Digital journalism and the end of church and state

—Michael Serazio

For generations of journalists, the separation of “church and state” referred not just to First Amendment protections for secular Americans. It was also the metaphorical way of phrasing an enduring ideal: that the business side of a news outlet would not encroach on the autonomy of the editorial side.

For advertisers, however, this was always an uneasy bargain. Audiences, they’ve long known, fundamentally mistrust advertising. For this reason, as I show in my new book, Your Ad Here, advertising often gets created to blend in, “guerrilla-style,” with contexts that don’t look like advertising.

In the case of newspapers, this explained those full-page “articles” written by a brand or marketer that affected the appearance of editorial content without the pretense of objectivity about the subject. Given the choice, the marketer surely wouldn’t have opted for “Advertisement” to run in small letters atop the piece, as it usually did – the newspaper’s equivalent of handling such content with Hazmat gloves.

Alas, newspapers have been in steady decline for the better part of a decade, as audiences consume more and more content through online sources. And, as the New York Times reported this week, a new set of norms for handling that sponsored material may well be taking shape.

It turns out that press venues both new and old – including The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, and Buzzfeed – have increasingly been accommodating brand-backed articles or, as I call it, “advertainment.” Because advertisers are discovering online – as they long knew of their print-based output – that banner ads are often annoying, irrelevant, and ineffective, alternatives must be considered.

“It is, in fact, content,” defended one representative at Forbes Media, which has experimented with these partnerships. “It’s not advertising.” One of the hallmarks of guerrilla marketing is precisely that self-effacement of the sales component in favor of something more desirable: here, journalistic reportage.

But for either the advertiser or the press representative to pretend that being “indistinguishable” is not their goal here – well, I’ve got a nice bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan that they might be interested in buying.  Perhaps their reporters could do a “sponsored story” helping me make the sale.

Michael Serazio is Assistant Professor of Communication at Fairfield University and the author of Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerrilla Marketing (NYU Press, 2013). You can follow him on Twitter @michaelserazio.

Why gender bias in science matters

—Sue V. Rosser

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published an article last September that caused quite a stir around the country. In it, a group of researchers at Yale reported groundbreaking findings from a recent study on gender bias in science. The September 24, 2012 New York Times article, “Bias Persists for Women of Science, a Study Finds”, emphasized the major points of similar media reports of the Yale study:  chemistry, biology and physics professors at six U.S. research universities rated a male applicant for a laboratory manager position as significantly more competent and hirable than the identical female applicant. The bias was pervasive, resulting from cultural influences rather than overt discrimination; and women professors were just as biased against the women students as were the men professors, although age, field or tenure status did not appear to affect the results.

To date, at least thirty-five colleagues have e-mailed me a copy of the article, knowing my work and interest in attracting and retaining women in science and engineering. Many asked whether I was surprised that such bias still existed after all of these years of attention to the general issue of women in science, as well as the particular training of scientists to be rational in analysis of data.

I had to tell them that regrettably, I was not surprised at all. In Breaking into the Lab:  Engineering Progress for Women in Science, I revealed my experiences as both a woman scientist and dean at a doctoral research extensive institution who has worked in women’s studies for thirty years. My experiences are complemented with data from interviews of current scientists in response to the questions about why there are so few women scientists, especially at elite research institutions, what happens to successful women as they become senior and consider going into administration, and whether women are excluded from leading edge work in commercialization of science and technology transfer.

The data from the responses and interviews of current women scientists, some junior and some about ten to twenty years younger than I, document that although the pipeline of women in most STEM fields has increased substantially, many of the same issues for women in science and engineering persist today.

Overt sexual harassment from a supervisor has become less frequent, yet the structures of institutions and science make junior women question whether they can balance career and family. Time management, isolation, lack of camaraderie, poor mentoring, gaining credibility and respectability from colleagues and superiors, as well as issues for dual-career couples in science remain as problems. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination still occur all too frequently.

Why does the loss of women from every level of the science pipeline from student to head of the laboratory to president of the university matter? The importance of the leadership of women in science has been illustrated in other areas such as health; not until a substantial number of women had entered the professions of biology and medicine were biases from androcentrism exposed. Once the possibility of androcentric bias was discovered, the potential for distortion on a variety of levels of research and theory was recognized: the choice and definition of problems to be studied, the exclusion of females as experimental subjects, bias in the methodology used to collect and interpret data, and bias in theories and conclusions drawn from the data.

