Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy? The Bong Revilla Saga and the News Media

It was a meticulous, well-coordinated script, orchestrated down to the tiniest detail, such as what shirt Sen. Bong Revilla would wear on the day he would surrender. It should be white to symbolize purity. Or maybe innocence. It should be imprinted with a Bible verse, so that a predominantly Christian nation would see.

The news media faithfully documented and reported about what was clearly organized for them. They followed the good senator everywhere he went, with reporters reporting even from inside his car. This way, the world got to know about, for example, an inspirational book the good senator’s father had given him on that day, and the words of love and encouragement scribbled on one of its pages.

Of course, the news media might have wondered what the good senator would have worn if their cameras were not around, or how many supporters would have showed up for the vigil if reporters were not invited to cover. The events that happened on the day of his surrender were clearly organized for the sole expectation of being reported, and yet we cannot really fault the media for disseminating information about events that, without them, would not have been real in the first place. For the good senator’s surrender had the makings of a newsworthy event, going by textbook definitions of what constitutes news. Not every day do we get to see a senator being jailed. Human interest is high. It was a logical follow-up to a developing story. And the good senator is a prominent individual. He is a celebrity, famous for being famous.

But some frown on why the media had to report about the most trivial of things, for example his complaints of having to stay in a facility infested with rats and roaches, and yet these reports are provoking important discussions, especially in social media, such as comparing his current plight with those of Yolanda survivors still living in tents seven months after the Haiyan tragedy. These reports let the people who supported him know more about the man they idolize and learn more about the things that the man they elected to represent them considers as his personal tragedies.

Indeed, others can label these news reports as manifestations of sensationalism, or as the news media focusing on drama than on substance, and yet how then do you cover an event orchestrated to be precisely that—more drama than substance? Isn’t this over-the-top news coverage just a comprehensive and accurate representation of an over-the-top publicity event?

An important part of being accurate, however, is offering a complete account. News reports should include how the news media got to know when and where the senator would be on that day. How was the event organized? Who organized the event? Why was the event organized? Were the complaints the good senator had about his detention cell reasonable?

For some, answers to these questions would compromise a journalist’s objectivity. But keeping quiet about these and many other questions is compromising accuracy. A persistent belief, passed along generations of journalists, is that news should be devoid of a journalist’s judgment. But when complaints about a detention facility infinitely better than what many Filipinos (who would have benefited from properly disbursed government funds) call home—complaints meant to elicit public sympathy—go unchallenged in news reports, they only get legitimized. In this case, no judgment is a form of judgment. For when journalists see and know what is wrong but keep silent about it, they not only mock the principle of accuracy. They also perpetuate dishonesty.

Analyzing analytics: Results from a 2012 survey

Slide01

Last year, I worked with Prof. Mike Jenner of the Missouri School of Journalism on a survey of American news editors to understand how they use web analytics in the newsroom.

The following slides are from a presentation I gave at the Journalytics Summit of the Reynolds Journalism Institute on September 26, 2013.

Slide04

We worked with the American Society of News Editors which allowed us to invite its members to participate in the survey.

Slide05

Most newsrooms in the survey monitor web analytics (96.5%) and majority get the data from a third-party vendor, such as Omniture (55%). Others use free online tools such as Google analytics (41.3%).

Slide06

Of the news editors we surveyed, majority claimed to have had informal training on web analytics (51.4%) while some claimed to have self-taught knowledge or no training at all (25%).

Slide07

The most important metrics, in terms of the percentage of respondents who described them as important to extremely important, are number of unique visitors (85%), most read articles (83.6%) and page views (83.2%).

Slide08

News editors agreed that they use web analytics to decide whether or not to assign additional stories or coverage about an issue (73.1%), decide on story placement (72.2%), decide on how to write the headline (62.9%), and design the website (62.1%). Some 21.4% agreed they use metrics to evaluate the performance of employees!

Slide09

Slide10

Early research showed that newsrooms used web metrics to inform story packaging decisions, such as placement of elements in the website. That has changed, with newsrooms now incorporating information from analytics at the earlier stages of gatekeeping, which have editorial implications.

Slide11

A paper that focused on what accounts for these usage patterns was presented at the International Communication Association conference in London in June 2013.

