Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Kids Say the Darndest...

With three daughters, I read the same books many times. I must admit that I get bored. So sometimes I change the words. One character, Stinky MacGee, becomes Stinky Chloe, much to the chagrin of my 5-year-old. Well, last night, during a different book, Chloe reached the breaking point with my creative license. I tried to explain that she should like variety and welcome creativity. She replied, "I like creativity when I paint but not when you talk!" Har!

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Media Bias

Mostly, I will avoid all politics on this Weblog. Scientific research has shown that most claims about media bias are greatly overstated. However, I saw an interesting difference in coverage between two major news Web sites today.

Headlines Bush cutting short vacation Bush Pledges Support

Unfortunately for media critics, between the time that I pondered this post and the time that I wrote it, switched to the cutting vacation short angle. Thus, the perceived "left" and perceived "right" Web sites came to agreement on the headline at least. My guess is that the AP wire headline took the vacation angle on the writethru and when the story was updated, the AP headline was used instead of the locally written version.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Brave Journaist or Idiot?

"Yonder sits the Fourth Estate; more important than all the others," said Sir Edmund Burke, capturing and edifying most of the normative assumptions we make about the profession of journalism. A recent headline declared that more journalists have died in Iraq than Vietnam. Surely Democracy owes a debt of gratitude to those -- such as Indiana's Ernie Pyle -- who braved the front lines to bring us the news we could not witness first-hand.

Being on the front lines of a war is noble, but being on the front lines of a hurricane is moronic. Every time a hurricane slams into the southern U.S., some idiot with a rain jacket and a microphone dashes out in front of the more than 100-mile-an-hour winds in the name of journalism. Nonsense! This is simply a assinine practice. As we watched Fox News this morning, we watched their man-on-the-scene chronicle the events (it was very windy and rainy) as the anchor told him that he need not "take one for the team." All the while, the reporter leaned at a 60 degree angle to avoid being blown over, looking like an out-of-place Olympic ski jumper .

All of this is misguided bravado with some reporter trying to evidence their mettle. Instead we stayed tuned only for the possibility of this Pulitzer Poser getting halved by a flying former mobile home wall. A piece of roof landed about three feet from Fearless Fox at 135 mph, thus finally sending him off camera. While not rooting for Mr. Hard News' demise, we were glued to the TV like a train wreck. And, mind you, all of this bravado was to show the wind and rain. Breaking news from Mississippi: Hurricane Brings Driving Wind and Rain.

In the ratings game, Fox may have scored a victory. In the common sense game, a likely underpaid journalist risked his life for next-to-nothing. Not one of the prouder days for my former profession. People will die, and others will lose everything in this storm. Those people are victims. The rescue professionals trying to save them are heros, and the volunteers that will help rebuild Mississippi and Louisana are noble. But the reporter hanging onto a pole is an idiot, plain and simple.


Back to School

... but not for me. While all of my friends in the academic world return to classes, I celebrate the quarter system -- one of the many advantages at OSU. We do not start classes for another three weeks! Of course, my friends hate me now. However, when I am teaching in June, the situation will be reversed.

My oldest daughter began second grade at her new school today, so it is a bit of a sad day. It is always scary sending your "baby" off to be in someone else's care for six and a half hours. She will do well, but it is a melancholy day for me.


Saturday, August 27, 2005

Teaching Creativity

When I teach writing classes, I try to talk about and foster creativity. This is a subject that is more a part of the art of communication rather than the science of communication in which I am trained. I am not sure whether creativity can even be taught. Perhaps it is only enhanced.

During an advertising class at Kansas State, Charles Pearce talked about his views on creativity. He expressed a view shared by many others that we are creative as children, but society forces its normal mold upon us and we lose this creativity. At the time, I was skeptical.

Photo by Isabel Bradley.

In the five years since this classroom discussion, I have learned a lot about the brain and neural networks, and I have watched my own children grow. When you train an artificial neural network, interesting things happen. It begins to learn. It begins to get things right. The more it learns, the better it gets. However, this learning has an unintended consequence. The more the net learns, the less likely it is to do something off-the-wall. Does off-the-wall have anything to do with creativity? I will let you be the judge. Yet I will argue that creativity has something to do with seeing the same facts in a new light. And as a neural network (and presumably a human brain) learns more about its world, the less able it is to see that world in a new light. This results in a smarter network that makes better decisions but happens to be less creative. No one has to force it to be less creative. It just happens. When the network really learns the "box," it can no longer thing outside of it.

As evidence of this, I offer this photo taken by my 7-year-old, Isabel. This photo is not cropped or altered in any way. It is simply how Isabel saw the canopy of the food court at the Columbus Zoo. Most adults would have not have noticed this. Even though I have had professional training as a photojournalist, I would not have seen this. Yet she did. I owe this creativity to Isabel's grandfather Roger, who turned her loose with his camera. Isabel came up with at least 4 very cool photos from perspectives that would not have occurred to me ... creativity.

