Guest blog: The disconnect in modern media

The disconnect in modern media

by Erin Caballero

Upon coming home late last night, I turned on the TV and saw on the little scroll on the bottom that Sopranos actor James Gandolfini passed away on June 19th, 2013.

Naturally, I Googled it the second I got a chance, and every major media outlet (CNN, MSNBC, FOX) reported the same set of facts: Gandolfini died at 51 from a massive heart attack. However, smaller websites reported that his death was a hoax, and that he was indeed alive and well.

A major fuel to the fire of media misinformation is the need to get the story first, and it seems the approach with modern-day reporting is the throw-spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks one. I understand every journalist’s desire to be the next Woodward/Bernstein that breaks a scandal powerful enough to end a presidency, but what made these two men great was that they took their time and did it right the first time. They didn’t just publish whatever sounded the most titillating, but rather did the necessary fact-checking and kept their sources confidential.

A second major fuel is the natural human tendency to want “news” that already dovetails neatly into their preconceived notions and beliefs. The whole purpose of news (and journalism) is to challenge a prejudice one may have.

Combating media misinformation is as simple as taking a single deep breath and asking some simple questions. Who wrote this? What is their motivation? Where did they get their sources and other information? What  is their credentials/training/expertise?

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Journalism is not dead, importance of storytelling

A recent study conducted by Bankrate.com shows journalism as one of the worst  return of investment for a bachelors degree. According to Bankrate.com, it will take 31.83 years for journalists to repay their student loans.

Ken Layne suggests that sailing would be a better career than journalism.

Journalism, however, is not dead.

Newspapers might be declining but storytelling continues to play an important role in our daily lives.

Nic Coury explains on Sports Shooter, an online resource for photographers and photojournalists, that he was a journalism major and loved it. According to Coury, who works as both a reporter and photographer for the Monterey County Weekly newspaper, even with the decline of newspapers there will still be crime, politics and sports that needs to be covered.

I was also a journalism major and to this day, I believe that it was a valuable investment.

The skills I learned through my journalism courses taught me how to become a better storyteller, a better communicator.

Earlier this week, I stressed that photography and journalism are different forms of storytelling and that we need them both.

There are also other important forms of storytelling, which will be discussed in future blogs.

Storytelling is an important form of media that teaches people how to think critically and to improve their communication skills.

This brings us back to the importance of media literacy.

Media literacy is about teaching people critical thinking skills and helping them understand the complex messages presented by the media. However more importantly, it is about teaching communication skills.

A journalism education teaches students how to become better storytellers, a skill that is useful in every field.

We need to emphasize the importance of journalism and photography as forms of storytelling.

In previous blogs, I stress how students used photography for storytelling, as a means to express themselves and to learn about others. I also explain how photographs can make a difference.

Stories can make a difference.

Importance of professional photographers, Part II

In my previous blog, I stressed the importance of professional photographers.

First it was Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who said “there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.”

Then the Chicago Sun-TImes eliminated its entire photo staff.

Really?

According to Sally Kalson, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Eliminating the entire photo department has to be the dumbest, most wrongheaded move any news organization has made in recent memory.

As both a journalist and photographer, I need to stress that both are different forms of communication and require different skill sets.

Neither is more important than the other. Both are equally important.

So does having a blog make you a journalist? Does having a professional camera make you a photographer?

Anyone is capable of taking a snapshot or writing an article but the answer to both questions is no. They might possess the tools and equipment but that does not mean they have the technical expertise to do the job.

Both jobs require different levels of training and understanding.

As Chicago Tribune photojournalist Alex Garcia said, “Reporters are ill equipped to take over”.

Garcia explains:

That’s because the best reporters use a different hemisphere of the brain to do their jobs than the best photographers. Visual and spatial thinking in three dimensions is very different than verbal and analytical thinking. Even if you don’t believe that bit of science, the reality is that visual reporting and written reporting will take you to different parts of a scene and hold you there longer. I have never been in a newsroom where you could do someone else’s job and also do yours well. Even when I shoot video and stills on an assignment, with the same camera, both tend to suffer. They require different ways of thinking, involving motion and sound.

In Why Media Literacy Matters – Photojournalism and Diversity, I explained:

Photojournalism is a universal language that uses photographs for storytelling and allows people of all races and cultures to find the things they have in common.

Through photography, students in Massachusetts and South Korea were encouraged to express themselves through storytelling.

Previously, I also talked about the importance of photojournalism. I shared my story about why I wanted to become a photojournalist. I explained that I wanted to use photographs to educate people about important events around the world.

I stressed how a photograph can make a difference in someone’s life.

Photography and journalism are different forms of storytelling and we need them both.