Sunday, in which the tangents are many.

November 28, 2010

Alright, so it begins. A week’s worth of keeping track of media use. I’ll be honest, I believe myself to be pretty aware of my media habits already. It’s hard not to be when you go to graduate school as a mass communication student. So I am not entirely sure I am going to come to any startling realizations when all is said and done. I state this now so that, in a week’s time when I come to a startling realization, we can all look back to this post and laugh at my presumptuous posturing. Oh, that Alan. What a goon.

Last night, I went to bed at about 5:30 in the morning. Get used to reading this sort of thing. I actually wasn’t entirely sure whether I should be tracking my habits from midnight to midnight or wait till I woke up. Ultimately, I decided to just wait till I awoke today, which was just after 1 p.m.

As has been my habit since I got it about a month ago, I started up my iPod Touch while lying in bed and scanned the BBC and NYT news apps to see the latest headlines. Apparently, Japan is aping the U.S. and doing their own stimulus package for their economy, Ireland is getting a bailout from the European Union, Korea is still a powder keg, and Mohamed Mohamud was a “perfectly normal guy” according to another student in his high school. Oh, and the US army thinks making robots for war is a fabulous idea.

Naturally, I think this a fantastic idea as well, and I hope that our future robot leaders will remember my support after the coming robo-pocalypse.

After my news needs were somewhat satiated, I got up and prepared for my morning afternoon run. I listen to music while running, not only for entertainment, but as a way to help keep track of time. I tend to listen to admittedly generic trance with terribly banal lyrics. It’s awesome. Can’t get enough of that stuff.

Lately, I’ve been running to the music of Sota Fujimori, a Japanese game composer for Konami Computer Entertainment of Japan. He’s incredibly talented in that he can pretty much write the exact same song 30 times and still entertain me with it. Or it might be that I have no taste in music whatsoever. Nevertheless, I’ve followed the guy for like ten years, so there you go.

Amusingly, he also likes to include samples that spell out his name in the middle of his songs. It’s charmingly narcissistic. It’d be like if I arranged all the first letters of the paragraphs in my blog post to spell out my name over and over again.

No way that I’d do something like that, though. I mean, what kind of self-serving sycophant do you take me for?

Anyway, I returned home after my run and, after a quick shower, ate lunch while perusing the gaming blog Kotaku, which Donny mentioned in class last week. I also took a look at my email, Facebook and Twitter accounts to see what was going on there. Then I went to Youtube to see if any of the channels I subscribe to had anything new up. They totally hadn’t, which I think is terribly inconsiderate. I mean, what am I supposed to do without my free entertainment? My self-entitlement was rankled severely by this turn of events.

Leering at the Youtube screen was getting me nowhere, so I decided to open up Word and start writing this very post you are reading now. How meta. I was excited to start writing, mainly because I had come up with that whole A-L-A-N paragraph thing while listening to Sota on my run and thought myself terribly clever.

As you can see, I very easily impress myself. The standards are pretty low.

Noting that I had pretty much caught up to the events of the present, I figured I’d have to move on to other things. It was about this time that a good friend of mine contacted me via AIM about the BBC offering some of their shows on the Playstation Network for free download. I had actually read this story on Kotaku earlier, and remarked back that I wasn’t terribly interested since the shows they mentioned, Top Gear and Dr. Who, are not shows I follow. I actually don’t follow much TV at all, but you’ll come to realize this soon enough. (Spoilers.)

As such, I decided to move on to working on my website project for MMC 5015. It’s mostly come together, but I still need to proofread and clean up some of the code. So I’m going to do that right now. In the present. Which will be in the past to those of you reading it. But is the present for me. Which means I need to stop typing this paragraph and come back to this later. Which I will. Or already did. I’m so confused.

Luckily, I get over this pretty quickly and proceed to spend the next few hours fixing things on the site. This also involved a fair amount of talking to people on AIM, checking Twitter, looking things up in my textbook and playing more trance music. Not any web browsing, though. I know better than traveling down that slippery slope of no return. The site I’m creating is about a Japanese music game series and how to play it. Since I’ve spent about a month working on it and talking about this game, my desire to yammer about it here is approximately equal to my desire to leap off a cliff.