The future of print: Newspaper crisis in Germany, rising circulation figures in Peru

Koln, Germany; Lima, Peru

Koln, Germany; Lima, Peru

What does the future hold for print journalism?

It depends on where you ask.

In the US, many have already given up hope amid plummeting circulation figures and dwindling advertising revenues. But then, journalism’s two new Js—Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and Boston Red Sox owner John Henry—did not purchase the Washington Post and the Boston Globe just to lose money.

In Germany, Spiegel reports about a newspaper crisis: Local newspapers in Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich “have lost about 30 percent of their readers in the last decade.”

But then you have a tabloid called Trome in Peru, the best-selling Spanish newspaper in the world with nearly 700,000 copies sold daily. The Society of Journalism Businesses of Peru (SEPP) says newspaper circulation in Peru rose to 1.9 million in 2012 from 1.2 million in 2007, according to this report.

Also, a study projects newspaper circulation in Latin America will grow 10 percent in the next three years.

The newspaper might be old, even worn out, challenged continually as it is by every single innovation in mass communication.

But it might be true, what people say: first love—or in this case journalism’s first mass medium—never dies.

US newsrooms evaluating reporters based on story clicks?

By Mike Jenner & Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
Missouri School of Journalism

Poster presented during the ICA conference in London.

Poster presented during the ICA conference in London.

 

An increasing number of online newsrooms in the US have started using web metrics to determine if their editors and reporters are doing well, a survey of top-level news editors found.

In a survey conducted among 114 members of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), some 21 percent reported that they use web metrics as part of the performance evaluation of their employees.

This reflects the increasing impact of how newsrooms in the country are using web metrics in their news work, based on the results of the web-based survey conducted last year.

The same survey found that more and more newsrooms are using web metrics to guide editorial decisions, such as planning coverage and deploying resources.

Web metrics were initially used to guide decisions on story selection and placement. For example, some 72 percent said they use web metrics to decide how prominently to display stories on the website while some 62 percent said they use metrics to help them design the website.

But some 73 percent said they use metrics information to decide “if we will assign additional stories or coverage,” while some 63 percent said metrics were useful in helping “determine how to write the headline.”

A possible explanation to this increasing impact of web metrics on editorial decisions is that in 51 percent of the newsrooms which participated in the survey, web metrics reports are put together by the newsroom staff.

Some 51% said their editorial staff monitors web metrics for the newsroom.

Some 51% said their editorial staff monitors web metrics for the newsroom.

Only 22 percent said their web metrics report comes from an IT division, while some 11 percent said the report comes from the marketing department.

The survey results are not generalizable to all online newsrooms in the US.

ASNE members were invited to participate in the survey last year, but only 114 completed the survey.

The results, however, provide information about the trend of how many newsrooms in the US are using web analytics in their news work.

Only one top-level editor per newsroom was invited to participate in the survey.

The survey participants reported they mainly monitor the number of unique visitors (85 percent) to the site.

The other key performance indicators that the top-level editors monitor include: most read articles (83.6 percent), number of page views (83.2 percent), top pages (82.1 percent), number of visits (80.3 percent), sources of traffic (73.8 percent), and session duration (72.9 percent).

Some 55 percent monitor web metrics using software created by a third-party vendor, such as Adobe’s Omniture (Site Catalyst) while some 41 percent still depend on free online programs, such as Google Analytics.

Of the news editors who participated in the survey, majority claimed to have had informal training on web analytics (51.4 percent) while some claimed to have self-taught knowledge or no training at all (25 percent).

A paper based on this survey was presented at the International Communication Association conference in London in June.

It’s a tie!

This post is not journalism research-related.

But if you look at attending conferences to present research as an essential component of the research process (since scientific research should be public anyway), then learning how to tie a tie is useful–especially for someone like me who rarely uses a tie (and therefore being able to do it in those rare times is always hit-or-miss, most often the latter).

Not anymore.

Thanks to those who uploaded this on Youtube and shared this on Facebook! (I tried it a couple of times. It works!)

Framing, second-level agenda setting, and what am I thinking?!?