Thus, it looks as if Charles Pearce had it right. However, I don't think there is a conspiracy. There is no plot by middle school teachers to drive the creativity out of our minds. It seems merely to happen as we learn more about the regularities of our world.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Another Piece of the Lab

The lab seems to be coming together. I am told that the psychophysiology equipment is sitting on the loading dock waiting to be shipped. In the meantime, I took advantage of the good fortune of having my father in town. Borrowing a good idea from my friends in Indiana, I wanted a shelf for the equipment. The shelf adds a second layer and keeps the equipment from sprawling all over a desk.

We spent most of the day today putting the shelf together using my new table saw -- something I thought I would never own. As someone who studies emotion, I read a lot about snakes, phobias, and anxiety. Well, I am saw-phobic. And I hated this, too. But the end result turned out nice, thanks to dad. We made it out of 3/4 inch plywood with a nice oak hardwood veneer. We also added a thin strip of oak veneer to the outside of the plywood, so the shelf looks like hardwood.

Although this shelf will be a great addition to the Communication & Cognition lab at OSU, the best part of the project was spending another day working with my dad.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Ambush Journalism

Disclaimer: I am a cycling fan.

Objectivity. It is something that we teach in journalism classes. It is something I learned early in my education at NMSU, and it was something that I tried to practice every day during my professional career. At times, I had my doubts. Often I felt that I tried to be "harder" on sources with whom I identified. Rather than trying to be solely neutral, I tried to make sure no one could accuse me of being sympathetic with Cause X. Nonetheless, I strove for objectivity in every story that I wrote.

Yesterday, the French sports magazine L'Equipe leveled new allegations against U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong claiming that they have evidence that he used a red blood cell enhancing drug in 1999, his first Tour de France win. The ethical problems with this story -- no matter the facts of the case -- are extreme. First, L'Equipe and the Tour organizers share parent ownership. This is akin to Time Warner owning the NFL. The conflict of interest is so deep that objectivity is impossible. Secondly, the laboratory that developed the EPO urine test did so with the explicit agreement that no possible positive tests on the development samples would be used to punish cyclists. Thus, the lab says they cannot make a match.

But the decidedly unobjective L'Equipe has tried to make the match, showing evidence linking Armstrong to the anonymous sample provided to the lab. It is virtually impossible to disprove this kind of allegation. There are so many possible problems -- including the need for proof of chain of ownership for the urine sample for 6 years.

The point is not about Armstrong, but rather the profession of journalism. Objectivity is not guaranteed. Even here -- where the First Amendment orients us toward a different press role than the French -- we have lapses, such as the Food Lion case and the exploding truck on network news. However, we have a system that recognizes such dirty tactics as unacceptable. The French -- already stung by not having a native rider win the Tour in as long as can be remembered -- seem to celebrate this ambush journalism. Hopefully we will continue to do better.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Snowballs Continue

The blogs keep on blogging. I started this Weblog after 3 months of passively watching the progress of my friend, colleague, and former committee member Rob Potter at Indiana University. Rob seemed to be having a decent go at it, so I decided to try. As someone who wrote an opinion column for 2 years, it seemed easy enough. Admittedly, however, these first couple of weeks have been characterized by an uncertainty of just where to put the filter. How professionally oriented should it be? Will that be boring?

Whatever Rob did worked, as it sparked me. Now, I have "sparked" another generation with friend, colleague, and fellow Hoosier Johnny V. Sparks Jr and his new blog titled, "Sparkysparx." As of today, Johnny has no content, but stay tuned!

Thus, as a mass communication researcher, I am still forming opinions about this medium. However, unlike more traditional media, Weblogs seem to be able to spread with a technique akin to snowball sampling. That is, one person starts one, and then throws a proverbial snowball at someone, who also starts one, and so one.

Finally, for the irony of the day, the spell checker on Blogspot rejects the word "blog." Har!


Friday, August 19, 2005

I have a key

At long last, I have access to my lab at The Ohio State University. In the coming weeks, I will be setting up a psychophysiology lab much like the ones in which I was trained at Indiana University.

The subfield -- if you will -- of psychophysiology is taking off in communication with active labs at OSU, IU, Missouri, Washington State, Alabama, and Penn State, off the top of my head. These options will help graduate students trying to choose a Ph.D. program. Instead of looking solely at where they can learn the methods of psychophysiology, they can look at a program in its entirety. Each of these programs excels in different areas of communication, and prospective Ph.D. students can now look at these content areas and the presence of psychophysiological training.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

We're Number Ten!

