google Cardboard to Oculus Rift virtual reality is exploding and quickly looks to dominate consumer curiosity and spending as the next big thing. With the exciting possibility of new immersive experiences also comes very real legal and ethical issues likely to outnumber any previous medium.

Thorough, but far from exhaustive, Venable LLP, a law firm, published an article discussing many of the potential legal challenges VR companies will likely face. To no surprise, many of the challenges dealt with commercialization. It’s a fitting and accurate outset as so many companies (both Fortune 100 and startups) rush to create ways to monetize VR, despite its infancy. Here’s a rundown of some of the key legal issues:

  • Whether a celebrity whose likeness is created in VR can take legal action against the company is questionable. The article details legal enforcement will likely hinge on if the VR company attempts to establish some economic value in the celebrity’s identity. Using a celebrity’s likeness in VR also opens the door for possible defamation lawsuits (although notoriously difficult to litigate).
  • Copyright infringement will likely be another big issue. The article suggests there is no burden of proof of commercial tie-in for copyright infringement to be violated with the reproduction or distribution of pictures, video, music and the like in a VR experience.
  • Ownership of content created in the VR experience may be up for dispute between the company and the user.
  • Users creating avatars that become famous or valuable in the VR experience would likely be unable to take advantage of real-world publicity rights (right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity).

Equally as important as the legal issues surrounding VR are the potential ethical issues. This medium is arguably unlike any other ever before experienced — where imagination (not technology) is the only bound. Among the key ethical issues in VR are privacy, piracy, exploitation, security, violence, and addiction. As VR develops and changes so too will these ethical dilemmas. Which presents several questions: How will VR be monitored and governed? What type of freedoms and speech should be protected in VR? What should be considered off-limits in VR? Should VR be accessible to everyone? Only time will present the answers, but right now we need to continue to raise these questions.

Betting against conventional wisdom: Long isn’t wrong

A paradigm-shifting report released this week by the Pew Research Center challenges conventional wisdom when it comes to what and more importantly how much mobile users are willing to read. Poytner breaks down the report, which outlines online reader behavior by analyzing more than 100 million mobile phone “interactions” on content from 30 news websites, last year. The findings abruptly pivot from conventional wisdom when it comes to producing content for mobile: keep it simple. The study found readers spend “more than twice the amount of time reading and scrolling through articles longer than 1,000 words than they do on short-form stories”—bombshell number one.

For so long the tendencies of mobile consumers seemed to transcend the possibilities of the medium. Online sheds the constraints of space and length that shackle traditional media, yet content is relegated to being short, brief, compact. But should that be the case? This report would suggests it should not. On Facebook, there are virtually no limitations on how many words or characters a user can fire off in a post, but Twitter limits users to a crisp 140 characters. One would think that suggests Twitter users have shorter attention spans than their Facebook-using peers, but this Pew study finds the opposite.

While Facebook drives more traffic, Twitter tends to bring in people who spend more time with content. For longer content, users that arrive from Facebook spend an average of 107 seconds, compared with 133 seconds when they come from Twitter. The same pattern emerges with shorter content: Those arriving from Twitter spend more time with that content (58 seconds) compared with those coming from Facebook (51 seconds).

Bombshell number two.

Both of these major revelations counter the findings of Naomi Baron, the professor and author featured during this week’s discussion. Baron’s take on how we consume information, her “F pattern” theory of skimming text, seems to be defeated by this research. The findings are the opposite of my initial reaction. Apparently, the brevity of texting and social media platforms like Twitter aren’t affecting attention spans and how we consume information, after all.



Let’s Get Social


Snapchat Messaging 

Most social media services/apps start out by targeting niche audiences or are created with a single purpose in mind. Over time, said sites look to expand—adding more complex and varied features with the hopes of staying relevant and becoming profitable.The lead sentence from a recent article in ‘The Verge’ echoed this sentiment, “It’s a truism that all software expands until it includes messaging, and Yik Yak is no exception,” Casey Newton wrote.

As I pointed out during my presentation in this week’s discussion, Yik Yak is one the latest apps hoping to become more social—adding a messaging feature to the service. The addition of the messaging feature on the pseudo-anonymous, location-based microblogging site comes amid slowed growth and a time when executives are leaving the company.