Although I will mention that I actually emailed and received permission from the game’s publisher and developer to take photos and video from the game to put on my site. Which, to be honest, I didn’t really expect. But it means I’m totally legit. Which, in and of itself, is totally hilarious.

Nothing particularly exciting happens from here on out. During dinner, I read my friend Robbie’s latest rant/hopeful post about the ‘Canes (which is a testament to his writing skill, given I do not care in the slightest about college football) and a very inspirational story about how charming a place Gainesville can be. I then switched gears to focus on finding things to talk about for this Wednesday’s class presentation. I’d talk about the things I looked up, but that would just ruin the surprise.

And I know you’re all just so looking forward to it. (I apologize in advance.)

Laboring tirelessly for this class that I love so much, I eventually decided that I’d done enough for one day. I did some tweeting and checked Facebook and my mail again. I also responded to some made-up words my friend played on Words With Friends, which he does with alarming frequency, and pondered on what exactly I am supposed to do with the letters I, I, U, U and O. It’s pretty much been this way the entire game. It cannot end soon enough.

Alas, I feel as though this entry is way too long already, and it’s getting fairly close to midnight, so I imagine I will be cutting it at that magic hour. Though I will most likely be awake for several more hours, I can pretty much tell you that they will be taken up with Failblog and probably starting up Dragon Quest IX, which I picked up on the cheap during Black Friday.

Nevertheless, I shall see you all (meaning just Professor McAdams, since who else would subject themselves to this?) tomorrow. Who knows what mysteries await us during the Cyberist of all Mondays? (Answer: none. The deals all look really lame thus far.)


Hanging a “privacy” sign outside this blog post’s door

November 25, 2010

I have to say, the questions for this week’s blog entry travel into rather murky waters. I suppose this is mainly the case because they all seemingly ask for straight-up yes/no responses, as if the arguments surrounding them are clearly black or white affairs with no room for any gray.

They can’t possibly be that simple, though. We’re all graduate students here. We have an inborn desire to make everything much more complicated than that. With that in mind, let’s write several hundred words and yet somehow not really arrive at any conclusions. For science!

1) Do employers have the right to know what their employees do when they are not working? Why or why not?

Maybe. See,  I’ve already totally failed to answer the question. This post is going to be awesome.

Sanderson (2009) argued strongly for the rights of privacy for athletes, and that ostensibly extends to the rest of the population as well. He stated that “what Greg Oden, Matt Leinart, Josh Howard, or any other professional athlete does in his or her private life (short of criminal activity) should be outside the organization’s purview” (p. 248). That pretty much covers his particular view on the matter, doesn’t it? Nice and clear-cut. Well, except there’s that whole parenthesis part.

See? This is the whole problem with yes/no questions. Even the people who are totally on one side end up adding conditions. As soon as that can of worms opens up, there’s no going back. Now we have to ask “what does criminal activity consist of?” Should we be running to the sports organizations, ready to tattle at the first sign of a speeding ticket?  “Oh hey, Superstar X is doing back flips at the park after receiving that reportedly severe back injury during last week’s game. Well, I guess that’s not technically illega- OH MAN, HE JUST LITTERED! It’s game time.”

It’d be easy to answer this question by saying something trite like, “Well, if what the employee says or does would affect the company negatively in some way, then yeah, the company surely has the right to know. But otherwise, we deserve our privacy.” But this answer doesn’t satisfy me in the least, because while it’s as correct an answer as I think we can honestly arrive to, it’s not particularly practical. There’s not some magic filter that companies can press on Facebook that reads “only really stupid things your employees say that affect the company will come through this feed, but everything else will be super top-secret.” We live in the social media age. Twitter, Facebook and Youtube are omnipresent and ready to catch all your dirty secrets and air them for everyone to see. So don’t be blatant, or hide under the bed for the rest of your life.

