Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Final Paper

Media Impact January 2009

Dr. McPherson

Hannah White

Media Impact Personal Reflection Paper


         I spent the month of January in 2009 on a media criticism tour through Whitworth University. Our group met with a variety of companies and organizations that are involved in the media and we discussed with them the current state and direction of the media industry. I enjoyed each of our meetings for specific reasons relating to each individual, but in the end the people we met with, the companies they work for and all our new cultural experiences made me realize three things: the impact of respect for opposing views, points and differences, the importance of professionalism and the significance of learning to adjust and adapt to new technologies and situations.

         Experiencing the culture of the East Coast and the two vastly different cities we visited also resulted in a few life lessons for me.  I tirelessly tried to look like I belonged there – in New York & Washington DC.  I spent time imagining whether or not I could one day belong in one of those famous cities. 

         I was also fortunate enough to attend one of the most historic events of United States, and through this event and the city it was held in, I learned a little more about my career interests and where I want to go with my life.

         Our very first group meeting was with F.A.I.R (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). We met with F.A.I.R’s Program Director, Janine Jackson. Jackson’s job is to look for inaccuracies or loud omissions in mainstream media publications and F.A.I.R is a liberal organization so her criticisms are mostly directed at conservatives. Since I am a conservative and I tend to appreciate conservative media I was not expecting to be so impressed with F.A.I.R. Through out our meeting with Jackson it was clear that she was well informed about the current issues that she critiques and her goal is not to tear others down, but expose truth if it is hidden. As the meeting continued my respect for F.A.I.R grew because of F.A.I.R’s respect for people.

         My next encounter with the importance of respect for people and beliefs was through our meeting with The Smoking Gun. The Smoking Gun is a rather humorous publication that writes about celebrities’ criminal faux pas and other fun facts about laws and regulations. Initially such a publication may seem disrespectful, but The Smoking Gun does not do gossip - just the story. In my mind it is fair game to print a story that may be embarrassing to perpetrator of the crime if it is true and unelaborated. If a criminal did not want a story printed about their mishaps then they should have thought of that before doing it. The 3 person staff at The Smoking Gun specifically explained to us that they do not exaggerate or pass judgment they just run a story for exactly what it was.  Which is impressive because through their work they have the opportunity to totally ridicule well deserving celebrities for their brilliant stupidity, but they do not and that is admirable.

         Channel Thirteen was another place I got a dose of how important respect is in the media industry. This lesson in respect hit a different note than previous meetings because Channel Thirteen has deep respect for people, but also for the world we live in.  The purpose of the programming on Channel Thirteen is to educate the world about the world because if people understand each other and other cultures then they are more likely to respect them.  Americans seem to have a natural tendency to adopt ethnocentric mindsets if they are not exposed to other cultures or the issues and lives of other people across the world.  Wide Angle is a perfect example of a show Channel Thirteen uses to promote respect for different ethnicities.  Wide Angle is a show that follows a single person or family in a foreign country and in their day to day life experiences.  They explore the make up of the country’s government, economy, agriculture and current issues. Channel Thirteen is broadcasting great programs that have a higher goal of education and an ever present theme of respect for the people we live with and the planet we live on.

         A second running theme I ascertained through this trip is the magnitude of being firmly rooted in journalistic integrity and morals. The media industry is not exactly thriving right now, making it hard for new journalists to break into the field and it is also difficult for current reporters to keep their jobs.  During several meetings we asked the executives we were meeting with what young journalists or struggling ones can be doing to find or keep jobs? The answer always included two things, one: keep journalistic integrity and two: do what you’re good at. We have all heard horror stories of journalists who crossed a line in one way, shape or form and the only way to make sure that does not happen is to be grounded in integrity.

         We spent the majority of the time in our one-hour meetings discussing the current state of the media industry and how new technologies and the bad economy are affecting the field.  The huge outbreak of the Internet and the coming switch from analog television to digital is making lots of waves for the media.  It seems that everyone is affected by it in the same general way, but it is interesting to see how each individual company handles it.  Many of the publication type companies we met with are trying to create the perfect balance of print and online material because neither one is completely dominant to an entire reading audience. For example, The Onion focuses mainly on their online content because that is where most of their readers are.  Or Fleming Meeks, who writes for Baron’s magazine.  He writes an online and subscription-only newsletter.  But for “Express” which is a daily commuter paper printed by the Washington Post, they do not do any online work because their audience wants to read tangible print. Although the Internet is a bit of a scary new territory for the media industry it is important to remember that the radio did not replace the newspaper and the television did not replace the radio.  In time everything fell into place and coincided.  The key to adapting to the Internet challenges is knowing your audience.  The various companies that we met with work hard on keeping up to date with who their audience is and what they want.  If you can continue to provide your audience with what they want, then your company is probably not going to go out of business.