The debate on whether or not framing and second-level agenda setting are the same remains unresolved. I should not have been surprised therefore when it became one of the questions I was asked in my doctoral comprehensive exam.

The following version comes from my first exam—one of the four questions I had to answer for my mass communication theory test. I was asked this question: Are framing and second-level agenda setting different from each other? I argued they are different, but one of my committee members thought differently, too.

What do you think?

Now, if I got anything wrong, please consider I was writing this from memory (away from my books and notes), within a four-hour deadline (I was to answer three more questions), and without immediate access to donuts, chocolates, or pad thai that could have inspired me to do much better.

Snowmageddon 2.0

***

The agenda-setting theory refers to how public’s exposure to news about an issue increases the salience of that issue to that public. It began after McCombs & Shaw (1972) found in a survey of still undecided voters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina how media agenda was related to public agenda, supporting the agenda-setting theory instead of the selective exposure hypothesis. In particular, they found that general media agenda had a much stronger correlation with public agenda compared with the agenda by each news medium, or even to the agenda by the political party that members of the public support.

Three important concepts need to be defined: media agenda, public agenda and “public.” First, McCombs and Shaw (1972) measured media agenda in Chapel Hill during an election using content analysis of the news published or aired by several news media. Though they also compared the agenda of each of the news media, no news article is considered to have an agenda. Thus, agenda refers to an accumulation of articles that refer to an issue. The repetition and consistent prominence attached to an issue elevate it higher into the media agenda. Thus, media agenda is cumulative. Second, public agenda referred to the public’s perceived salience of issues. Salience among media users was measured in a survey. McCombs and Shaw (1972) asked respondents to rank what they thought were the most important issues. Finally, focusing on public agenda instead of studying the agenda of audiences or media users carries the assumption of what constitutes a public. Scholars have differentiated the public from the audience, in such a way that members of the public are thought to be responsible citizens exercising their social roles (e.g. Papacharissi, 2009; Ettema et. al, 1994). This is appropriate for the original agenda-setting study as McCombs and Shaw (1972) surveyed voters. In summary, the agenda-setting theory argues that while the media cannot dictate what people think, they are particularly good at shaping what people think about (Valenzuela & McCombs, 2011). Subsequent studies that tested agenda-setting, however, found no explanation from the theory for how people thought about the issues presented to them.

When people believe an issue is important, they also have ideas why these issues are important. They also have evaluations of actors associated with these issues. Thus, McCombs later coined second-level agenda setting as an explanation to these evaluations. While first-level agenda setting is about importance of issues, second-level agenda setting is about evaluation and interpretation. However, many scholars correctly pointed out that second-level agenda setting sounded very much like framing.

Framing also talks about the concept of salience. Entman (1993) described framing as “to make aspects of a perceived reality more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” (p. 52). But framing effects are different from agenda-setting effects (Tewksbury & Scheufele, 2009). Framing is “what unifies information into a package that can influence audiences” (Tewkbury & Scheufele, 2009, p. 19). It is about interpretation. This focus on how a text is interpreted is similar to second-level agenda setting.

Framing, however, is different from agenda-setting. From the point of view of message construction, agenda-setting is cumulative. A news article does not provide an agenda, but placed within the context of previous and future similar stories across different media, it might elevate an issue into the media agenda. In contrast, individual messages contain frames. For instance, journalists cannot choose not to frame their news articles (Stromback & Luego, 2010). Thus, a media agenda, derived from a cumulation of messages each containing frames, can include multiple and even conflicting frames.

In terms of message processing, agenda-setting is an accessibility effect (Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007). Exposure to the media increases the accessibility of an issue in one’s mind. A way to operationalize agenda-setting effect is to ask individuals to list what they believe are the most important issues, which are conceptually the issues that are most accessible, or what they are thinking about. In contrast, framing effect is an applicability effect (Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007). Exposure is not enough for framing effects. Attention to the media is important. Attention to frames in messages provide individuals with information that they can connect to those stored in their memory networks—persons, objects, ideas they had prior experience with and have value judgments of. Connecting new information with the old brings about interpretation—the point when framing takes place. Thus, a way to operationalize framing effect is to ask individuals how they perceive an issue; for example, asking why climate change is important. An answer that says climate change is important because of the economic problems it brings about is usually considered an economic framing, or linking climate change with economic evaluations. This is how an individual thinks about climate change.