When it comes to Brian Solis’ definition of social media, it almost seems like it  could be transformed into a pyramid with messaging being at the very top as the most valuable addition. Several social media companies are throwing lots of money at adding or improving messaging features in a battle to keep young audiences and add to their overall “stickiness”.  Along with Yik Yak adding a messaging component Monday of this week, within the last month Snapchat added voice and video calling features to its messaging service. Late last year, Facebook’s Instagram added improved messaging features. It’s becoming more apparent that as companies look to keep audiences around adding a messaging feature is the most valuable way to become more social.



Peeking into the “walled garden”


Chromecast vs Apple TV

As software companies and websites create apps, proprietary platforms, and their own hardware the idea of the walled garden as it relates to information sharing is becoming more apparent. In many cases our internet usage tendencies are tracked, stored, and sold via cookies and spyware. On the other hand many companies are going great lengths to not only make sure that information stays theirs, but to also make sure we are only using their products. Google is one of the best examples. Upload a cute video of your 5-year-old niece on YouTube and you’ll be prompted to share it via e-mail—but not just any email—GMail. Want to share it on social media? A share on Google+ is just a click away. In this instance, the walls to the garden are only so high. You can still share the adorable video on Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook by selecting any one of the number of the options under the “share” button or even just share the link on the platform of your choosing. But take Apple Music for example. I have thousands of songs I’ve amassed over the years during iTunes’ dominance when it came to (legally) downloading music.


Currently, there’s no way for me to play that music other than on my laptop, iPhone, or iPad. There’s no way for that music to be shared on my LG Smart TV or via my Chromecast device. But if I were to purchase Apple TV I’d have instant access to all of the Black Eyed Peas my heart could handle. This is a prime example of the walled garden extending beyond software and into the realm of hardware and products. In this case the wall is so high I can’t even run a hose atop of it, let alone see over it. This is a phenomenon that I call tunnel vision technology where companies are trying to make sure you live completely in a world of their creation (keeping you in their “tunnel”). You can use their software/app, but you must also use their product to fully enjoy the experience. Apple’s success in this arena is incomparable. From iTunes to the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad — Apple is tops at creating cult-like allegiance among their consumers by building a walled garden around your information. Though, as competition grows, their dominance shrinks.

Chromecast allows users to stream outside services (like Spotify, pictured) on their device

My Chromecast, for example, allows for outside apps like Spotify, HBO, Netflix, et al. to be streamed through the device and onto my TV. In my case, this makes Chromecast more valuable given its openness to incorporate outside apps and enjoy more of the content I love, the way I want to love it.


“You’re late. I read that on Twitter 15 minutes ago”

ios_typing_tips_dotcom-100538035-origI thoroughly enjoyed our classroom discussion on digital convergence this week. As a working journalist it’s something I deal with on a daily basis. As we discussed in class, one of the most prevalent products of digital convergence is the diversification of media and the empowerment of the consumer to also become a producer of information. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (often referred to as the “big three”) greatly increases our news gathering abilities by crowdsourcing information — especially during instances of breaking news. But at the same time social media is the “Wild West” of information. There are no checks and balances. The newsroom is often inundated with snarky Facebook comments like “You’re late. I read that on Twitter 15 minutes ago,” which is sometimes true. Many times information tweeted by a non-verified account, not associated with a news organization is accurate — but far more often it is wrong. While, as Ivory mentioned, social media is often a place you can find information faster than by going through a traditional news website, broadcast, or paper there’s often little certainty that the information you’re consuming is accurate. If @Joe589CuseFan gets it wrong that aliens in fact did not capture Joe Biden and transport him to Mars there’s little loss on his behalf because there is no presumed credibility. But if a news organization were to make a similar mistake its credibility would take a major blow.

Media literacy was another topic we dug into during class this week. Once again, as a working journalist, it’s one of the issues we find our consumers struggle most with. Few are able to discern the value of consuming news from a trusted news organization versus social media. This is especially true when it comes to millennials. When I ask fellow millennials where they get their news almost always the answer is “social media”. While there’s no doubt social media is a powerful tool to discover news and new information that would otherwise be buried somewhere in the internet it inherently lends itself to (and in many cases is engineered with the intent of serving) confirmation bias. And any journalist knows that confirmation bias is one of the biggest hurdle to an informed public. I’m looking forward to next week’s discussion as we turn back the dial to the 90’s to see how we got to where we are today.