This realization uncovered gender bias, which had distorted some medical research.  Excessive focus on male research subjects and definition of cardiovascular diseases as “male” led to under-diagnosis and under-treatment of the disease in women. These studies led Bernadine Healy, a cardiologist and first woman director of the National Institutes of Health, to characterize the diagnosis of coronary heart disease in women as the Yentl syndrome: “Once a woman showed that she was just like a man, by having coronary artery disease or a myocardial infarction, then she was treated as a man should be” (Healy, 1991, p. 274).  The male-as-norm approach in research and diagnosis, unsurprisingly, was translated into bias in treatments for women.  Women exhibited higher death rates from angioplasty and coronary bypass surgery because the techniques had been pioneered using male subjects.

Particularly with the increased emphasis upon translation of basic research into applications, the presence of diversity in the STEM workforce becomes more critical. More than in basic research, applications for technology and inventions depend upon the experiences and ideas of the designers. Excessive dominance of one group, such as the overwhelming percentage of males in engineering and the creative decision-making sectors of the technology workforce, may result in bias in the technologies produced, such as the air bag fiasco suffered by the U.S. auto industry. More women, as well as more diversity in general, in the composition of the STEM workforce not only helps to guard against such bias but may increase the numbers of new ideas that will help people in their daily lives and improve society.

Sue V. Rosser is Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Women and Gender Studies and Sociology at San Francisco State University. She is the author of Breaking into the Lab:  Engineering Progress for Women in Science (NYU Press, 2012).

Introduction to Spreadable Media

At long last, Spreadable Media by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green has published!

This week marked the book’s debut, along with the final roll out of web exclusive essays, all available in the enhanced online component to the book. Written by a range of contributors, from media scholars to game designers, the essays expand upon the core ideas outlined in Spreadable Media. Read them here.

To wrap up the week, we’re also featuring the full introduction to Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture for free (in the name of spreadability). Read it below. And remember to spread!

Introduction to Spreadable Media

New Spreadable Media essays: Week 3

We’re at week three since launching the online component of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture!

Here are this week’s round of web exclusive essays written by selected contributors who have shaped the argument put forth in Spreadable Media:

  • The Value of Retrogames“—Bob Rehak, a film and media studies professor at Swarthmore College, examines how grassroots interest in residual media and culture may coalesce online, sparking new kinds of cultural practices and production.
  • Clothing has passed between different kinds of exchanges for centuries, acquiring different meanings and values in the process—and, in “A Global History of Secondhand Clothing,” filmmaker and MIT media historian Hanna Rose Shell traces and examines those shifting sartorial roles.
  • In “Retrobrands and Retromarketing,” York University professor Robert V. Kozinets discusses the strategies through which companies engage in “retrobranding,” reviving or relaunching brands from the past in ways that capitalize on existing fandoms and provide launching points for the creation of new markets.

Check ‘em out, and stay tuned at http://spreadablemedia.org/essays—where each week leading up to the book’s publication (in January 2013!), a new batch of exclusive essays will be released.

(And hey! Feel free to debate/critique/trash each piece in the comments section. Expand the conversation, transform the ideas. That’s how spreadable media works.)

Following the science of eyewitness identification

—David A. Harris

decision by Oregon’s Supreme Court on eyewitness identification procedures has re-set the way that juries and courts in that state will think about eyewitness identification.

According to the New York Times editorial on the case, the ruling shifts the burden of proof to prosecutors to prove that eyewitness identifications are reliable before they can be admitted in court. Before last week’s decision, the rule had been that identifications were generally admitted; it was up to the defense in individual cases to prove that an identification was not reliable.

But at least as important as the new rule itself was the reason that the Oregon court abandoned its old precedent: the court had concluded that the old rule was based on assumptions about eyewitness testimony no longer supported by the science. Thus the new case represents a textbook case of a court forcing law enforcement away from the failed evidence of discredited methods, and toward methods that accord with what science teaches us now.

Under the old rule, Oregon judges looked at five factors when evaluating an eyewitness identification: opportunity to view the alleged perpetrator, attention to identifying features, timing and completeness of description given after the event, certainty of description and identification by witness, and lapse of time between original observation and the subsequent identification. Looking at these factors from the vantage point of the present day, the Oregon court found them “incomplete and, at times, inconsistent with modern scientific findings.” Given the science on eyewitness identification that is by now well established, the court prescribed a new approach, including the change in the burden of proof.

That’s what the Oregon Supreme Court did, but here is why they did it:

…[W]e believe that it is imperative that law enforcement, the bench, and the bar be informed of the existence of current scientific research and literature regarding the reliability of eyewitness identification because, as an evidentiary matter, the reliability of eyewitness identification is central to a criminal justice system dedicated to the dual principles of accountability and fairness.

