WordPress: What is it good for? (with apologies to Edwin Starr)

My first, and really only, experience with WordPress began last semester for ICC 602: Intro to Digital Communication.

I’ve never been a blogger, or even a purveyor of blogs. For me, blogs were kind of like podcasts – an avenue for hipster doofuses (doofii?) who thought they were the smartest person in the room to convince everyone that they were the smartest person in the room.

So thanks to Syracuse, and through no fault of my own, I was suddenly a blogger. Not a good one, by any stretch of the imagination. I could always write, and made a pretty good living doing so, but I wrote for TV news. Lots of short sentences, comprehensible to any 6th grader reading at a 3rd grade level.

More quickly than I’d like to admit, WordPress became my friend. I’d never made a website or coded anything, but mikewortham.com was a thing now. With a modicum of angst and hand-wringing, I made it through a semester of blogging and got an A in the course. WordPress walked me through everything to create a functional blog. I can see how it would be great for the serious blogger.

But, I was not/am not/never will be a serious blogger. So that made WordPress a little overwhelming at times with all of its capabilities. Maybe I was built more for 2009 WordPress instead of the 2019 version.

Having said all that, WordPress has clearly evolved into a platform for more than even the most serious of bloggers. You could probably use it to build real websites and everything! Just don’t ask me how.

“Digital First” at The Dallas Morning News means a complete overhaul

Here is what I’ve learned about the ‘digital first’ overhaul at The Dallas Morning News: very little of the traditional newspaper model applies anymore. From the editorial process to production to staffing to revenue – it’s all been reinvented at The Dallas Morning News.

About ten years ago, TDMN looked at declining revenue and subscriptions and knew a change was necessary. The paper began by charging for its online content. In 2013, paper subscriptions declined by 7.4%, while online subscriptions increased by 30.3%, which bore out the paper’s decision to refocus.

So, the publishers and editors at The Dallas Morning News decided to tear it all down, in nearly every way. Waves of layoffs leaned out the staff. Not only are there fewer employees, very few of them still had the same jobs or responsibilities they still had in the ‘paper first’ model. In addition, they decided their landmark headquarters were no longer appropriate for ‘digital first.’ The old building was just too big, and could no longer be renovated for new tech. The Dallas Morning News relocated to a much smaller facility closer to the heart of downtown Dallas.

The Dallas Morning News also uses big data to grow its digital subscriptions, and guide its editorial decisions. They use the data to learn which stories gather the most attention, and redirect resources to those types of stories, thereby growing interest and revenue. The paper also crowdsources some of its reporting. In North Texas, where high school football is king, they have just two reporters dedicated to high school football coverage.

I used this picture in my PowerPoint as the perfect metaphor for TDMN’s transition. On the left, the iconic Rock of Truth that sat outside the paper’s downtown headquarters. When the Morning News relocated to a more tech-friendly facility in downtown Dallas, it wasn’t practical to lug that giant slate across town. So, they recreated it with this high-tech lightboard to symbolize that the newspaper’s goals hadn’t changed, just the way they achieve them.

Saving face with social media

Some of a company’s most embarrassing moments can be traced back to a social media faux pas. Whether it was an errant tweet sent from the wrong account or an honest, yet thoughtless mistake, social media can be the vehicle for wrecking a company’s image. Social media can also be the tool by which that image is restored.

In 2017, athletic shoe company Adidas tried to send a heartfelt congratulations to everyone who finished the Boston Marathon. But instead of calling them ‘finishers,’ Adidas called them ‘survivors,’ which came off as tone-deaf after the 2013 marathon bombing that killed five people, and injured more than 260 others. Adidas immediately took to Twitter to apologize, and its customers were quick to forgive.

View image on Twitter

Another instance in which social media was used to put out a corporate fire also came in 2017. Shea Moisture, a hair care company catering mostly to women of color, decided to expand its clientele with a new ad campaign featuring different types of hair. Except that Shea failed to acknowledge its initial customer base by leaving out images of black women, or women of color. The backlash was immediate, and Shea Moisture issued this blunt apology via Twitter, admitting that it, “f-ed up.”

Deep Fakes mean Deep Trouble

This is incredibly dangerous territory, this Deep Fake stuff. I don’t think I can overstate how, as a journalist, this disturbs me. As a gatekeeper for information, Deep Fakes take my ability, or inability, to trust video and soundbites to a whole new level.

