Category Archives: Social Media

Predicting a Future With Covid-19

Predicting a future with covid. Barrymoltz.com photo

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

“Life as we know it” is a phrase used so blithely and innocently in the past, before the coronavirus ushered in a global pandemic that turned life as we know it into a big mystery.

How long will this deadly disease continue to stalk the world’s population? How many more cases? How many more deaths? Can it be cured or treated?  So far, there are more questions than answers.

In such uncertain times, humans respond by turning to an age-old tendency to divine the future with crystal balls, Ouija Boards, sorcerers, fortune-tellers and prophets. Today we call them predictions.

It’s always interesting to hear what people believe is in store for us. We normally get such reports at the advent of a new year, or the arrival of something totally unexpected.

One thing is certain: The disease already is changing life as we know it.

The AARP Bulletin appears to be among the first to make predictions on how life will change in the wake of this outbreak.

“Just a few months of life within the coronavirus pandemic has caused almost every business leader, researcher and planner to thoroughly rethink the future of America and how it will work for older Americans,” reports AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

Americans might rethink past pleasures, like leisurely browsing in stores. Or living in a small apartment in a congested city. Or going to a ballgame with 50,000 others in the stadium. Or going to crowded restaurants. Taking frequent vacations. Or use public transportation.

                                           Goodbye to handshakes

One epidemiologist, says AARP, predicts that handshakes will be retired, possibly for good. They said nothing about elbow-bumps. Others predict that downsizing retirees will choose less populated areas. Hyperattention to cleaning will be the new normal in aircraft, office buildings and wherever people gather.

It’s too early for a full exploration of how the pandemic will change future behavior, customs and policies. The coronavirus pandemic took the world by surprise, despite warnings from some scientists.

But this is a good time to consider whether past predictions by some of the smartest people in the world thought a pandemic or something like it was looming. For that, it’s worth looking at two reports delving 50 years into the future.

“What Will the World Be Like in 50 Years? 19 Futuristic Predictions,” appeared in Bustle.com in June, 2014, written by Seth Millstein.

“Predicting the future is tricky business,” allowed Millstein. “And while attempting to project decades into the future is damn-near impossible, plenty of people attempt to do so on the regular regardless. They’re called futurists, and it’s their job to predict what the world will look like in hundreds of years from now and beyond.”

Many predictions are comically off-base, wrote Millstein. The New York Times in 1920 proclaimed that “a rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere,” while Variety insisted in 1955 that rock and roll was merely a fad, and would “be gone by June.”

                                   Predictions by leading minds

Millstein went on to list 19 predictions by some of the leading minds. Right at the top was, “disease will be more common, as everybody will be physically closer to everyone else….” Though a pandemic was not mentioned specifically, the prediction touched on the spread of disease and scored a point for the futurists.

Also touching on health, the report said going to a doctor for a checkup will not be necessary in the future. Run a scanner over your body and results will be forwarded to a health network.

Futurists commented on global warming, population growth and technological advances.

The pandemic clashes with two of the predictions: That a majority of people will live in cities and that air travel “will be exponentially more awesome.” The coronavirus already is putting a damper on those expectations as people flee crowded urban areas with high virus death rates and avoid sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on aircraft without social distancing. Disease is reversing those trends, at least for now.

All of us are racing toward what is blithely called “the new normal,” which is yet to be fully defined.

                                         Future of digital life

Another fifty-year forecast, practically on the eve of the pandemic, looked at the future of digital life.

“Fifty years after the first computer network was connected, most experts say digital life will mostly change humans’ existence for the better over the next 50 years,” wrote Kathleen Stansberry, Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie, in October, 2019. “However, they warn this will happen only if people embrace reforms allowing better cooperation, security, basic rights and economic fairness.”

Their report is based on work by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imaging the Internet Center. They asked 530 experts how lives might be affected by the evolution of the internet over the next 50 years. They included technology pioneers, innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists.