Man, I’m totally going over the word limit on this one. I’m also rambling. Oh well, good thing this isn’t going to be saved on some server somewhere for forever. That sure would be embarrassing.

2) Can these cases with professional athletes be applied to (or compared with) other types of employees – such as lawyers, teachers, advertising sales reps, etc. Why or why not?

My initial response to this question was going to focus on how they cannot be compared given the financial situation. Sanderson said that “sports organizations invest exorbitant sums of money in professional athletes in exchange for athletic skills that generate large revenue streams for them, thereby positioning athletes as a commodity that the organization uses to increase its value” (p. 244). The more money a company has tied into a particular person, the more they are going to care about what that person does. This, in and of itself, creates a substantial difference between the situation of a professional athlete, who can make millions, and a teacher, who…  uh…  gets a lot of satisfaction from their work, I’m sure.

That’s not to say the educational institution a teacher works at isn’t going to care if said teacher is “behaving in a manner unsuitable for their profession,” whatever that means. However, I believe there can be less scrutiny on a teacher by the sheer virtue of their lack of fame. (Except, of course, to their no-doubt adoring students.) Sanderson stated that “the interactivity with professional athletes that many fans crave might in actuality be strategically used by sports organizations to monitor and protect their investments in professional athletes” (p. 249). When sports stars are sighted in public, people gravitate towards them and want to see what they’re doing. When a teacher is sighted in public, their students usually flee in the opposite direction in terror. (At least this was my experience when bumping into my students outside of school).

But the point stands, figures who are not “famous” to the world can at least take solace in the fact that those outside their community will most likely not care at all about their actions. Unless they do something spectacular that lands them on Failblog. In which case, let me thank you in advance for the free entertainment.

Wow, I sort of answered the question that time. We’ll see how long this lasts.

3) Should people be concerned about the location tracking capabilities discussed by Abe? Do these technologies have negative aspects?

Ah, the Car-Navi system. Abe (2009) wasn’t kidding about these “becoming more and more popular in Japan” (p. 77). Every single car I bummed a ride in while living in Japan had one of these things. Of course, so many people have GPS devices in their cars here in the States now too, so I guess it’s not all that culturally specific.

Honestly, I’d have to say that this is a buyer-beware sort of thing. If you’re afraid of Big Brother in the Sky seeing just how often you’re driving to McDonalds to stock up on the McRib since it’s totally a limited time offer, then you really shouldn’t be buying a GPS device. And I’m afraid Abe’s argument that people are not “aware… that their engagement with interactive media makes the surveillance of communication much easier and more pervasive” simply doesn’t hold water for me here (p. 76). I mean, the thing is a GPS device. You know… Global Positioning System. It’s in the freaking name!

Could it be used for negative purposes? I’m sure it could. Maybe McDonalds is cyber-stalking me at this very moment, wondering why I haven’t stopped by in such a long time. To which I would respond, “because the McRib is really gross.” Nevertheless, it’s not something I would worry all that much about. But if you do, that’s cool. Don’t get one! Go buy your McRibs with wild abandon!

Actually, don’t do that. I mean, really, what is even in those things?

4) Does Abe’s argument about hospitality make sense to you in the context of online surveillance? Why or why not?

Sweet, this is a question I totally have a solid answer for.

No, Abe’s argument about hospitality made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. I really, truly, had no idea what on Earth he was trying to say. It was like he slipped back into Japanese there and I was just nodding politely with an expressionless face at the last five pages of the article.

Alright! That was the best question ever!

Man, where do we begin. Abe said that “the basic attitude that characterizes the logic of surveillance is being suspicious and intolerant of others. Trying to be tolerant of strangers might be more productive than the intolerant attitude, backed by ambiguous fear and suspicion of others, which is becoming strong in surveillance societies” (p. 83).

You know what else is “backed by an ambiguous fear and suspicion of others”? Abe’s entire article. Yeah, I said it. I totally went there. Again, thankfully this won’t be preserved on the web for Kiyoshi Abe to find and get really angry at me over. Boy, would my face be red.

