Facebook is a force for good: a personal perspective

Facebook. People seem to love it or hate it. But, is Facebook a force for good? I could argue this issue in the context of academic research studies or op-eds. However, I think we will get some of those arguments in our class debate on Thursday. Instead, I’d like to assert that Facebook is a force for good based on my own personal experience with the website. Here are my top five reasons why:

1. Staying in touch with friends and family

I joined Facebook in 2007 when I was a freshman in high school. (Watch the evolution of Facebook from 2004-2012 here.) I had just moved across the country from California to Michigan. At fourteen, I was convinced my life was ending. I was devastated to leave behind my friends and the familiarity of home. Facebook immediately provided a way to stay connected to friends. As we went through high school, I was able to see their family trips, sports teams, and prom dates. When I returned every few years to California, I didn’t feel so disconnected from their lives. “Oh yeah! I saw the band took a trip to NYC on Facebook! How was that?” As everyone went to college, it was fun to see where they went, who they met, what they did, and how they succeeded. If Facebook did not exist, I would know far less about the people with whom I shared my childhood.

Facebook also helped me connect to relatives. My family is scattered across the country: Minnesota, Texas, Michigan, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Iowa, and Florida. We are a LARGE network, and it’s very difficult finding times to get together. Through Facebook, I was able to virtually meet and talk to cousins who I may have never had a chance to visit. I have greatly enjoyed seeing what my family is up to between trips and phone calls.

2. Discovering events

Facebook has exposed me to events in my area that I never would have known about or attended. In today’s world, there is an influx in the amount of information and the ways to find it. There are many ways I could try to learn what events are happening around me, but Facebook makes it easy. I can see what my friends are attending (increasing the likelihood that I would be interested in going too) and events that are near me. Friends can also directly invite me to attend an event. There are several events I never would have gone to if it weren’t for Facebook. An example is below. I had not seen anything on campus for “The Hunting Ground Screening” until my friend invited me to attend on Facebook. Now, I’m looking forward to it!

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Screenshot from my Facebook events page

3. Promoting causes

Facebook provides an easy way to spread awareness for the things you care about. I am a member of the Michigan Water Ski Team. We have a beautiful website with lots of information about our team. But, unless someone is interested in joining or an avid water skier, it is unlikely they would stumble upon the page. As the team needed to raise money for the upcoming season’s training camp, we turned to Facebook, not our personal website. Our members could easily share the post from the team’s Facebook page or insert the link into their own status. This year, we raised hundreds of dollars to support our trip to Nationals in Louisiana. (Fun fact: that’s me behind the boat!)

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Screenshot from the Michigan Water Ski Team Facebook page

4. Stumbling across news and information

This morning on my Facebook home page was this post from a high school friend. She was sharing horrific photos from last week’s Kenya university attack. Although I watch and read a lot of news every day, I had not seen images close to this level of violence. I stared at the post for several seconds and clicked through each image. It was hard to digest. Facebook provided a platform for me to break out from the typical news I consume each day and see something new. Yes, it was difficult to see, but I have a greater understanding of just how deadly last week’s attack was. Facebook posts from friends often include interesting videos and links. Even if they are usually much less substantive than this Kenya example, they still provide an opportunity for me to stumble upon news and information.

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Screenshot from my personal Facebook homepage

5. Recording memories

If all other benefits of Facebook disappear, I would still be a fan of the website because I am able to record my memories. I am a huge fan of taking photos and videos wherever I go. They are archived into my laptop and cellphone. I know many are now in the “cloud” (which I still can’t figure out). But, there is something comforting for me in knowing that I can log into my Facebook almost anywhere in the world and see my past. I can’t tell you the number of times I have clicked (for sometimes hours) through old photos. I am nostalgic and sentimental by nature, so the ability for Facebook to house so many memories is a special feature for me.

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Screenshot from my personal Facebook

In 2010, the movie The Social Network told the story of a troubled college kid who created a website with suspicious intent. The site had turbulent beginnings to say the least. (See the trailer below.) But, now, I believe the website has truly turned into a force for good. At least, it’s been good in my life for the five reasons above.

Starting at the bottom: an interview with a current Fox News employee

I interviewed a friend who graduated last May and began his career at Fox News headquarters in NYC as a production assistant in the fall. Our conversation focused on his day-to-day work, how technology is changing the newsroom, and his thoughts on 2016 election coverage. I was also curious about what surprised and disappointed him in his new job because he is fairly new to the industry and has a fresh, less jaded perspective.

My biggest takeaway was his concern for bias within Fox’s content. He talks about Fox only briefly mentioning Aaron Shock’s resignation. He also says that despite the fact that there are non-conservatives working at Fox, the news is partisan. Then, at the end, he expresses his own worries about people perceiving Fox News as a place for GOP candidate commercials during the 2016 election. (Although, I think he would agree there are anchors, like Megyn Kelly, who will push candidates to answer tough questions.)

Enjoy the interview!

Q: What is a typical day at work look like as a production assistant?