Disease is not specifically mentioned, but one finding involved living longer and feeling better. “Internet-enabled technology will help people live longer and healthier lives. Scientific advances will continue to blur the line between human and machine,” said the report.

Artificial intelligence is expected to take over repetitive, unsafe and physically taxing labor, leaving humans with more time for leisure, a claim made since the beginning of the technological revolution.

                                Hopeful and worrisome visions

The report is broken down into hopeful visions and worrisome visions. Among the hopeful visions:

* Digital life will be tailored to each user.

* A fully networked world will enhance opportunities for global collaboration, cooperation and community development, unhindered by distances, language or time.

* Expanded internet access could lead to further disruption of existing social and political power structures, potentially reducing inequality and empowering individuals.

Among the worrisome visions:

* The divide between haves and have-nots will grow as a privileged few hoard the economic, health and educational benefits of digital expansion.

* A powerful elite will control the Internet and use it to monitor and manipulate, while providing entertainment that keeps the masses distracted and complacent.

* Personal privacy will be an archaic, outdated concept, as humans willingly trade discretion for improved healthcare, entertainment opportunities and promises of security.

* Digital life lays you bare. It can inspire a loss of trust, often earns too much trust and regularly requires that you take the plunge even though you have absolutely no trust.

* The future of humans is inextricably connected to the future of the natural world. Without drastic measure to reduce environment degradation, the very existence of human life in 50 years is in question.

Some 72% of the respondents say there would be change for the better, 25% say there would be change for the worse and 3% believe there would be no significant change.

                              Updated predictions needed

The coronavirus was not yet loose in the world when this report came out. It might have changed perceptions and predictions.

Among those responding to the survey was John McNutt, a professor in the school of public policy and administration at the University of Delaware. He said:

“Not every technology is a good idea, and every advance should be carefully considered in terms of its consequence. On balance, technology has made much human progress possible. This is likely to continue. We will always have false starts and bad ideas. People will misuse technology, sometimes in horrific ways. In the end, human progress is based on creating a future underpinned by knowledge, not ignorance.”

It’s not a matter of good or bad outcomes, argues Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, but rather “how will we shape the outcome, which is currently indeterminate?”

Fiona Kerr, industry professor of neural and systems complexity at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, saw it this way:  “People love bright, shiny things. We adopt them quickly and then work out the disadvantages, slowly, often prioritizing on litigious risk. The Internet has been a wonderful summary of the best and worst of human development and adoption — making us a strange mixture of connected and disconnected, informed and funneled, engaged and isolated, as we learn to design and use multipurpose platforms shaped for an attention economy.”

Attention economy is the recognition of attention as a limited and valuable resource subject to market forces. The coronavirus captured world attention and swayed market forces.

The futurists and the experts most likely are rethinking their notions of life as we know it in the next 50 years.

****************************************

The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

 

 

Coronavirus Taking Mental Health Toll

Covid-19 taking a mental health toll. Web24.news photo.

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Writers often resort to the word “dystopian” to signify an imaginary place of misery and dread, a place beloved by horror and science-fiction movie fans.

Then along came covid-19, and the world finds it is such a place. It’s not fictitious. It’s real.

The toll this dreaded disease is taking on the human race is easy to measure in one way, and not so easy in another.

It’s relativity easy to count the dead, or those stricken, if reports are accurate.  By about mid-May, the count by those measures were 4.8 million cases worldwide, with 319,187 deaths and 1.8 million recovered.

Pandemic Ethics

A pandemic image. Allure.com photo.

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Look what happened to ethics in this time of a global viral pandemic.

It became important, a matter of life and death.

This became clear when the national demand for life-saving ventilators was greater than the supply, forcing doctors and medical technicians to decide which patients struggling to breathe gets them.

Until now, this is not how most people imagine ethics works. Mention ethics and they think it’s something for ivory tower scholars to ponder, but nothing that touches them personally, more a matter for study and debate.  A sleepy sort of science, they thought. By definition, ethics is a system of moral principles or values, of right or good conduct.

