Mass Media Myopia

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

The mass media, and those who train them, cannot figure out why their industry is in decline. “Drury University, a nationally accredited institution of higher learning, has added an online class to its Social Media Certificate program for graduate credit,” PR Newswire reported on May 13, 2010. “Deltina Hay, author of A Survival Guide to Social Media and Web 2.0 Optimization, will facilitate the webinar program, teaching students how to use social media and Web 2.0 technologies.”

“Drury University offers both on-campus classes and the online webinar class as a means of providing education in the best practices, texts, and research compiled in new media communications. Students who successfully complete Drury’s social media program will receive 3 hours of graduate credit that is transferrable to accredited universities accepting social media courses within their degree programs.”

Meanwhile, “As the proliferation of mobile phones throughout society continues, media organizations are looking for ways to capitalize on opportunities that mobile phone usage presents,” the University of Missouri announced on May 12, 2010. “An MU researcher believes he has found a new way for news outlets to take advantage of the mobile revolution.”

“Clyde Bentley, an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, a Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow, and an expert on mobile journalism, sees many possibilities for mobile phones in journalism, ranging from breaking news updates to long-term projects. He believes a person’s cell phone could be very helpful in explaining confusing geographic stories.”

Dr. Bentley might want to work on his own interpersonal skills before venturing into the Brave New World of modern technology. His ratings on indicate he may have some challenges in old-fashioned lecture settings:

  • “Often unclear on what he wants from you on assignments, sometimes belittles or intimidates students when they question his unclear demands. Other times, he’s fun. Overall, I didn’t like the class;
  • “I hated this man so much that I gave him a bad review and put my name on it. His lectures are just him talking about himself and how great he is for an hour and 15 minutes, at 8am! He didn’t explain assignments very well, and once all the Asian kids wrote the wrong paper, then he denied that it was unclear. It’s pointless to even go to class;
  • “Professor Bentley is very passionate about maintaining MyMissourian and spreading what he deems the ‘good news’ of online journalism. That passion is apparent in each of his lectures. However, he and the lesson plan will seem ambiguous at the start, so make a habit of going to office hours early in the term. And create a side folder for his e-mails;
  • “Guy is not helpful at all.. In fact, sometimes he even made you feel as though you were inferior for asking questions”; and, on a more positive note,
  • “Overall, a good professor. Knows what he’s talking about and helpful. Tells many stories and corny jokes. Easy exams. Just beware the mass e-mails and the ties.”

Even in the hands of a gifted communicator, though, the medium is not the message, contra what the J-schools have been teaching for decades. It never occurs to these profs or the star pupils of theirs who go on to media careers, that readers and viewers are actually looking for content and finding it lacking in traditional outlets.

Until they are cognizant of this desire, the old guard will continue to watch their circulation numbers and ratings drop even as Journalism Schools produce greater numbers of graduates ready to apply the outdated or superficial lessons they have learned to an empty house.

“The public’s assessment of the accuracy of news stories is now at its lowest level in more than two decades of Pew Research surveys, and Americans’ views of media bias and independence now match previous lows,” the Pew Research Center reported in September 2009. “Just 29% of Americans say that news organizations generally get the facts straight, while 63% say that news stories are often inaccurate.”

“In the initial survey in this series about the news media’s performance in 1985, 55% said news stories were accurate while 34% said they were inaccurate. That percentage had fallen sharply by the late 1990s and has remained low over the last decade.”

“Similarly, only about a quarter (26%) now say that news organizations are careful that their reporting is not politically biased, compared with 60% who say news organizations are politically biased. And the percentages saying that news organizations are independent of powerful people and organizations (20%) or are willing to admit their mistakes (21%) now also match all-time lows.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.