Seriously though, I don’t understand Abe’s point about hospitality. He asks “is it impossible for us to make not paternalistic but rather egalitarian, open and indiscriminative relationship [sic] with unknown strangers” (p. 84). But why would I want to do that? You just spent a dozen pages describing how, by using interactive media, I’m opening myself to being spied upon every moment of my waking life.

Am I to understand that it is the organization that is evil, but the individual is ok? Abe states that “people engage with interactive media in their private life believing them to be just useful tools. But they do not know how, and to what extent, these can be used for collecting personal data and policing the activities of users by third parties” (p. 78). Can’t these third parties just as easily be the complete strangers you are telling me to invite with open arms? Doesn’t this seem contrary to what you’ve advocating? And why am I answering this question with so many questions?

I’m afraid that while Abe’s talk about a more hospitable world is certainly a noble aspiration, I felt it came completely out of left field given everything he stated before.

Well, alright then. This was blog post 12. We made it! We had a few laughs. Shed some tears. And maybe even learned a little bit.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And with that, I bid you all…

Wait, what do you mean I have a week’s worth of Media Diaries to write? That can’t possibly be…

Well, shoot.

“Crowdsourcing” is the new “Angry Mob with Pitchforks”

November 11, 2010

I decided to examine what Muthukumaraswamy (2010) referred to as the “wisdom of crowds in general-interest reporting by recruiting generalists and experts” (p. 54). I suppose we can just get this out of the way now and say that is one clunky subtitle. Recruiting generalists for general-interest reporting, eh? What a generally general gesture.

To be fair, I understand what he is trying to say, and it’s not incorrect. However, it doesn’t really tell us as much as it could. In the events of this example, we have the failings of a bureaucratic system, the outrage of citizens that are being forced to pay for it, and an extraordinary collaborative operation by the citizens and the press to set things right.

Now, I’m no expert titleologist, but even something like “Citizen collaboration, from amateur to expert, aids investigative journalism” would at least be descriptive of what transpired.

When I took a look at the News-Press site, I found it difficult to find much evidence of the work the citizens did. I found links to stories written by the journalists, and a navigation menu to the documents that were examined, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t get a concrete idea of what was actually crowdsourced and by whom.

Nevertheless, I did find some helpful links to provide more context to the story than was found in Muthukumaraswamy’s summary.

Wired had a story on the restructuring of Gannett to be more crowdsource-friendly. In the story, they mention the events that took place in Cape Coral and they laud it as a “prominent example” of engaging the audience by having them be a part of the story. Kate Marymount, editor-in-chief of News-Press, is quoted in the story as saying “rather than start a long investigation and come out months later in the paper with our findings we asked our readers to help us find out why the cost was so exorbitant” (para. 10).

I think that the fact that Marymount refers to the call for crowdsourcing as a tool for investigative journalism is something that Muthukumaraswamy missed out expanding on. He refers to this case as “general-interest reporting,” but I don’t think that quite fits with what actually occurred. This wasn’t “general-interest.” It was a very specific interest, for the citizens, and they were trying to determine why their rates were being raised. Muthukumaraswamy even states that “residents conducted their own investigations before reporting their findings on discussion forums and posting documents online” (p. 54).

Speaking of documents, I was able to locate highlights of the leaked audit report. Looking over it, I could immediately understand why people were angry. It lists out, in clear language, all the missteps that the city performed in contracting out the work for the new utilities system. It also highlights how Kessler, the auditing organization, was not given all the documents they requested.

To add further insult to injury, News Press also had the city’s response to the audit, and it… well, it’s not all that surprising. But it sure is infuriating! They pretty much don’t acknowledge any fault, with the one exception of “partially concurring” with the finding that the city was paying the some subcontractors as their own employees rather than as “temporary agency labor,” causing additional expense.

I also wanted to add that there were a few call-to-arms editorials such as this that no doubt contributed to the crowdsourcing effort. News Press also provides a crowdsourcing forum to help in organizing efforts.