         The other big issue for media companies right now is the upcoming switch from analog television to digital.  Marcellus Alexander of the National Association of Broadcasters said that the switch is the number one issue for all television relatable companies right now.  Nielson Company records the number of viewing audiences in all mediums and they are taking precautions for the digital switch so that they do not get an inaccurate count.  From another perspective, Claudia James from the Podesta group, a government relations firm, in Washington DC is not busy getting ready for how companies handle the change.  She is trying to prepare the people for the change. Congress is currently discussing whether or not the date of the change needs to be pushed back.  The present date is set for February 17th, but the American population will probably not be ready by that time. One option people have for continuing to use their television once the signals have been switched is to buy a moderately expensive converter box that will connect to their television sets.  But the bad economy and people’s tendency to procrastinate are proving that lots of people have not yet gotten a converter box and are on a long waiting list for a government coupon that would help cushion the price.  Professionals from the Podesta group, like Claudia James, work with Congress in discussing the effects and outcomes that the pending legislation will have on the people. Overall it was interesting to listen to the voices of companies who would be affected in varying ways by the transition and their thoughts on the issue.

         Ironically enough despite these running themes of integrity, being flexible during changes and having respect for opposing viewpoints, my favorite meeting of the trip was with the quirky publication The Onion, and they don’t staunchly follow any of those themes.  The Onion is a publication that parodies and makes fun of mainstream media.  The brainless trends and the big, widely broadcasted events.  For example one of their post inauguration headlines read: “Hillary Clinton mouthing along to Presidential Oath”.  I laughed more in our one-hour meeting with the staff members of the The Onion than I had on the whole trip up until that point! I think part of the reason I liked this working atmosphere so much was not only that they are hilarious as well as educated; they are carefree and untraditional.  Just look at their track record - first they started with a website then began a print publication, and when they write a piece they start with the headline and build the story around it. One of my personal little self-mantras is “don’t take yourself too seriously” and I felt that The Onion embodied that phrase. Their staff was young, fresh and completely competent, but not over bearing or constantly nearing fatal stress levels.  I think that is important!  Certainly society could not handle too many publications like the The Onion because it could become inappropriate if tons of media outlets started mocking current events and celebrities.  But for now I think it is a much needed breath of fresh air and is being done by a good team of writers in a healthy way.

During this trip we visited two major cities, New York City and Washington DC.  I had never been to either place before and I was excited for the new experience.  Being that I am a people watcher New York subways were constantly entertaining.  New Yorkers have a sort of “mojo” that while fascinating to watch and go along with, I do not think in the long run I could keep it up. My favorite part of New York was the vibrancy, an odd vibrancy that could be borderline obnoxious, but still so full of life. What they say is true, New York really is the city that does not sleep. Although the city is vivacious, colorful and very fun to visit I could definitely never live there.

                  Before this trip I was convinced that New York was the coolest place ever and Washington DC was going to be the drab part of the trip, well I’m an idiot! New York was just the opening act. I absolutely loved Washington DC! DC has the hubbub of a city with the cleanliness and charm of a small town. The streets were all spacious and easy to navigate, the buildings were tall and beautiful, and everything was clean. My two favorite parts about the city was the overflowing history and the buzz of intelligence. Being that Washington DC is the capital of the United States and has been for a very long time the place is just teeming with history! Gorgeous monuments (like Lincoln Memorials and The Washington Monument), dignified cemeteries (Arlington Cemetery which is also the grave site of the Kennedys and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), immaculate museums (like National Holocaust Museum and the Smithsonian), huge libraries (housing Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural bible and Thomas Jefferson’s personal book collection) and archives (displaying the original copy of the Declaration of Independence) are just some of the historical venues scattered throughout the city.  The city also has this perpetual buzz of intelligence and importance. Federal legislation, true justice and our most brilliant leaders reside there and the citizens of DC clearly understand the importance of that. It was a neat vibe to be a part of and an incredible city to explore; I am undoubtedly going to go back!

      A major highlight of my trip was the inauguration of President Barack Obama.  President Obama was inaugurated into office on January 20, 2009 and I was blessed enough to be there. For me the most incredible part of the occasion had nothing to do with politics, parties, winning or losing, but the history the event.  The dream of racial equality that Martin Luther King spoke of almost 40 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reached the White House!

