Author Archives: Prof. K

Science & Environmental Journalism

Science and environmental journalism in history — An ongoing project by Prof. Bill Kovarik — is available at this link.

Fake news and advertising boycotts

 Fake news needs to be curbed through targeted advertising boycotts, according to writers of recent  opinion articles in Slate and the New York Times.  A prime example: a Breitbart story about global “cooling” that misuses Weather Channel information. (See WC response video, right),

Consumer activism against Brietbart and other fake news sites is being organized at a Twitter site called Sleeping Giants, with the idea that most commercial companies are only accidentally placing ads on the sites.  According to the site:

We are trying to stop racist websites by stopping their ad dollars. Many companies don’t even know it’s happening. It’s time to tell them.

Sleeping Giants recommends that a screenshot of a commercial ad placed next to   Continue reading

What good is history?

On the witness stand in a libel trial, Henry Ford famously said:  “History is bunk.”  Ford was very good with machinery, but no one ever considered him a well-educated man.

Something rather like the “history is bunk” statement has led to a recent  academic  dustup among our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic.  On May 30, Patrick Johnston, Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, opined:  Society doesn’t need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian. It needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward.’   

So, what if Johnston is right?  After all, what good is history?

According to Jonathan Healy, answering Johnston in June, 2016, history is interesting, important, skill-building stuff, but most of all, the profession that serves  as umpires when the politicians go out of bounds.

William H. McNeill, then-AHA president, expressed similar ideas in a 1985 essay.

The changing perspectives of historical understanding are the very best introduction we can have to the practical problems of real life.

Bravest new world

A new system in China is apparently “game-ifying” citizenship, giving you scores for social media participation and judging you over friendships.  According to Extra Credits, an outstanding video game discussion and education forum, this takes Orwellian thought control to a bizarre and potentially horrifying new level.

‘Every frame’s great take on Keaton

If you’re not familiar with Tony Zhou’s  “Every frame a painting” channel on YouTube and Vimeo, you’re in for a treat. Here’s a recent take on Buster Keaton, master of silent film comedy.     

Zhou, by the way, was interviewed recently in this Patreon podcast (uploaded to SoundCloud).

Arab Spring’s tragic aftermath

Protesters bleeding after Bahrain army opened fire, February 2011. (Mohamed CJ, Wikipedia)

The Arab Spring was supposed to usher in an era of greater political inclusion and freedom, including press freedom, writes Dana Priest in the Washington Post July 26.   “Instead, in every country but Tunisia, it has led to the opposite: the near-disappearance of independent news and opinion, especially about governments and their security forces.”

Pakistan’s most famous journalist lives like a fugitive, Priest reports in Part I of the series.   Reporters are jailed, harassed and killed all across the Arab world,   Priest reports in Part II.

The article, and other similar articles in the past few years, shows that circumventing media technologies have limits. They may be technologies of freedom, as Ithiel de Sola Poole once predicted, but they can also be technologies of repression.

“The Internet and social media sites were the Arab Spring’s oxygen. Activists and journalists — often it was hard to tell the difference — used the tools of their generation to get around the forces of the old guard. Their effectiveness stunned the security establishment. But the old guard has caught up technologically…”

 

In Paris …

I-Am-Charlie_Graphic

River Crabs and May 35th

BigYellowDuck

A sadly comic approach to circumventing Chinese censorship is seen in this version of the famous “Tank Man” photo of June, 1989.  Photo links to Asaf Uni’s article in Vocative.

Internet censors — known in China’s censorship circumventing code as “river crabs” — will be out in full force over the next few weeks. People will be arrested, protests will be thwarted,  and there may even be a few executions.

The mere mention of June 4, 1989 — sometimes called May 35th — brings on the censors and the police.

It is, of course, the 25th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square Massacre, when the army attacked peaceful protesters in Beijing.

An official death toll has never been released, although they range from hundreds to thousands. Nor has there been any accounting whatsoever of the dozens who were executed following secret trials for taking part in the peaceful protests.

Continue reading

Speaking with a dead voice?

By Bill Kovarik

(Reflections on the NY Times Innovation report, an internal investigation that should have begun more than a decade ago, and that, even today, barely scratches the surface). 

In 1911, a young muckraking journalist named  Will Irwin began a 14-part  series in Colliers magazine called The American Newspaper.    He profiled great editors, considered media ethics and described sensationalism and advertiser influence.

The American newspaper, he said, was  “wonderfully able, wonderfully efficient, and wonderfully powerful  (but) with real faults.”

The main fault was this:

 It is the mouthpiece of an older stock. It lags behind the thought of its times. . . .To us of this younger generation, our daily press is speaking, for the most part, with a dead voice, because the supreme power resides in men of that older generation.

Of course, Irwin was writing for a magazine, which, during the muckraking era, was the medium that was actively circumventing newspapers and the AP-Western Union monopoly.

In the spirit of  Will Irwin, I started visiting newsrooms to ask how they were coping with the new media about 15 years ago.  I was working on textbook called “Web Design for Mass Media” published in 2001.    Would the Web help the news business? Would it hurt? Most of all, was it (in the words of Henry David Thoreau) just an improved mean to an unimproved end?

What I found was intriguing,  alarming and appalling. Continue reading

Holding back history

HearstThe New York Times  ran a great column by Timothy Egan on May 8th comparing ultra-conservatives today to newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst in the 1940s.

For a time, the press lord William Randolph Hearst did everything in his vast powers to keep the film “Citizen Kane” from finding an audience. He intimidated theater owners, refused to let ads run in his newspapers, and even pressured studio sycophants to destroy the negative.   

The point of Egan’s column was that the Koch brothers — those billionaire bozos — are pretty much trying the same thing with climate change, using their money

… to attack  the indisputable science on climate change, to buy junk scholars, to promote harmful legislation at the state level, to go after clean, renewable energy like solar, and to try to kill the greatest expansion of health care in decades. Money can’t buy love, but it certainly can cause a lot of havoc.

But they have already lost the larger fight against progress and modernity, Egan  says.  Just as Hearst couldn’t hold down Citizen Kane,  the Kochs cant hold down scientific facts and progressive ideas about renewable energy and health care. Continue reading