Americans tend to have a me-first attitude. If they need something, they want it now. The coronavirus humbled those attitudes as medical ethicists step in to decide who gets scarce medical resources. They must wait their turn, if at all.

Extraordinary Times

Extraordinary times: We can no longer doubt that we are living through extraordinary times, writes Pankaj Mishra about the coronavirus pandemic.

“In fact, the last such churning occurred almost exactly a century ago, and it altered the world so dramatically that a revolution in the arts, sciences and philosophy, not to mention the discipline of economics, was needed even to make sense of it,” Mishra writes.

 

Can Journalists Be Objective?

 

By Casey Bukro

Journalism goes through phases, like a teenager sporting what is hot and ditching what is not.

Consider the “nut graph” in news writing, typographical changes to help readers “navigate” through newspapers and graphics that capture attention and inform.

Now it’s objectivity’s turn.

The New Republic magazine recently went so far, in an article about “The Abuses of Objectivity,” as to state “that saving journalism will mean saving it from a false notion of objectivity.”

The writer, Will Meyer, says the Trump Administration’s attack on media as “enemies of the people” forced mainstream press to double-down “on its commitments to truth-telling and objectivity,” leading to an appearance of fairness. This leads to showing two sides of every story, “even in cases where one side’s arguments were much weaker than the other’s.”

Objectivity, writes Meyer, also meant veering away from using unflattering terms and avoiding words like “lies” or “racism” because they might be seen as evidence of left-wing bias.

“Above all,” writes Meyer, “it meant that reporters themselves could not be seen to have any political opinions, because then they would be vulnerable to accusations of impropriety, regardless of the accuracy of what they actually wrote.”

The idea of objectivity is relatively recent, says Meyer, who credits Walter Lippmann, founding co-editor of The New Republic, with the rise of objectivity and professional ethics through the publication of his book, “Public Opinion,” in 1922.

Journalism code of ethics

Using that as a starting point, a search of some authorities on journalism ethics and codes of media ethics reveals a love-hate relationship with the idea of objectivity in journalism.

Considered by many a grand old man of journalism education, the late Curtis D. MacDougall taught journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His book, “Interpretive Reporting,” was a standard textbook, published in 1938. In a chapter on “Qualifications For Newspaper Work,” he never mentions “objectivity.”

In 1974, Thomas Griffith publishes “How True. A Skeptic’s Guide to Believing the News.” In it he says: “The assertion of nonobjectivity made possible the opinionated compression of the newsmagazines, which have proved a surprisingly durable form for fifty years.” Griffith was a top editor at Time and Life magazines. He was lauding the opposite of objectivity.

In 1987, Philip Meyer, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, published “Ethical Journalism. A guide for students, practitioners and consumers.” In a chapter on “The Objectivity Issue,” he defines it this way: “The reporter seeks to adopt a ‘man from Mars’ stance, seeking each event afresh, untainted by prior expectations, collecting observations and passing them on untouched by interpretation. It doesn’t work, of course. The world is far too complex, and readers are far too impatient to wade through and analyze raw data of this sort. Some structure has to be imposed on the data ….”

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics did an about face on objectivity. A code adopted in 1973 by the society’s national convention states: “Objectivity in reporting the news is another goal, which serves as the mark of an experienced professional. It is a standard of performance toward which we strive. We honor those who achieve it.” The ethics code was tweaked and revised in 1984, 1987, 1996 and 2014. Today, the word “objectivity” does not appear in the code.

Ethicists define objective journalism

This calls for some fresh thinking. I asked ethicists who staff the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists to give their opinions on the standing of objectivity as a useful concept in journalism ethics. They are university professors who teach ethics. When professional journalists call AdviceLine for guidance on ethics, they speak to one of the ethicists qualified to help plot a course through the maze of questions typically raised in ethics issues.

