Saturday, November 26, 2005

Future of Ratings

Other people research ratings. Not me. For someone who grew up in an advertising agency, I am not much of an expert. But I do know a thing or two about people and data collection. Ratings always have seen inherently flawed to me. The assumption that people will (or even can) keep a diary of their media use is absurd on its surface. (Read some educated comments about ratings here). The ratings companies are acknowledging this with high-technology devices that will pick up inaudible tones from the broadcast signal. Finally, something that sounds plausible.

This topic came to mind because of some actual data. During class the other day, someone talked about a Web-based study where participants kept diaries about use. The interesting factor involved checks that asked the participants when they filled out the diaries. However, since it was Web-based, they knew when the diaries were really filled out. And, as you might surmise, people lied like dogs. "Sure, I filled it out each day."

Of course the whole thing would not matter, except ratings drive media money. Magazines are already scrambling to adjust figures, and it appears that electronic media eventually will have to follow suit.

At this point, I apologize for an incredibly boring post. Clouds cover the sky, after all. The ratings discussion was motivated by reading a colleague's paper describing a hidden Markov model attempting to capture channel changing behavior. And trust me, that paper thumps this post for interest value.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Some Days You Just Want to Know

A half dozen or so questions bounce around in the shadows of my mind. I am a scientist, so I am busy properly designing research experiments to address those questions. Several talented young undergraduates working in my lab have joined the fight. This provides the fun of mentoring while doing. Often their questions have to do with why we're doing what we are doing.

Mostly the answer is because we are trying to be good scientists. But the truth is that I have become jaded by the peer review process. Too many good ideas have been hammered by too many small thinkers. Many talented reviewers help progress science, but it seems that the talented ones that I draw know very little about my type of work. Most of my true peers are either co-authors or are so closely connected to the Indiana Mafia that they are not selected to review.

So I find myself spending quite a bit of time anticipating and fending off future reviewer complaints. These days I feel more like an attorney than a scientist. I am too busy crossing i's and dotting t's.

Don't get me wrong. Experiments center around control, and I welcome this control. But too often I find myself controlling the irrelevant. In the latest experiment, I will probably run an entire experiment for what would have been a pre-test passed around the lab a year ago.

However, we may be daunted, but we progress nonetheless. The business of ideas cannot be halted by small-minded would-be bureaucrats. Some days you just want to know the answer to your questions. You don't want to wait a year.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Research Family Tree

Today was a great day in Columbus. My master's adviser from K-State, Bob Meeds, was in town. This was only the second time that I have seen Bob since leaving Manhattan, Kan., in July 2001. We spent the middle of the day working on a revision of a book chapter slated for publication in 2006. The book is on psycholinguistics and advertising, and we are writing about sentence importance ratings as both theoretically interesting and a valuable copy-testing tool.

It was gratifying to make progress on the paper, but it was also a kick to spend some time with the person most responsible for my research career. I often wonder how to make graduate study in communications more effective. Most undergraduate programs tightly focus themselves around the industry, and not only do they not teach research, they often bad mouth it. This means that the first semester (or quarter) of a master's program scarcely resembles anything the students have seen before. Many students report questioning the decision to go to graduate school.

This largely defines my experience. I was launched into a foreign world of theory and methods, and the system demanded that I find an interest quickly. Many of us struggle. Luckily, I met Bob at a graduate student mixer, and he quickly brought me into the fold of cognitive research. I've never looked back.

In addition to teaching me how to be a graduate student and a researcher, Bob also taught me an effective way to teach graduate students. This was effective with my colleagues at Indiana, and it is working at Ohio State. I met Bob over a cup of coffee on Moro Street in Manhattan. I suppose it is only fitting that I found myself talking research with a promising graduate student less than two hours after Bob left for the airport. Thanks for teaching me to pay forward, Bob.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Other Side of the Table

In May 1995 I applied for the editor-in-chief position of the student newspaper at New Mexico State. I really had no business applying for it, as I was under qualified. But I was motivated, and the paper was in need of an outsider. Due to some good fortune, I got the job, and it launched the most fun two years of my life. The friends I made at the Round Up are still the closest friends of my life, even though we do not keep in touch as well as we should.

Today -- more than a decade later -- I slid across the table. As a member of the publications committee, I participated in interviews for section editor positions at The Lantern, the student newspaper at OSU. How different it was to be asking questions in the pressure cooker as opposed to answering them. I liked these "kids" today and admired their spirit. Although there were more applicants than positions available, I hope they all find a way to be connected. They each had a reason to be there, and I hope they do not let the mathematics of the situation keep them away from the newsroom. It's the most fun you can have in college.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Getting Attention

Read a great blog post on advertising and attention -- and urinating in the Duke City.

Even the Grey Lady Makes Mistakes

When I was a working journalist, we all talked about the New York Times as if it were the very pinnacle of journalism. It would be cool to work at the Times, we thought. And I have remained a supporter of the Times even through the Jayson Blair scandal.

This week, however, the Times covered an Ohio State story, specifically the off-campus weekly paper taking on The Lantern, OSU's student newspaper. The story is poorly written and has several factual errors. Ugh. Maybe the Times and the Sun-News are not so different after all. This was no A1 story, so it did not have the Times' best people. As a former copy editor, I know the Times copy desk did not have time to check every fact.

