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Larry Atkins is a journalist, lawyer and University journalism professor-- an adjunct professor at Temple University ,ARcadia University and Montgomery County Community College. He's just had his book, Skewed, A Critical Thinker's Guide to Media Bias published by Prometheus books.
Very Rough Notes from the interview:
Rob: Why'd you write this book?
I find media bias, particularly advocacy journalism of interest.
Rob: You had me speak to your journalism class last year and I was surprised that most don't plan to go into journalism. That scared me.
When they think of going into journalism, they think of newspaper writing.
Rob; You do a great job giving a history of the news. Can you give us an overview.
Thomas Paine an Ben Franklin were advocacy journalists.
The colonial era was very adversarial.
The mid 1800s the penny press-- independent newspapers. The inverted pyramid-- during the civil war.
Rob: you report that some reporters of Lincoln's assassination didn't get to the murder until the third or fourth paragraph.
The telegraph led to shorter writing because of costs.
Objective journalism started in late 1800s early 1900s but also had yellow journalism and muckraking.
Rob: What is yellow journalism and what is muckraking?
Yellow journalism-- cartoon strip called yellow kid. Between Hearst and Pulitzer there was a competition. There were stories made up-- it was a derogatory term, Theodore Roosevelt didn't like muckraking, like investigative journalism, stirring up trouble, exposing societal ills. People in power tended to not like it.
Rob; talk about the beginning of Objective journalism-- you peg it to turn of the 20th century and NY Times.
In terms of adversarial journalism, newspapers wanted to appeal to a general broader audience.
Larry: rise of talk radio, of websites and blogs
The penny press started weaning away from sponsorship from the political policies and became more independent.
Rob: Penny press was 1830s.
Before newspaper was goal of being mouthpiece of political parties.
Rob: What about technological changes--
each tech advance led to a broader audience. Now it's ubiquitous, everywhere.
Now, the people are becoming the producers of the media. The gatekeeper is no longer as important. Anyone can start a website or have a youtube following.
Rob: Even the MSM, which is supposed to be objective, is biased because of what they leave out.
Most stories about Africa, South America, third world are ignored by the MSM. THeir judgement is that people are more interested in celebrities.
Rob: Even MSNBC, with it's Energy voter and Koch Industries ads, fails to cover Climate change
They've cancelled progressives and added more centrist people, like Chuck Todd.
Rob; yet, even with all the Bernie supporters who have bailed on MSNBC, it recently pulled ahead of CNN.
Rob: I don't like either party. We could use a 24 hour news network that went after both parties.
Rob: tell us a bit more about the current state of advocacy journalism.
Rob; What does mainstream media mean anymore?
newspapers, major networks, NBC, ABC, CBS
Rob: I didn't say that they miss. I said they leave out or omit, intentionally.
Rob: What do you see is the future?
I am still a fan of newspapers. They have the budgets that other media outlets do n't have. It's hard to see whether there will be print versions in 20 years.
There will be more funding of investigative journalism by corporations and non-profits, like Pro-publica.
Big buzzwords are multi media and convergence and concept of citizen journalism-- bloggers, p people on the street taking video.
Rob: Where does the bottom up aspect fit into advocacy vs objective news?
My concern about advocacy journalism is if there's an issue I really want to learn about and get a balanced, objective" like the Iran nuclear-- if you watch Fox, Obama is like Neville Chamberlain, appeasing Hitler, MSNBC reports Obama more like Nixon going to China.
In the big picture I see a need and hope that all of these outfits continue to exist"
Rob: How has bottom up news-- blogs, youtube channels, like Young Turks, changed the media system? Has the MSM changed in response to the bottom up media?
The MSM give more respect than it used to.
Pulitzer prices are now going to bottom up sites like HuffingtonPost and ProPublica
Bottom up reporting
Rob: what about Twitter and Facebook? I go to Twitter to see what's going on.
be careful about rumors on twitter.
Rob: what's good and bad about advocacy journalism
Start with what's good about advocacy journalism
they will cover stories MSM ignore
tends to have more of a voice as opposed to the bland monotone of the nightly news, more interesting to read or view. Serves to bolster like-minded people, providing talking points or points to rebut your friend who watches Fox news.
As far as the down side-- they tend to let the advocacy get in the way and cherry pick facts and not give the entire context of the situation. The echo chamber- people don't go beyond their own comfort level.
Rob: how do you become a savvy media consumer
Know the sources. Don't believe everything you believe on ".
I'm not saying don't read those sites, but try to be aware of the bias and what the website is trying to achieve. Go to various media outlets. Go beyond your comfort zones. Fact check on your own. There's Politifacts, Factcheck.org, Snopes, Duke University has links to 64 of these fact checking organizations.
Follow up on a story. If there's breaking news, don't just take it as gospel, consider the Olympics story (swimmers claimed they were threatened by gunman. )
The concept of media literacy is a growing field though mostly unknown-
Rob: What is media literacy: becoming a savvy consumer, in trying to interpret all the media messages sent to you, to think critically, to question, who's creating the message, what values are they expressing, why are they sending this message. It's important that these skills be taught at a young age. Younger people and college student
Rob: professorlarry.com @Larryatkins4
Skewed A critical guide to media bias
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