Dr. Hugh Edmund Miller, is assistant professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, specializing in philosophy of religion and regularly teaches courses in ethics and business ethics.

It is ironic, Miller points out, that an article casting doubt on the uses of objectivity, appears in the New Republic, whose founding editor was Walter Lippmann, a leading advocate of objectivity.

Probably more than anyone else, says Miller, Lippmann was responsible for consolidating a movement already underway in the journalistic profession to transform journalists from being people with basic literacy and minimal education, but lots and lots of hustle, and the ability to string together words and file a story to meet deadlines into members of what is called the “professional-managerial classes” (PMC).

For Lippmann, journalists should be not only educated, but should cultivate close relationships with those in positions of power, as natural allies in the PMC, Miller observes. Journalism schools arose to provide credentials for entry into the PMC. While this was not necessarily a bad development in all aspects, it did change the profile of journalism in America, and Miller would argue, produced a sort of “institutional capture” of the profession by the interests of the PMC.

Objectivity, which Miller describes as “another beloved hobby horse of Lippmann’s,” helped to establish the “professional” bona fides of journalism as a learned profession, appropriate to membership in the PMC.

The PMC itself has increasingly come under the spell of Chicago/Virginia school neoliberal economics, with its corresponding move to the Right end of the political spectrum. The result has been the shift of the “Overton window” of so-called responsible discourse considerably to the right in America.

Ethics and far right journalism

However, this has not helped the journalistic profession, Miller says. Trying to occupy the middle of the window, they are heavily critiqued by those on the right, including those who have founded their own “journalistic” organizations, like Fox News – for not being sufficiently far to the right.

“This all has to be viewed in a much more international context. We in America tend to think of our journalist practices as ending at our borders, and not being influenced by those outside them. I think this is a mistake,” says Miller.

The ideal of “objectivity” developed in the United States by Lippmann and others intended to “professionalize” the trade and overcome the historic legacy of “yellow” journalism.

At this point, I’ll let Miller speak for himself, entirely in his own words:

“By holding newspapers, particularly in the reporting function, to a standard of rigorous reporting and checking of fact, ‘objectivists’ sought to raise the reputation of newspapers by establishing them as authoritative, and not just partisan. Functionally, this meant building a ‘firewall’ between reporting and editorial functions in a newspaper, magazine or other media service. This firewall was ultimately rooted in the fact/value distinction – to wit, that facts were objectively true or false, verifiable or falsifiable by universally accepted means, and could as such compel assent, whereas values were subjective and not subject to such verification or falsification.

“Therefore, by preferring reporting matters of act, journalists could easily avoid incurring charges of bias. Such reporting was also aided by a social approval of ‘scientific’ expertise. Scientists, especially in the post World War II era, enjoyed a high level of prestige and trust in American culture, in part because of the obvious contributions of science to the prosperity and comfortable lifestyle of that period. Journalists could present themselves as quasi-scientific investigators of objective reality, observing and recording data, checking it for reliability, and leaving it to the rest of the community to interpret.

“The trouble came, of course, with reporting matters which concerned value. How does one properly ‘report’ what is by definition subjective? The solution was simply to interview and quote persons stating their subjective views, and present these as reports of ‘fact’ – that is, the fact of the state of mind of the person speaking. Again, once the fact was presented, it could be left up to the reader or listener to interpret on their own. Interpretation was to be avoided to the greatest extent possible; it was reserved for the editorial function of the newspaper, within its own real estate on the editorial page.

Perfect storm attacks objective reporting

“In recent years, a perfect storm of forces has converged to subject this model of objectivist reporting to attack.

“First, the rise of the Internet and the appearance in the 1980s of Usenet groups and bulletin boards led to a democratization of information distribution and exchange. Anyone and everyone could now participate in interactive information fora, and express their views. Furthermore, the very format of these groups and fora had a leveling effect: Expertise and credentials counted for less than persuasiveness. They also led to a kind of ‘echo chamber’ effect: Like-minded individuals tended to sort themselves together and reinforce each other’s views, and the ability to choose one’s groups and exclude others — not that one was less likely to be exposed to alternative views.