But perhaps most shocking to me is that they let a stupid apples and oranges comparison go. A local advertiser noted that a full-page ad in The Lantern costs almost twice as much as a full-page in the competitor. That's all well and good, except for the little fact that The Lantern is a broadsheet while the competitor is a tabloid. This means that a full-page ad in The Lantern is twice as big as a similar ad in the competitor. Copy editors should live to catch this garbage. This is the kind of thing slacker reporters do all the time, and it is the kind of thing any slot editor should have caught ... especially one at the New York Times.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Comm and Cognition Lab

At long last -- on a Sunday evening -- I drag the ol' camera into the lab to document what will be. Once upon a time I considered myself a photographer. Today was not one of those days. I just clicked away. The lab, as you can see, is a little three-room suite. It really is pretty sweet. My favorite part is that we have our own restroom in which to clean electrodes. The biggest room contains the physiology equipment and will have a couple of work stations.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ads, Blogs, Youth, and the Changing Landscape

When I was a little kid, I used to hear adults say things such as, "Where do they get all of that energy?" I had no idea what they were talking about. When I was a 'tween, I used to hear my dad say things such as, "Youth is wasted on the young."

Now a couple of decades later I understand. I have no idea how my kids do a daily impersonation of the Energizer Bunny, and I see too many young people wasting the merits of youth.

As I have mentioned here before, the Internet seems finally to be accomplishing its first cognitively interesting task. Technology is creating social networks -- as mentioned here in a comment by a former IU colleague -- and it is changing the way they communicate and live. I will admit that most "new media" research has thus far failed to interest me. These new media are changing too quickly for us to chronicle on a social science timeline. Things are changing before we can get a human subjects application approved. By the time a "new media" study is published in an academic journal, the landscape is altogether different.

There is something frenetic about the Internet. First I was addicted to e-mail. Now it is to Weblogs and other sites. I seem to need to check for new things constantly. And I hate it. But I hate it less than not knowing whether there is something new that I am missing.

I have read work in media displacement that suggests that new media don't necessarily displace traditional media use (although I am sure there is research on both sides of the debate). However, the sheer number of hours that my undergraduates report using sites such as Facebook and Webshots, means that it must be displacing something. And we have not even touched the subject of Weblogs. reports that IBM is encouraging its employees to blog with certain guidelines. So we have hundreds of more voices. We approach my concept of 6 billion speakers. And somehow I worry about the results. Although I denied it at first, I do believe that our media choices can have profound effects on the ways in which our brains are wired.

As an attention theorist, I know that novelty is important to the brain. But it seems this multimedia barrage is turning us into novelty junkies. I mean, I thought I was bored a lot of the time at 18. I cannot imagine being 18 today and being stuck in some situation where I was cut off from broadband for a few days.

A mailing list to which I belong, Tomorrow's Professor, sent this excerpt from a book today:
"He sits at the computer with headphones piping music from an iPOD to his ears. Ten different MSN chat windows blink and chime on the computer screen. An online role-playing game is minimized on the Windows taskbar. A music video blares from a TV in a corner of the room. A calculus book lies nonchalantly open by the cell phone, which itself sits next to the PC. He is doing his homework. He is real. He is a 21st Century Learner." The quotation is by
Michael Rodgers and David Starrett of Southeast Missouri State University.

It may be real, but it probably is not better. There's just something about thinking -- in the way that Aristotle, Plato, and Einstein did it -- that seems as if it will be lost in this new sensory-overload world. I am not sure what to make of this, but I am not a new media optimist. Call me old if you will, but incessant communication must take a toll.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

In the Books

Well, the first Communication and Cognition lab meeting is complete. It was a fun meeting (for me) where we outlined the lab, I waxed poetic about Annie's lab, and we did a demo of hooking up heart rate and skin conductance electrodes. Three more weeks until the quarter is done and research resumes!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Wither Mass Communication

Back in my Telecom days, it was relatively routine to have conversations about what we were called. This happens when you sound as if you are the phone company, as someone at IU quipped.

Here they have pondered this, too. The School of Journalism merged with the Department of Communication to become the School of Journalism and Communication, which last year became the School of Communication.

Most days I feel like I study mass communication. But the mass is fading away. And somehow, for some reason, communication does not seem like the key variable of interest. I got a graduate student discussion question today really taking two articles to task for not being about communication. They were more clearly about mediated information. And in my academic pedigree, we care about this. The phrase I was taught by my advisor -- which she may or may not have coined -- was: "Is it live or Memorex?" So mediation matters.

This seems more important to me every day, as mass audiences dwindle, and I grow more interested in new technologies, such as,, and I was never a new media person, until I started to see some fundamental differences within new media. So now I am trying to figure out how to meaningfully study these beasts.

Now I am off to give a mid-term.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Lab Coming Together

This week will mark a new chapter in the Communication & Cognition lab at Ohio State. We will have our first regularly schedule lab meeting. To be sure, the group will be small at first. However, I am confident that our talented core will be the beginning of many good things to come.

As all lab meetings do, the pending nature of this one is forcing to marshal my thoughts, which is a good thing. Ever since leaving the structure of the ICR at Indiana, I have been walking around with myriad thoughts in my head but no structure or organization. So, in addition to giving a mid-term this week, I will be trying to document all of the ongoing projects in my head.

In addition, the OSU undergraduate research awards are due next week, and I have two undergraduates that I hope to get funded. So it is a good -- if not hectic -- time.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Where does it go? Why won't it just slow down? It seems as if the To-Do list gets longer and the days get shorter.