Ultimately, I believe the Cape Coral case is a good example of what can be achieved when the media utilizes crowdsourcing as a resource. Muthukumaraswamy cites Jeff Howe as stating that “crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call” (pp. 48-49). This is exactly what News-Press did, as stated by Marymount. They knew there was an issue. They knew it would take a lot of time sifting through government documents and talking to officials to figure out what exactly was going on. So, instead of taking several months to get to the point that they’d have some answers, they enlisted the people who were directly affected by the issue to get the job done.

And by all accounts, they did. Muthukumaraswamy stated that “crowds are willing to offer their services so long as news organizations can come up with workable methods to ‘ask’ them. People can provide good eyes and ears, but the job of putting together a story is that of the journalist” (p. 58). News Press put the information online. They got the word out. The citizens responded, poured over the documents, and told News-Press, and each other, what they found. The end results was that their fees were cut and one city official resigned. (Too bad it was only one.)

I really like the idea of crowdsourcing. I think that there are a lot of journalists that are, for lack of a better phrase, freaking out over the idea that their jobs are being taken over by “that guy with the iPhone and the blog.” Muthukumaraswamy mentions how some reporters at News-Press took some time “to overcome the idea that their citizen counterparts were hostile competitors” (p. 54). But that’s a shortsighted way of looking at things. When both sides worked together, they were able to produce a result more powerful and more timely than either could have done separately.

Why I should never make a remix

November 6, 2010

Seriously, this is pretty terrible.

At any rate, I enjoyed RIP: A Remix Manifesto. However, after being preached to for an hour-and-a-half about how everything deserves to be shared, I couldn’t help but think about how many pirates out there don’t share. How they would gladly flock to this “remix manifesto” with a self-righteous fervor that is entirely hypocritical. I don’t have any numbers to back this up, but I would strongly suspect that most people who pirate things are not doing so with any intention of remixing or contributing back to society in any way.

They just want free stuff. We all want free stuff.

But is that really a good reason to pirate things? To be honest, I don’t think it is.

Searching with Context

October 28, 2010

I’ll admit it. I don’t really understand the dark, mysterious, and intricate workings of search engines.

I fully appreciate their ability to grant me an infinite supply of entertainment when I type in “lolcatz” but, beyond that, I’ve never cared to learn how they perform their voodoo magic.

However, after reading the Nielson and Johnson articles for this week, one of the first things that popped into my head was the idea of a community-driven search engine.

Johnson (2010) talked a bit about how important links are becoming. He mentioned that they have:

value for consumers searching for information, value for advertisers trying to share their messages with consumers searching for related topics, value for content creators who want an audience. And of course, value to the entity that serves as the middleman between all those different groups. This is in part what Jeff Jarvis has called the ‘link economy,’ but as Jarvis has himself observed, it is not just a matter of links. What is crucial to this system is that text can be easily moved and re-contextualized and analyzed, sometimes by humans and sometimes by machines. (para. 13).

However, it seems as though search engines are largely composed through automated processes. Barker and Kupersmith (2010) stated that:

search engine databases are selected and built by computer robot programs called spiders. These ‘crawl’ the web, finding pages for potential inclusion by following the links in the pages they already have in their database. They cannot use imagination or enter terms in search boxes that they find on the web. (para. 6).

As such, these programs that so many people depend upon daily seem to have little input from their users.

Social media is everywhere these days. Facebook has built-in integration with many services on the Internet, allowing users to easily share links, provide comments and give feedback to those on their networks. Perhaps, taken a step further, this type of interface could be applied with search engine results on a global scale. Allowing users to provide feedback on the accuracy or usefulness of the links provided in a given search could aid significantly in increasing relevant search results.

This sort of idea has been explored before. Google Image Labeler, a “game” where users compete to try to label photos with relevant descriptions, was designed with the idea of generating better image search results. Joel (2007) said that:

Google can call them ‘labels’ but what they are actually asking their users to do is help them to ‘tag’ images. Tagging images will prime us for the Semantic Web (some people call this Web 3.0). The more we tag items (images, audio, text, video, etc_) the more we are helping to organize the Web based off of non-computer algorithms. (para. 7).

