Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘social media

Joining the Conversation

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bait and switch

Public radio stations have adopted online message and comment boards as forums. They use them strategically, 1) To mine them for particularly relevant comments related to whatever story they want to highlight, 2) To find people who might be good candidates for future stories, and 3) To let people feel like they are being heard by the station. But conversation isn’t always the intention or the outcome and it is questionable as to whether this medium hurts or helps journalism and public engagement.

Often, general interest programs take callers. But callers can be volatile in different ways. They can of course, be abrasive. That’s why almost all stations have kill switches that let hosts or engineers cut off rude callers. They are able to do this because the program you are hearing is being delivered to you anywhere between 7 and 20 seconds behind the actual program at the station. When a caller becomes inappropriate, they are cut off in some cases before you ever hear them.

Another way callers can be volatile is by forcefully continuing to talk as the host is running out of time. Radio programs run on tight schedules, especially if they are part of a network that must let affiliates down the line jump in and out of network programming to meet their own local needs. Missing times can upset affiliates and consequently, their advertisers. So hitting time cues is critical. A caller that won’t stop talking can cause big problems for stations because hosts don’t want to seem rude but sometimes must be abrupt to keep to the clock.

For these and other reasons, many general interest programs have stopped taking as many callers and have moved to comments posted on social networks. This way, they can get the same public engagement by cherry picking the best comments without the fear of being surprised by rudeness or droning. But these programs often receive so many commenters that they don’t even have time to include most of the condensed responses they get on social networks. And since many of them rebroadcast their daytime programs in the evening, those programs have been encouraging people to “join the conversation.”

But this can sometimes sound like “pass the buck” on the obligation to actually give people an opportunity and a voice to engage the subject of the story about a particular issue. What people want is to ask the expert, which is why the program invited them on it in the first place. Instead, what these programs are doing is giving participants who use comment boards the less than ideal substitute of engaging each other. This can have benefits in terms of allowing people to see that listeners of the same program can differ widely about its message. But sometimes, relying on comment boards leads to disastrous results for the commenters and the entity.

Online comments aren’t free from volatility. Some publications with similar online comment boards like the Huffington Post, have ended anonymous comments and now force users to use their real names. They and others make this choice to insure people who post vicious comments are out in the open with the thinking apparently being that sunlight kills germs. Mainstays like Wired Magaazine and Popular Science have ended comment boards altogether. The latter choosing so because research has shown that even a small number of people who post wrong information can skew the perception of the entire group. As a publication dedicated to science and research, suffering the ignorant minority at the expense of the innocent majority was something PS could not stomach.

Some see the solution to better comment boards as being heavier moderation while others are pinning their hopes on software that looks for offensive keywords or polices syntax to remove phrases that have antisocial intentions. But some reporters and journalists say comment boards are true forums for public discussion and the poisons injected by trolls and flamers is the price we pay for free speech in a free country.

Still, when a station or a program invites me to “join the conversation”, it feels cheap. They are trying to convince me that they are listening and that I matter and I’ll be part of a vibrant, thoughtful and intelligent community discussion on the issue of the day. I suspect that what is actually happening, as it has happened all too often, is that I am joining nothing and conversing with no one.

Speaking of the Life they Lost Because of It …

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In researching the last post, I remembered and was reminded of this from the Iranian election protests of 2009. I wonder if one of the only reasons why mainstream journalism picked up her story was because her death was captured on social media and citizen journalists. Yet in four years, I have not heard this woman’s name mentioned again. I can only hope work is going on in her name. Her name is and was Neda Agha-Soltan:

Written by Interviewer

July 13, 2013 at 22:24

Kicking and Screaming toward Competency

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For those of you who read my last post, you’ll understand when I say I’m using my dishwasher to tell this story. Here’s what happened when I decided I wanted to take video that I had shot and put it on YouTube.

I realized that my favorite version of Windows Movie Maker was on a dead PC. So I went looking for an open source video editor. First I went to a favorite website of mine, Kim Komando. While I was there, I got distracted by a video call she received in 2010 where she bought a laptop and plane tickets for a caller who was trying to get to Palestine to do humanitarian work. It was really nice, but I digress.

I then went to SourceForge, looked at and downloaded three different video editing software packages. One was script based and I know nothing about that. And two were simple editors without the option of layering tracks or adding audio. They were basically slideshow creators.  So then I went looking for the latest version of Windows Movie Maker even though the Internet was full of people furious that Windows had essentially neutered the XP version.

Apparently, the newest version that Windows created for Windows 7 is so stripped-down that everybody hated it. I downloaded it and tried to use it the way I had used the old version and my experience was somewhere between a joke and an insult. But I found that someone had posted a link that had the old version that was compatible with Windows 7 somehow.  I dunno.  Anyway, I downloaded that version after I deleted the new bad version.

Then, discovered that the video I had shot was in the MP4 format, which this version of Movie Maker couldn’t import. So now I was on the hunt for a video conversion program. On my dead PC was something called Any Video Converter. I remember it being both free and flexible.  So I went looking for the new version because I assumed there was one, and lo’,  there was. It was preset to convert any imported video to play on the iPhone. So I had to putz around with it until I found the .wmv format for Windows. But I found it, converted the video and now am editing with the old new moviemaker. Piece of cake, right?

For people who do this kind of work while they’re playing three-dimensional chess and writing code in Pearl, I’m sure this is nothing.  But for common folks who are pissed that Windows 95 is gone, and that no cars come with points and a distributor cap anymore, this kind of self detective and self tech-support work is the minimum of what you need to know do anything on the Internet it seems.  It’s sort of the equivalent of knowing how to change your own oil, lest you end up at some oil change place, paying hundreds of dollars for stuff you don’t know you don’t need. It’s grunt work, like unclogging the toilet or cleaning the lint screen on the dryer.  It’s not very technical, but it can be tedious and if you don’t do it, you’re asking for trouble down the line.  I once knew a lady whose brother didn’t know he had to clean his lint screen and the dryer eventually set his house on fire.

You’re forced to stumble around as you learn this constantly changing stuff.  No wonder the Amish fight to hold onto to simplicity.

Written by Interviewer

April 17, 2013 at 08:06