It’s hard to imagine a better summing up of the ideas behind Failed Evidence, and why the fight to overcome law enforcement’s general resistance to science is so important.

This article originally appeared on the author’s blog—read it here.

David A. Harris is Distinguished Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing and Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work.

Before the polls close: Early lessons from the 2012 campaign

—Michael Serazio

On this eve of the 2012 presidential election, the victor and final outcome remain, of course, unknown to us. Yet independent of tomorrow’s Electoral College tally, a number of campaign patterns and marketing trends already seem triumphant. Presidential contests offer the country, among many other things, a quadrennial opportunity to take stock of the state of media, technology, and culture. And irrespective of issues—looking purely at the playing of the game—the 2012 cycle will likely be enshrined in collective memory for its speed, fragmentation, and use of data.

The acceleration of news cycles is, by no means, a phenomenon unique to 2012—sound-bites that lasted, on average, an upwards of 50 seconds in the late 1960s had already shriveled to a mere ten by 1992. Yet in this campaign season, Twitter assumed a key role by further increasing velocity and abridging exposition. Moreover, as the “second screen” site for much social TV-watching during the conventions and debates, it offered an opinion-leader, focus group monitoring tool for campaign staff to gauge conventional wisdom as it took shape in real time. And that medium may, in fact, be handicapping the message and, in turn, the potential for thoughtful policy: As Herman Cain’s director of new media quipped, “Mitt Romney’s 59-point plan can’t fit in a tweet.” But “9-9-9” (pizza discount that it may sound like) needs just five characters to convey tax plans—nuance be damned.

The single most symbolic quote of the election was neither “47%” nor “You didn’t build that,” but arguably a Romney pollster’s intimation that, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” And, lo, how both camps could! Even as the press redoubled its fact-checking brigades—including a heroic on-the-spot effort by CNN’s Candy Crowley in the second debate—the capacity of voters to nuzzle in their own fragmented information cocoons meant that campaigns rarely paid the price for playing fast and loose with truthiness. “We don’t collect news to inform us. We collect news to affirm us,” GOP operative Frank Luntz aptly articulated. And with a media whose bias is more toward conflict (be it stupid or substantive) than left or right, and an online space that prizes speed over accuracy, citizens had increasingly fewer arbiters of a common political reality. As an Obama 2008 staffer distressingly noted, “research from campaigns has essentially replaced investigative reporting.”

But perhaps the defining feature of marketing strategy in 2012 has been the sophisticated use of voter data and statistical modeling to persuade and mobilize the electorate. Between hypertargeting via browser cookies and extensive online tracking operations, there is a potential for the granular customization of politics: “Two people in the same house could get different messages… Not only will the message change, the type of content will change,” boasted Romney’s digital director. Moreover, many of those political messages may well deliberately filter in through social networks, both online and off, as campaigns strategize “if, say, a phone call from a distant cousin or new friend would be more likely prompt the urge to cast a ballot.”

As I argue in Your Ad Here, my forthcoming book from NYU Press, the commercial side of the marketing industry has been grappling with many of these patterns and initiatives for years: faster communication environments, fragmenting audience niches, and grassroots scheming through social media. Tomorrow’s winner may well have navigated these challenges successfully through the election season, but the game changes on November 7. You can campaign in poetry in less than 140 characters; governing in prose takes a wider medium.

Michael Serazio is Assistant Professor of Communication at Fairfield University and the author of Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerrilla Marketing (NYU Press, 2013).

Why would anyone confess to something they didn’t do?

—David A. Harris

For years, I, like most people, did not believe that a person would ever confess to a serious crime he or she didn’t commit. It just seemed implausible: admitting to a crime meant you were subjecting yourself to punishment—maybe decades in prison or even death. There’s no way you’d do that unless it were true (or you were forced into it).

Of course, with DNA on the scene for more than 20 years, we know better: people do confess to crimes they did not commit, usually because of the huge pressures brought to bear on them in the interrogation room. According to the Innocence Project, about a quarter of the post-conviction DNA-based exonerations on record featured a false confession, or a false statement of guilt of some kind.

Here’s a story that makes a good example of how and why this can happen. In this case, a man named Richard Lapointe falsely confessed to a rape and murder, serving 23 years in prison as a result. Now, a court has ruled that he must receive a new trial. The flaws of Lapointe’s interrogation puts many of the major causes of false confessions on display. For example:

  • The interrogation was not recorded. Recording of interrogations can reduce false confessions and supply an indisputable record of what was said in the interrogation room.
  • The police lied to Lapointe about falsified scientific evidence. Police are allowed to lie in interrogations, but lies about scientific and forensic testing make prison seem inescapable, forcing the suspect to tell the police what they want to hear in order to stop the pressure.
  • The interrogation continued for about nine hours, far longer than average. This increases the chances of a false confession.
  • Lapointe was brain damaged, and the police knew it. Mental disabilities make false confessions more likely.