So, what should be done? As a staunch offender of the First Amendment, I can’t endorse a ban on Deep Fakes. It’s a means of expression, and handled responsibly, a creative and entertaining one. But we live in an age when people and groups inspired by fervor and maliciousness will stoop to any means to add to their ranks. This is when Deep Fakes are at their most dangerous.

I think the creators of Deep Fakes should at least be required to identify their work as such. The manipulation of video and audio is tantamount to forgery through multimedia. If you create Deep Fakes in secret, you should be punished as a forger.

Ad for apartment complex in Sarasota, Florida shows up on The Dallas Morning News' website

Big Data and The Dallas Morning News

For this blog post, I set out to perform a little experiment. I pulled up the newspaper’s website, dallasnews.com, then opened another window and searched Amazon for something unusual – toothpaste. I wanted to see if an add for toothpaste would appear after I refreshed dallasnews.com.

It didn’t, but something else did happen that kind of proved my point. An add for my apartment building in Sarasota, Florida did appear. You had to scroll quite a ways to see it, but it was there — luxury living in Downtown Sarasota at the Elan Rosemary!

Does this necessarily bother me, that The Dallas Morning News knows where I live, and sends me ads that might cater to that location? No, it doesn’t. What bothers me is the slippery slope ahead in the name of personalized consumerism. Where’s the line between convenience and intrusion? I don’t think it’s been established yet, and until it is I’d prefer The Dallas Morning News and other outlets get up and out of my business.

Navigating the ‘Splinternet’ in the next cold war

Source: https://royal.pingdom.com/usa-vs-china-on-the-internet/

The next big, global showdown is happening right now, and it’s taking place on the internet. The CNBC article from February 3, 2019 outlines how the U.S.A. and China have become the online superpowers and are dividing the world wide web into the ‘splinternet.’ In fact, the two sides often mirror each other. The U.S. has Amazon, China has Alibaba. The U.S. has Google, China has Baidu.

The article is written from an interview with Kaifu Lee, the CEO of a China-based venture capital firm. Lee has particular insight because of his previous role as head of Google in China. Lee says both countries can claim victory in various aspects of the internet, but that looking ahead in five years the split in influence will be fifty-fifty. This particular article addressed a possible division of access and innovation, but later focused on the development of Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Lee says that the U.S. and China are the undisputed leaders in AI development, but that China will eventually take the lead. “It’s (China) arguably ahead of U.S. in some areas behind in others, maybe neck and neck. But at the current trajectory, China will probably be ahead of U.S. in five years,” Lee said.

Considering the main source of this article is a Chinese business leader, you have to ask if an interview with an American tech giant would read the same. While Lee credits the U.S. with being a leader in the past, his conclusion that China will leap forward with innovation has to be viewed through the lens of someone who has a vested interest in China winning the war of the splinternet. We also know that free speech is not a guarantee in China as it is in the U.S., so there may be some pressure to propagandize his conclusions regarding the strides his country is making online.

So what does this mean? It means the World Wide Web may be a misnomer, in that the internet won’t be so global anymore. In the twitter video, Lee says websites and apps produced by the Chinese won’t be able to talk to U.S. technology or users, and vice versa. It means the possible weaponization of information, as advances in technology become the new warheads of destruction. It means a lessening chance for global solutions to global problems if the two superpowers turn the internet into a competition.

This article paints a grim picture of the internet’s future, and while we’ve looked at the potential bias of the source, Lee is backed by facts. A Wall Street Journal article published on February 9, 2019 interviewed Tom Pellman, a director for an international risk advisory firm who spent a decade in Beijing. While Pellman is quoted as saying he hated the censorship behind the so-called Great Firewall in China, “When I came back to the U.S. it was like coming back to the Stone Age,” he said. “Not being able to use WeChat (an app that can do multiple tasks), everything felt just old fashioned.”

The Digital Divide is alive and well on the Suncoast

Sarasota is a beautiful place to live. We have the most gorgeous beaches in the country, the climate is perfect 365 days a year and if you were so inclined, the restaurants would have you outgrowing that teeny weeny bikini in no time at all. Most of the people who live here are affluent and highly educated. Most.

There are still pockets of the Suncoast that can’t afford to enjoy all the things the area has to offer, and it’s in those pockets where the digital divide still exists. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that of the households in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area that make less than $20K a year, 50.7% of them are without broadband internet access. In households making more than $20K a year, broadband access jumps to 81.4%.