A: My hours vary. I mostly work the primetime shift which begins at 3PM and ends around midnight. Sometimes, I work during the normal daytime hours as well (from 8-5). On a day to day basis, I enter my pod at the media desk. I begin to search news stories and fulfill requests for gathering content and video to be put into our system for filling reports/stories. It depends on the news of the day. Some days are busier than others. I help the producers on the shows in whatever requests they need, including: cutting video, transcribing speeches, dealing with guests, handling footage from the field, contacting bureaus and affiliates with their requests as well, etc.

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Fox News headquarters are located in the News Corporation building in New York City

Q: What is the biggest surprise you’ve encountered at work?

A: My biggest surprise was that training me took much longer than I anticipated. The corporate structure really made you sure you knew what you were doing. This was in contrast to internships I’ve had where they throw you into the whole mix of things in a “baptism by fire” of sorts. It also surprised me that some people at Fox are not necessarily politically oriented. In addition, there are not only conservatives that work for Fox.

Q: Has anything about working in national TV news disappointed you? If so, what is it, and why?

A: Some things have disappointed me in the national news media. There tends to be speculation before all the facts come to light in a lot of stories. Partisanship and bias is too rampant. Fox hardly covered the resignation of Aaron Schock. The news is also very depressing, so you become immune to tragedies in a sense which is a little disturbing.

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Illinois Congressman Aaron Shock resigned from office earlier this month after it was revealed that he used taxpayer money to fund travel, interior decor, etc. Here is a photo from his Instagram account.

Q: What emerging technologies are changing the way the Fox News newsroom operates?

A; There are new technologies we are using all the time. We just received a new website to take in breaking news video. Its called Storyful. It’s all user-generated and the video is great (i.e. fires, crashes, floods, etc.) all from people’s Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook accounts. I just recently heard of Meerkat, and that should be interesting too, and how we incorporate that with news content.

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An example of the Storyful web layout

Q: How do you think your daily work will change as the 2016 race heats up?

A: As 2016 approaches, my days will be much busier. The amount of live video feeds from across the country will increase exponentially. We are already being asked to archive video of potential candidates. And I personally drafted a dossier of every possible contender for my department to use. Special Report with Bret Baier is doing profiles of every candidate on their program. (I don’t know if you’ve noticed.)

Q: What do you think will be the biggest challenge in covering this election?

A: In covering the election, the biggest challenge will be to give each candidate enough time to convey views, vision, and outlook. There are so many GOP potentials that this will prove to be nearly impossible, which is unfortunate. At Fox, we’ve been trying to give each candidate their own time very early in the process. Sean Hannity just devoted his entire hour to interviewing Ted Cruz Monday night. It’s being criticized as one long campaign commercial, rather than an in depth, hard hitting interview. That’s what I worry about at Fox.

Facebook and Twitter transforming political beat

On August 8, 2014, the American public learned that the military had begun bombing ISIS targets. If this were to occur in another period in history, U.S. citizens may have learned of this development through a newspaper article or an address from the President on television. But, in 2014, this major change in military operations was revealed on Twitter by the Pentagon Press Secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby.

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This is far from the only example of breaking news on social media. This December, former Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, used Facebook to announce he was thinking about running for president in 2016. The post was a complete surprise to the media and the country.

And it’s not just breaking news. Politicians are taking to social media to argue with one another. This was the leading paragraph of a December Politico story on potential GOP presidential candidates, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan:

“Florida Sen. Marco Rubio struck back at Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul late Friday as the first battle of the GOP primary spilled over to Twitter and splashed across Facebook then resumed on the airwaves, a preview of the Republican Party’s coming cage match over foreign policy.”

Twitter and Facebook!?

More and more, I’ve noticed that the way in which politicians use social media is becoming the story. Secrets aren’t leaked to the press; major policy changes aren’t always announced through speeches or interviews. It’s happening online.

This means news organizations must have employees dedicated to scanning the social media pages of important political players. Forget to follow the Pentagon Press Secretary on Twitter, and your news organization may be late to post an article about military operations against ISIS! As much as older generations (like my parents) complain about the public’s obsession with social media, it’s no longer a trivial time-waster. It’s a major force for the movement and mining of information.

When I interned for ABC News, I was expected to always check Twitter, especially during breaking news. I rarely saw a producer or reporter who didn’t have a tab open on their computer for a social media site. In my first few days on the job, I was encouraged to get Tweet Deck as a better way to track influential political figures, government organizations, and reporters. You use the “lists” feature in Twitter to divide followers into categories.

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Screenshot of my personal Tweet Deck

When I was asked to research a politician’s thoughts on a topic, that research included what he or she could have posted on social media!

So is social media the new op-ed? Posting to private social media accounts requires little (or no) collaboration with staff and zero contact with a mainstream news organization, AND it reaches just as many (if not more) people. I predict politicians will only escalate their use of this technology. As platforms like Facebook and Twitter continue to gain numbers and new platforms emerge, it seems the political influence of social media is limitless.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: an Analysis

Photo from Google Images

Photo from Google Images

I began watching the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central when I came to college because…well everyone was watching it. The evening news I had grown up with was out, and Stewart’s satirical take on the same (if not more serious) issues was in. For four years, I’ve obsessed over each episode.