One of my favorite aspects of being in Washington DC during inauguration week was all the historical reporting that the media was publishing and broadcasting.  Remembering the story of America step by step. Our foundation, leaders, struggles, triumphs, heroes, wars, leaders, lessons and decisions were recalled and considered so that today we could began writing a new chapter to unfolding story of the United States of America. I am a huge history buff so getting to be in the Capital of the National while history was being made was very exciting for me.

         I spiraled into a contemplative personal reflection session upon hearing President Obama’s Inaugural Address. To be perfectly honest not all of my political beliefs align with Obama and his administration, but nonetheless a resounding message of hope and change became much more then a campaign promise, they came to life with more vigor and intensity then I had ever imagined.

Several of Obama’s statements in particular really stood out to me. For instance, “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” When Obama said this I just wanted to yell “Amen!” America was built on God and built on freedom and that foundation has repeatedly proven its durability throughout history. The freedom of equality and right to pursue happiness is the uniqueness of America that cannot be forgotten, even amidst threats of terrorism, war and crumbling economy, nothing can change the founding principles upon which this country is built.

The concept of change, huge political policy and administrative modification is scary! I am a traditionalist, so the thought of changing so much of has been our “traditional” was daunting, but I was pleasantly surprised by a feeling of assurance I felt upon hearing Obama’s words. “Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.  Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done…What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.” Well needless to say that statement pretty much addressed and subsided my fears instantly. All the coming change is not erasing our past but embracing. America has always withstood hardships and growing pains in the past and it is from those growing pains that we thrive, strengthen and prosper. The one thing we can always predict is change and we should embrace it with complete confidence that we can adapt to and overcome it. Obama is right when he says that the ground has shifted. Change in our world has come and we must answer it with change in our government.

Near the end of speech the President tackled that one subject left unaddressed, race. When speaking about the promise of equality and citizenship in America he used himself as example and said, “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.” Well if nothing else in the speech made you cry then this did! In remembering the great history of our nation, we would be remiss if we skipped over the low points. Racism in the United States has been a dark stubborn issue for almost decade, but the election of Obama to the Presidential office is a milestone for the nation plagued with racism. Through the election of an African American man to the highest office our country has a bridge has been built between new and old. Maybe skin color could be a characteristic with absolutely no connotation or automatic assumption of any kind for the next generation or the one after that. It truly is possible.

At the end of that day I was just completely overwhelmed with pride of my countries past, future and growth and had a much greater appreciation for the direction our government is going.

 Being in Washington DC this past month has provided me with plenty of food for thought about my future and career goals. Government was never a path I considered for myself, but being in the capital of my country and watching it work and buzz has peaked my interest a lot. After one our meetings in Washington DC we visited Arlington National Cemetery and inscribed on one of the great stones surrounding JFK’s grave was the famous quote from his inauguration speech in 1961 “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” I have always had a strong sense of patriotism and pride for my country, but I never thought that I had anything to contribute to it, but maybe I do.

In personal, social and work related situations I have always been a good communicator, a peacekeeper and great negotiator. When I chose communications as my college major I was just really glad that there happened to be a major that combined a few of the things I am good, past that I did not think too much about it because I was too busy keeping my grades up and working part time, but this trip allowed to take a breath and figure out what I actually want to do with the degree I was working so hard for. Out of all our meetings in New York the only company I could see myself working for was Ketchum Public Relations firm. I knew it was something I would be good at and I found their work decently interesting, but it did not make me excited.

It was not until we got to Washington DC that I realized I might actually want to work in government. It is funny that somehow I never once considered that path for myself, I never had the dream of becoming a lawyer and going into politics and for some reason that was just about all I imagined government jobs to be, lawyers who turned into politicians. DC opened my eyes to all the opportunities of working and being involved in our government there are.  I have started looking into careers that a person with a communications/public relations job could have in politics and government and I am excited about my results! Basically every Capitol Hill department needs public relation people and I could be legislative assistant, department of defense, health or agriculture researcher or executive, a lobbyist or a good number of other things. I want a career that allows me to work toward justice, promote what is right and help people… which is why I am not sure how working in government never occurred to be before. I know it is a tough field that is laced with deceit and conniving, but I can handle it. I believe that if I work hard and honestly and seek the Lord in all I do, I will be successful.

In conclusion, this trip was awesome! I learned so much about media, the industry, history, the east coast, my country, myself and the list could go on forever, but truly I gained life experience from this trip that I could not have obtain anywhere else. The things I got to be a part of, the friends I made and people I met all helped shape my view of the world and of myself in a good way. This trip has taught me how to be a working professional, the skills I need to acquire and subjects I need to study more. Best of all I actually found direction in my career and I am so excited about it! If it were not for this trip allowing me to visit and experience life in the Capital of the nation I would have stayed ignorant about the opportunities in government and would still be searching for my career purpose.



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