Lapointe’s case is an object lesson in what can go wrong—and what we should be doing to make sure this doesn’t happen. We should record all interrogations, front to back; prohibit lying to suspects about test results; and limit the interrogation time to two hours, with extensions—perhaps to four hours—only with a supervisor’s permission. These simple steps can keep us from hearing more stories like Lapointe’s in the future.

David A. Harris is Distinguished Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing and Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work and Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science (NYU Press, 2012).

This article first appeared on the author’s blog. Read more here.

Chinese growth and happiness

—Peter N. Stearns

Recent surveys on Chinese life satisfaction provide yet another indication of the fraught relationship between modern development and overall happiness. The New York Times report by Richard Easterlin—always one of our most interesting social scientists—shows pretty clearly that stupendous growth in the overall economy and in consumption standards over the past two decades has not only not generated corresponding increases in reported satisfaction, but has actually accompanied a decline. Results plummeted as growth accelerated in the 1990s, then picked up a bit in the past few years but without recovering 1990 levels.

Happiness is a tricky thing to measure, of course, and it’s interesting that the Easterlin terminology alternates between happiness and life satisfaction, which are not necessarily exactly the same things. Comparative studies suggest that happiness is a tricky concept in East Asian cultures (in contrast to the West and Latin America), but this would not per se distort findings over time within the same culture.

It’s certainly nice to see a discussion of Chinese issues free from our common impulse to bash or gloat. This is a nervous time for mutual U.S. and Chinese perceptions, and we often distort problems in an effort to feel better—happier?—about China’s impressive surge. (Here’s a scary thought: How much has American happiness come to depend on claims we’re better than others, regardless of data?)

But the Easterlin findings do suggest a couple of further thoughts about happiness and modernity:

First, the findings are absolutely unsurprising in any historical perspective. China is still in relatively early phases of industrial maturation. I don’t think there is any record of any society in a similar phase in which happiness does not decline. Of course we lack the polling data for the past that we now enjoy, so my assertion can’t be fully proved. But the major source of outright decline in China rests among the bottom third of the population, faced with massive change including introduction to factory work conditions and encounters with urban life even as attachments to the countryside remain strong. This sounds eerily familiar to historians who have worked on Britain’s—or Germany’s, or Japan’s—industrial surge—or even the United States’s in its period of massive industrial immigration. This doesn’t detract from the Easterlin findings, or prevent us from hoping that the Chinese will more quickly figure out how to do things better. But it does remind us—regardless of our views on the benefits and drawbacks of more fully achieved modern economies—that modernization has always come with a price.

Which means that, in evaluating modernity more generally, the more interesting Easterlin finding may be the only moderate improvement in satisfaction among the upper third of the Chinese population. These folks are not facing the worst strains of the process. They are by definition more prosperous, and often more accustomed to urban conditions. Yet even they are not jumping with joy.

Easterlin concludes that the Chinese data point to the important of beefing up the safety net, to provide fuller protections for the poorer classes: more job security, better health care, more help for children and the elderly. And he uses his findings to warn Americans about tolerating too much further deterioration in our own nets. I don’t disagree, and would only add a plea for attention to environmental safety nets as well.

But there is probably more than safety nets involved, which is where the upper third comes in—and where we can also draw some lessons for ourselves. We know that, reflected in the Chinese case, a first turn to consumerism increases happiness but that the surge is often moderate and that it’s always finite: further improvements don’t help. China may be facing not only safety net issues but also broader concerns about finding value and meaning in modern life. And here, though there may be more specifically Chinese factors involved, they clearly join the modern throng.

For although modernized societies tend to be happier than nonmodern, the gap is variable and not, on the whole, as great as might be expected given standard of living gains. Here is where, along with safety net repair, Chinese and American observers unquestionably find common ground. We all need to be thinking about improving our management of modern success at both social and personal levels. We need to seize opportunities to share insights and learn from mutual experience. More and more of us, obviously, are in the modern boat together, and we can probably figure out how to steer it better.

Peter N. Stearns is Provost and University Professor at George Mason University. He is the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Social History, and author of Satisfaction Not Guaranteed: Dilemmas of Progress in Modern Society (NYU Press, 2012).