Framing and second-level agenda setting are explained by very similar processes. Some scholars would even argue that second-level agenda setting is framing, that it was just coined to strengthen the original agenda-setting theory. I would argue, however, that despite the same processing mechanism that underlies them, framing and second-level agenda setting remain distinct, if we keep the conceptualization of second-level agenda setting faithful to and consistent with the original agenda-setting theory. A difference is how framing effects talk about the interpretation of a message, as each message contains frames and triggers frames in the minds of those who process them; while second-level agenda setting is supposed to be explaining how people interpret particular agenda, which do not stem from a single message, but from the accumulation of messages. Indeed, when individuals believe an issue is the most important, they also have their interpretations of that issue, or what is the most salient consideration within that issue. A media agenda contains multiple, sometimes even conflicting, frames. When individuals think of an important issue, they also think of it through the lens of particular frames—evaluations and interpretations—that have resonated from previous attention to individual articles that repeated, highlighted, and contributed to the issue occupying a place in the public agenda.  In interpreting each message about an issue (messages that contributed to its place in the overall agenda), individuals frame each message in particular ways through the process of applicability. Repeated exposure to the same issue in subsequent messages, no matter how they are framed, makes previous frames not only applicable, but also accessible. Thus, as an issue becomes more and more accessible (and thus part of the agenda), frames applicable to that issue, or the ways an individual has consistently evaluated and interpreted the issue (based on prior experience, personal interest, among others), also become more and more accessible. Thus, second-level agenda setting remains to be an accessibility effect, consistent and faithful with the first-level agenda setting, and distinct but related to framing effects.

***

The comprehensive examination at the Missouri School of Journalism is a nerve-racking but fun process. For several weeks I had to read about 100 journal articles, book chapters, and books from five subject areas. These reading lists were developed in consultation with my dissertation committee members.

Then, for five days spread in just two weeks, I had to take five four-hour closed-door, closed-book, no-internet, no-contact-with-the-outside-world exams, with just me, an old PC provided by the department, and a few sheets of scratch paper inside the window-less room. You never get to know the exact exam question until that day you are locked into that room.

Now that I have successfully defended my comps—yes, we also have an oral defense for the comprehensive exams—I am uploading some of my answers. 

The backlash effect: Why black propaganda also hurts those behind it

It is a certainty that as we move closer to the election homestretch, many politicians in the Philippines will be resorting again to black propaganda, and this reminded me of an exam response I drafted for my media and politics class during my first semester here at the University of Missouri. In the following article, I will refer to a body of research that shows how negative advertising can hurt, rather than help, those behind it.

A photo I took when I covered the special elections in Lanao Del Sur in May 2007

A photo I took when I covered the special elections in Lanao Del Sur in May 2007

The only advantage the Philippines gets from holding elections is the slight, temporary boost to its economy attributed to massive campaign spending.

The campaign season is especially a fiesta for the media, particularly for television networks, which benefit not only from an unusually larger audience for political news (as many citizens treat politics as a form of entertainment) but also from a significantly larger advertising pie from campaign ads.

Political advertising is important as the public learns from it.

A study found that recall of political ads was more significantly associated with knowledge of candidates’ issue positions than newspaper use or watching television news (Brians & Wattenburg, 1996).

This is especially true for negative ads, or those that portray a candidate in a negative light.

Let’s refer to negative advertising as attack ads (Benoit, 1999).

A meta-analysis of political advertising literature found that political television advertising had significant, although low, effects on both learning about issues and on perceptions of candidates (Benoit, Leshner & Chattopadhyay 2007).

This is especially true for attack ads as another study found that “negative campaigns increased campaign knowledge” (Lau, Sigelman & Rovner, 2007).

But some words of caution: Attack ads don’t always work in favor of those behind them.

A study found that while attack ads can negatively affect attitudes toward the target of the ad, they also negatively affect attitudes toward the politician behind the attack ad (Allen & Burrell, 2002). Or, by extension, whoever the public perceives to be behind it.

This is called the backlash effect.

The study concluded that “negative advertising hurts the sponsor more than the target.”