No offense to all the computer algorithms out there (who will probably boycott adding this page to any search engines), but I think that last point is pretty important. By allowing a sort of scoring system on links as pertaining to certain keyword searches, users could identify which links are most pertinent to their purposes based on the opinions of other users who performed similar searches.

Nielsen (2010) mentioned how well the scoring system worked with the Mathworks competition. He reported that:

there is an absolute, objective measure of success that’s immediately available – the score. The score acts as a signal telling every competitor where the best ideas are. This helps the community aggregate all the best ideas into a fantastic final product. (para. 5).

A search engine that has been vetted in a similar fashion, by the people actually looking over a site and determining its usefulness, could deliver a similarly polished result.

According to Bell (2010), Google:

plans to introduce social-networking elements this fall in ‘layers’ instead of a full-on product that has been called Google Me. (para. 1).

With such an infrastructure in place, a search-engine that builds upon the databases collected by our friendly, neighborhood spider-algorithms using user-generated feedback doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Inactive Activism

October 13, 2010

I compared the League of Women Voters of the U.S. website to and tried to determine whether or not I could see increased democratic action on the part of the users of both sites. In a lot of ways, the sites were similar to one another. Both sites had equally simple layouts, with navigation bars at the top where users could DONATE (which was always prominent), learn about the organization, and join. Given my research interests, I couldn’t help but notice that both had links to their Facebook pages prominently displayed as well.

One key difference I did notice regarding joining was that provided little information in local communities. A user could input their zip code to be taken to a page that listed the closest “MoveOn Council Network,” gave how many members were a part of that network, and provided an ominous “Join Council” button. Sorry, MoveOn. I just learned about your existence. I’m not that keen on “Joining your Council” so abruptly without a bit more info than what you’re telling me.

The League of Women Voters, however, provided a way to “find a league” near you. Users could click on their state to find a list of counties, upon which you would be taken to that county’s website. Alachua county’s League of Women Voters site, while extremely barebones, was up-to-date and did include information about their activities and where to attend.

The difference between the two in aiding users to take action locally struck me because it was an important point brought up by Rohlinger and Brown. They stated that “the Internet… can buffer the risks associated with activism and, as individuals became more comfortable with speaking out in a hostile political climate, move individuals from the armchair to the street” (p. 134). seemed more preoccupied with collecting money than from getting people on the street. And collecting money in a way that could totally be done from an armchair, I may add.

Rohlinger and Brown bring up the point about activism being potentially dangerous after 9/11 and talk at length about the “three risks” involved, including being seen as unpatriotic, legal and professional repercussions, and family safety (p. 141). However, I did not feel any sense of urgency or call to action from either or LMV. There are some possibly explanations here, including a change in political climate or the fact that LMV is a self-proclaimed nonpartisan group whose main activities involve educating people about the election process.

While both sites do serve as hubs for those interested in learning (very) little about specific issues, I don’t think they live up to the full potential Rohlinger and Brown believe they should. They found that “MoveOn provided a free space away from the direct control of dominant groups in which they could articulate an oppositional point of view” (p. 143). I don’t see how this articulation takes place when there are no forums, no comments, and a very limited way to find local communities. LMV was a bit better in that last point, but they also didn’t seem to have much in the way of communication features on their site. For sites ostensibly designed to spark activity, the only thing both made me want to do was go to sleep.

What I didn’t learn about Political Knowledge via The Daily Show

October 7, 2010

I don’t really watch television in my daily life. I don’t get cable (or even basic broadcast channels), and while I am aware of Hulu, and have even made use of it on a few occasions, I generally just don’t make time for it. I have seen The Daily Show a few times though, and I have generally enjoyed it for what it is, so I did look forward to having an excuse to watch it for the assignment.

The two episodes I chose to watch were the October 6th episode and the October 4th episode. There wasn’t really a grueling selection process for these particular episodes. I watched the October 6th one because it was on the main page already and played automatically, and I watched the October 4th episode because I saw that Stewart was going to address the whole Rick Sanchez debacle and I was curious.