In the world of science, grants are the fuel that feeds the monster. However, communication lags behind many other fields in grant getting. This is beginning to change. And it looks as if The Ohio State University is a great place to help change this trend. A recent report shows that OSU has moved into the top 10 nationally in research funding.

Furthermore, the trend looks to continue, as OSU is landing several big grants.

This is encouraging for assistant professors, who live in the Catch 22 of the grant world: it's extremely hard to get your first grant. Thus, like many of our students trying to get their first jobs without prior experience, we try for grants with no experience. We are, in effect, told to come back when we have already gotten our first grant ... which we cannot get.

All of this should be much easier at OSU now, as this top 10 ranking will enter the public consciousness. Grant reviewers on the fence may have yet one more reason to fund proposals coming from Columbus. We'll see if this prediction comes true.

Monday, August 15, 2005

That's So Raven

You have not lived until you have attended a Raven concert with a couple thousand people including several hundred pre-teen girls. As a media researcher, I always enjoy opportunities to partake in media for which I am not the target demo ... that is until 500+ little girls began to shriek. I regained my hearing several minutes later. My 5-year-old daughter had fun, my 7-year-old was a bit afraid of the screaming in the dark, and my 20-month-old slept until the screaming began. Then she resumed her normal habit of shaking her head "no" at everything she did not like, including the screaming. Here is a picture of her having a smiliar reaction during a recent Fourth of July parade.

It was the girls' first chance to see a media "person" in person. Again, this was a mini experiment for me. They were largely unimpressed, except that the 5-year-old wanted to know why Raven couldn't see her waving.

After the concert, it was 97 degrees outside, so we made the obligatory visit to the Butter Cow, got some ice cream, and went home.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

With 6 billion speakers, who is listening?

It seems like only yesterday that I started this Weblog, although I had pondered it for quite some time. As someone trained in "mass" communication, I wondered about having endless content. When I go to the New York Times, I know what I am getting. Yes there are scandals, but over the course of time, I know the system of checks and balances in place. That is not so online, where you get idiots such as Matt Drudge.

The latest humorous example of the endless content on the Web came online today in my daily update from Advertising Age magazine. It seems that advertisers are having second thoughts about advertising where users control content. Nothing would stop you, for example, from seeing a Nike ad on a Weblog or on a message board and instantly leaving a post wherein you decry Nike's exploitation of child labor.

Just weeks after angering me by trying to strongarm publications to cancel ads if they publish negative editorial content, advertisers face a far worse fate in the multi-author world. In the race to be part of the trendy reaches of ever "new" media, advertisers may be too far afield. Call the press "liberal," hold up Jayson Blair as a poster child, or just generally blast the 24-hour news cycle, but there's something to be said for familiarity with a source!

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Building brand loyalty

In an ideal academic world, research and teaching feed off one another. In my observation, this is too seldom the case. Recently I accidentally backed into such an overlap involving the human connection with brands. For several years, I have been interested in the emotional relationship that humans make with inanimate brands. During a recent class that I taught at Indiana University, I showed part of an excellent video from Frontline titled The Persuaders. During this video, Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts talks about his book, Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands.

Roberts talks about building “loyalty beyond reason.” Others in the video dismiss such connections as infrequent. However, if you reflect upon your own life, you will see many connections beyond reason. How many generic brand labels fill your cabinets? For most people, there will be few or none. Pepsi. Starbucks. Tide. Abercrombie & Fitch. Although many of these brands may be superior in quality, they cannot be superior in proportion to their increased price since they spend so much on advertising. Thus, much of the extra money that you pay for a brand name goes into advertising to reinforce your brand relationship.

My curiosity piqued, I am now moving my research agenda in this direction. I am exploring Roberts’ notion of loyalty beyond reason. I am not formally trained in marketing, but I do know a thing or two about attention, emotion, and memory. I am going to use this training to drag the brand relationship into my psychophysiological laboratory. Hopefully, I will help elucidate this loyalty that moves beyond reason. Stay tuned. The results will find their way here.

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A rare defense of journalists

Should we use the term "journalist" for every person who takes 5 minutes to create a blog? The profession of journalism is slightly more respected than politicians, used car salespeople, and prostitutes. However, it is a professional field, and it means something to be a journalist, even if it is not much. Although my training is in journalism -- and I am an assistant professor of communication -- I don't spend too much time defending the craft. Yet after listening to one more person try to slide the synonym "web journalist" in replace of "blogger," I felt a rant coming on.

Journalism is a technical field and could just as easily be taught in vo-tech schools and community colleges. However, there is something to be said for the training that you undergo as a journalist, like I survived at New Mexico State. Being an idiot with a laptop and a broadband connection does not make you a journalist. It just makes you an idiot with a laptop and broadband.

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