So, what’s being done to bridge the digital divide in this part of the Sunshine State, where more and more of the high school curriculum takes place online? At least on the hardware side, some Florida high schools offer classes where students rebuild donated computers to give to students who don’t have them. Other organizations like the Gulf Coast Community Foundation are rallying resources from area businesses to contribute to the state’s digital needs.

Mandating a bridge over the Digital Divide is one thing; but coming up with community solutions to a community problem is a far better resolution.

Gnikat a resolc kool ta books (or Taking a closer look at Skoob)

Our last class assignment was for each of us to take a deeper dive into a social media platform, explaining what it was about and why it can be considered ‘social media.’ Mark Scott chose Skoob — ‘books’ spelled backwards.

As Mark told us, Skoob is a social media platform that caters to book lovers who speak and read Portuguese. As of right now, it is not translated into any other languages but it has a very healthy following of four million users. Skoob was launched 10 years ago, and has showed steady growth ever since.

I think conventional thought might say that Skoob needs to either expand into other languages, or slowly die. I don’t think that will happen though. By not only existing, but flourishing for ten years, the platform exhibits staying power. It caters to a niche, which I think plays in its favor. Skoob shows it is keeping up with other platforms by providing interactivity with Facebook and Twitter. I also think the language barrier isn’t much of a barrier at all. Portuguese is the 9th most spoken language in the world.

Thank you Mark, for introducing us to this platform. Skoob is pretty looc!

Dr. Google: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Semantic Web

Let’s face it, thinking is hard work. A quick Google search tells me the average person makes 35,000 decisions EVERY DAY. Brown shoes, or black? Stairs or elevator? Sandwich or taco? That’s a lot of thinkin’. We need all the help we can get, and the semantic web is ready and willing to step in and take over.

The semantic web seeks to make our lives easier by customizing how it delivers the information we seek. Google is getting smarter. So are cousins Siri, Alexa and the rest of the semantic web family. They do things without us asking, like reminding us where we parked or telling us how long it will take to get to work. The semantic web can use our past behavior to predict what we will need before we have to ask for it.

The semantic web also uses context to refine how it helps its users find information. It no longer reads the words in a search request as individual data points but reads how the words are put together to determine meaning. Remember the early days of search engines? You might be trying to identify a species of frog with red eyes, and the results would be about frogs, the color red, the anatomy of the eye, the anatomy of red eyes, or red frogs, or frog eyes? The search saw those keywords as individual elements, instead of part of a whole. The semantic web reads the meaning of those words together, understands their context, and rewards us with a more focused search result.

The advantage is a more efficient web experience. “My phone knows me so well, it can finish my sentences.” There are concerns about that familiarity, though, many of them dealing with security and privacy. Amazon has admitted that its Echo and Dot devices are always listening, but to help improve the customer service experience. That’s great, if we trust Amazon to only hire employees with the best of intentions in every situation. One wrong hire, and this whole thing could go sideways.

The semantic web is revolutionary, and has changed the relationship I have with my phone. I just don’t want my phone knowing that much about me.

Weaponizing Media Literacy to fight the Fake News myth

Sandy Hook didn’t happen. Those were crisis actors.

The moon landing actually took place on a Hollywood sound stage.

The earth is flat.

The myth of fake news isn’t new. It’s been around for as long as mankind has had the ability to lie for personal gain, or the inability to grasp the world around it. Fake News has only recently gathered steam because the current occupant of the White House lends it credibility, and does so through official channels. Even when confronted with these false narratives, the American people have been told that they are simply “alternate facts.”

As a veteran of local TV news, this is offensive to me on every level. I’ve spent nearly 30 years obsessed with facts and truth. I know the angst and hand-wringing that comes with knowing about a big story, but having to hold on to it until you have it completely buttoned up with sources and paperwork. I also know the anguish of getting it wrong; finding out after the fact that what you thought was true, wasn’t. Writing a correction or retraction sits with you for a while, and not in a good way. This is true for me, and for the hundreds of dedicated journalists I’ve worked with over the years.

Media literacy is the only way to combat the false narrative of fake news. It’s okay to watch Fox News, as long as you know it’s a network with an agenda. The same could be said for CNN. It’s okay to monitor Breitbart and The Hill. In fact, I encourage people to consume media from across the political spectrum. We can’t be a thoughtful citizenry if we isolate ourselves with people and information that feed our personal agenda. Productive discourse begins with knowing all sides of an issue.

We are in the middle of a war right now. It’s a war for the truth. To win, you not only need to have a plan of attack; you need to know your enemy’s. That’s media literacy.