In terms of the content covered, the October 6th episode talked about the upcoming Senate elections and poked fun at several of the candidates. The guest, Philip Dray, spoke about labor unions and their history in the U.S. The October 4th episode featured Stewart’s reaction to Sanchez’s comments, which have been discussed in plenty of other news media. Stewart also poked fun at the media’s coverage of his actions and how he addressed the issue at a charity event he attended. The guest for this episode was Sam Harris, who spoke about his book on morality and science.

After watching both episodes, I went to the Google News link provided in the class blog and proceeded to browse the headlines for approximately 20 minutes. These were the stories that caught my attention enough to actually click on the links provided:

This Wall Street Journal article was about social network start-up tips that could be gleaned from the movie The Social Network. This was the first link I clicked and, as I did so, I was particularly cognizant of the fact that this topic was based more on my own research interests than it was from anything discussed in The Daily Show episodes I watched.

This New York Times article talked about how a judge ruled that the health care law is constitutional, and how this was the first time a federal judge had done so. Again, nothing related to The Daily Show content I had just viewed.

This was an Ars Technica article talking about Google TV. I haven’t read much on Google TV, but I’ve seen people discussing it via Twitter and that piqued my interest in this post. The article focused on the high cost, lack of options in terms of controllers, and the clunky design as some of the problems with the device. As I’ve already stated I’m not much of a TV person, I suppose we can chalk up my interest in this article solely to my Twitter network’s influence, but not due to The Daily Show.

This Wall Street Journal article was on banning the use of food stamps to buy soda. My interest here came solely from my personal love of all fizzy drinks and from my lack of knowledge on how food stamps work. Of course, I couldn’t read much since I don’t actually subscribe to the Wall Street Journal online, but it was interesting nonetheless. I wonder what other edible items are banned from being purchased with food stamps?

The CBS news article discussed how the Chilean miners, having been stuck for over seven weeks, may finally be escaping in a few days. I remember this being a huge story when it first occurred, but I realized as I saw this headline that I hadn’t seen anything about it for what seems like a while. I’m glad they’re finally getting out of there.

This NYT FiveThirtyEight blog post on the Senate Race broke down how Republican and Democrat candidates are faring in various states. This topic was actually talked about in one of The Daily Show episodes I watched, and this was the primary reason I clicked on it. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. I’m not entirely sure I clicked it out of any interest in getting further knowledge on the topic, or if I did so just because I was excited to actually see something related to what I had just watched. I had spent about 15 minutes browsing stories at this point, so I knew I was going to be wrapping things up. So I largely suspect the latter, though I did have some interest in seeing a more expanded view, since The Daily Show coverage of the topic was pretty brief.

At first glance, the results of my experience seem to go against what the majority of Xenos and Becker’s (2009) respondents showed. They stated that “the first study provided support for the notion that political comedy can stimulate subsequent attentiveness to news media content among less politically interested viewers” (p. 329). Yet, all my attention was drawn to topics I either had previous interest or knowledge of (that were not from a comedy show), or things that were brought to my attention from Twitter. Only one of the six links I read through had any relation to the episodes of The Daily Show I watched, and my motives for looking at that link are somewhat suspect.

That being said, I don’t necessarily disagree with many of the points Xenos and Becker were setting out to test. According to Braum (2003), “soft news outlets are in the business of making information highly accessible. This makes such information easier for politically unsophisticated consumers to understand and, hence, presumably more appealing to them” (p. 180). It’s that whole “Make Learning Fun” idea, just in fancier language. We always hear so much about how younger generations are not interested in the news, yet we can see the popularity that shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report employ. As Braum stated, ” attentiveness to soft news coverage of political issues may facilitate ‘learning,’ in the sense of providing heuristic cues that help people to make reasoned political judgments, without significantly increasing the volume of factual political knowledge that individuals who are uninterested in politics store in memory” (p. 174). So, I think there is definitely value to these shows, although I would not be so quick to recommend them as a substitute for more traditional hard news sources. Whether they actually are becoming a substitute for many viewers, however, is another question entirely.