The format is almost always the same.

Block A: ~7 minute segment on a major news item.

Block B: ~7 minute package from another comedian/reporter on a relevant topic sometimes overlooked by the mainstream media.

Block C: ~7 minute interview with people ranging from politicians or leaders of major organizations, to celebrities, authors, and musicians.

Yet, despite the repetition, the show comes off fresh, funny, and interesting each time. In fact, despite my avid dedication to network news, I dare say I prefer Stewart’s program because of its brilliant combination of entertainment and smart, informative news. Because he so frequently calls out other news organizations for inaccurate or hypocritical reporting, I have come to trust his information. A 2008 New York Times piece called the show “a genuine cultural and political force.”

When Americans were asked in a 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press to name the journalist they most admired, Mr. Stewart, the fake news anchor, came in at No. 4, tied with the real news anchors Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS and Anderson Cooper of CNN. And a study this year from the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism concluded that “ ‘The Daily Show’ is clearly impacting American dialogue” and “getting people to think critically about the public square.”

Photo from Google Images

Photo from Google Images

The episode I viewed from Tuesday, February 24 was not a disappointment. Stewart opened with a jab at Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, as he faces similar accusations of lying to NBC’s Brian Williams. For the full comedic value, this segment would assume the viewer knew about Williams’s situation.

The second “Block B” was a light-hearted montage of Vice President Joe Biden’s “close-contact” with female visitors to the White House. It’s certainly something no other mainstream news organization would put in their nightly program.

The last part was an interview with photojournalist Lynsey Addario, who’s worked in Darfur, Libya, and Afghanistan. She discussed her new book and the challenges of photographing in dangerous parts of the world. I most certainly wouldn’t have learned about this talented woman anywhere else.

I’ll greatly miss the show when it leaves the air. Full episodes can be found here.

NBC Nightly News: an Analysis

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Screenshot NBC Nightly News website

Growing up, ABC’s World News Tonight was always on the living room television at 6:30 p.m. Peter Jennings felt as familiar as an uncle. College became the first time in my life that I didn’t religiously turn to my TV in the evening. A busy schedule and the emergence of social media sites like Twitter changed the way I consumed the news.

For this blog post, I’ve decided to analyze NBC’s Nightly News (now hosted by Lester Holt in the wake of the Brian Williams scandal). I felt I was too attached to ABC News, due to my loyalty to the network and a recent internship there, to objectively critique the evening show.

I found a full version of Monday (2/24/15) night’s broadcast at http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news. It was remarkably easy to find the full episode. There were nine segments from the show divided into neat clips at the bottom of the screen. I only had to endure a thirty second commercial between each clip. Because each story was divided into sections, it would have been easy to share a link to a specific story on social media. I hadn’t seen this kind of news presentation in “full episode mode” from another network. In fact, NBC has links to share the video on Facebook, Twitter, Google + (does anyone use that?), and email. So far, so good, NBC! This appears to be a way for them to engage an online audience that may be younger and unlikely to watch the show live on TV.

Screenshot from NBC Nightly News website

Screenshot from NBC Nightly News website

I was actually impressed by the first two stories in the broadcast, both serious news items related to American security. It was refreshing for a broadcast to not lead with the weather! Of course, the winter weather story came in at number three with twice as much time dedicated to it than Homeland Security. Sigh.

1. High security alert at the Mall of America (approx. 2 min 30 seconds)

2. Homeland Security shutdown (approx. 1 min 30 seconds)

3. Winter weather (approx. 3 minutes)

There were some random, very short stories thrown in for entertainment value: the peanut allergies, jackpot winners, and Iwo Jima anniversary. These were nice pieces of information, but more “filler” than valuable news. One of the more interesting pieces was a nearly five minute NBC exclusive with ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller’s family. I was surprised it didn’t lead the broadcast since it was an exclusive. Despite being a flashy promotable, I did think it was important because it raised questions about how the U.S. handles hostage situations. The Academy Award segment at the end was made relevant by pointing out its political nature, instead of simply recapping a yearly event.

4. Peanut allergies (approx. 30 seconds)

5. Statement from Kayla Mueller’s family (NBC exclusive – approx. 4 min 30 seconds)

6. Outdated 9-1-1 technology (approx. 3 minutes)

7. Single mom wins Powerball jackpot (approx. 30 seconds)

8. Iwo Jima anniversary (approx. 30 seconds)

9. Academy Award speeches get political (approx. 2 minutes)

Overall, I thought the broadcast was valuable. At least two of the stories provided hard-hitting news, while another was relevant to world affairs and another investigative (9-1-1 technology). The “fluff” pieces, while existent, were kept short. In an era where the evening news has to be everything for everyone, I think NBC did a good job capturing the attention of its audience.