“Second, once political organizations begin to realize this, they began to leverage it to increase support, gain voters and drive partisanship. Mainstream media struggled to attract readers and viewers away from what was becoming increasingly the principal media that millions of Internet users were coming to prefer to their product. The pressure was on to offer something that attracted those users, who had become used to ‘information’ of the self-confirming kind, something that traditional objective journalism had difficulty competing with.

‘Third, media organizations underwent commercial consolidation and became the objects of neoliberal wealth extraction, leading to cost-cutting, staff-cutting and relentless pressure upon journalistic ‘content-providers’ to provide clicks and advertising revenue.

Yellow journalism returns

“Finally, in recent years we have seen the emergence of pseudo ‘news’ media, such as FOXNews, Breitbart.com, etc., who seem to have returned to the old yellow journalism model of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“All of this has made objectivist approaches to reporting difficult to carry out. For the model to succeed again, it must adapt. As philosophers and media critics have long argued, interpretation and factual reporting cannot wholly be separated. In fact, even factual reporting requires discrimination and interpretation in the selection, not only of the newsworthy from the not, but among facts themselves. Journalists must increasingly become experts in areas for which they have not been specifically educated and trained in order to be able to determine how to tell a story that is fair and accurate. They need financial support, resources and the backing of their editors and publishers to report on controversial matters. That is especially true of large investigative projects, which are becoming increasingly rare. How this kind of ‘new objectivism’ will be funded and supported is one of the open questions that the trade now faces.”

Another member of the AdviceLine staff, Dr. David A. Craig, professor and associate dean for academic affairs in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Oklahoma, offered this take:

“Journalists need to acknowledge the limits of objectivity, but it has ethical value as a way of thinking. Well-reported journalism that acknowledges its standpoint is honest, transparent and drives its points home powerfully. Value choices saturate decisions in reporting and writing, and no journalist can escape those choices. Journalism with an overt point of view reflects that reality. However, journalists have an ethical obligation to tell as broad a range of truth as possible, and maintaining objectivity as part of their mindset can help them to pursue and report as many perspectives as possible. They will never be neutral and they need to ask critical questions about all points of view and factual claims, but objectivity as a way of thinking has ethical value even if storytelling doesn’t use an objective frame.”

Objectivity called useless term

Joe Mathewson, another member of the AdviceLine team, teaches ethics and law of journalism at the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. He formerly covered the U.S. Supreme Court for the Wall Street Journal and practiced law in Chicago. Here’s his take on objectivity:

“I’ve always felt that objectivity is a useless term airily postulated only by academics and other non-journalists. I’ve never heard it used in a newsroom or by active journalists. I once asked a former WSJ Chicago bureau chief whether he’s ever heard the word actually in use, and he said, ‘Never. But accuracy!’ I agree. As a journalism teacher we talk a lot about truth, too, but never objectivity. If you try to define it, or actually apply it in a newsroom (or event online today), it breaks down immediately as a useful guideline to creating a specific story. Of course we all have biases, and they need to be recognized, but doing so, and ardently seeking truth, are more useful working professional guidelines.”

This roundup of the use of objectivity in journalism ends where it started: A split-decision. It depends on how seriously a journalist takes the concept. Some say we cannot overcome our biases. They are unlikely to do so if they believe it is impossible. Others say we can if we recognize our biases, then work to get beyond them. It depends on whether that is recognized as a goal in journalism ethics. Sometimes you can achieve what you think is possible, using a simple guideline like: Keep yourself out of the story.

******************************

The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

 

 

 

Believing Election Results

Believing election results: Pew Research Center finds Americans who get most of their political news on social media display less confidence in the public’s acceptance of election results, regardless of the winner, than those who mostly get this news in other ways such as cable TV, news sites or print newspapers, write Mark Jurkowitz and Amy Mitchell.