Commencement Forum ─ The Future of Media and Political Engagement

Commencement Forum ─ The Future of Media and Political Engagement



you the panelists today are focusing on the intersection of new media and political engagement and all of them are some combination we'll see how they would describe themselves as entrepreneurs which is again why were co-hosting this journalists and communication experts and I'm just gonna lightly introduce each of them and I think we've you'll weave in comments about them and you'll leave in comments about yourselves so starting from right here Jenny Backus class of 90 is the president of bacchus Consulting LLC a strategic communications firm at least I hope that's describing it yeah jenny has served in leadership positions for fortune 500 companies and throughout the political arena she has managed more than 40 presidential primary debates a skill set which is increasingly relevant as we enter a new season recently Jenny served for three years as a senior policy advisor and head of strategic partnerships and engagement for Google John Kline who I met what seems like ages ago but only within the last couple of years is now becoming a close friend and even more important a close friend of the Nelson Center is the president and I had to check the pronunciation of my links of V links V links V links an artificial intelligence platform that enables media companies to understand their content and how it is used better than ever before John is the co-founder and co-chairman of tap media a subscription video platform for personalities with super fan followings that is backed by Discovery Communications and Google's Eric Schmidt John served as the president of CNN us from 2004 to 2010 reviving the then struggling brand by integrating technology to support a renewed commitment to in-depth journalism CNN then attained record ratings under John's leadership doubling profits while winning the most Awards in its history Ellen McGirt class of 84 is a senior editor at Fortune where she writes race ahead an award-winning daily column on race culture and inclusion in corporate life and beyond in the past Ellen has worked for time money and most recently Fast Company where she wrote or contributed to more than 20 cover stories and created the digital series the 30-second MBA I spent two years getting my MBA it may have been more fruitful for me to read Ellen's work her reporting has taken her inside the C Suites of Facebook Nike Twitter Intel Xerox and Cisco on the campaign trail with Barack Obama and across Africa with Bono to study breakthrough Jennie Kaplan class of 2014 is the co-founder and CEO of wonder media network along with Shira Atkins who's in the back they are and I I say this with enormous pride because both Shira and Jenny were my students in my entrepreneurial process course in fact Jenny became my teaching assistant for two semesters in which she recorded that she caught the entrepreneurial bug in my course although all the credit for what Shira and Jenny are doing belongs to them two days ago I had lunch with somebody who asked me why 13 years ago did I come back to brown to start to teach entrepreneurship and why am I now leading the center for entrepreneurship and you don't have to look any further than to Jenny and Shira to answer that question I'm enormous ly proud of them and all my students and I'm so happy that Jenny has come back to be on this panel so I'm going to turn this over to ed Steinfeld the director of the Watson Institute please join me in welcoming Edie and all four of our panelists especially want to welcome you all to the Watson Institute snoo building Stephen Robert Hall please be frequent I was gonna say visitors or guests you're all part of the community please be frequent presences here if through the weekend but next year and at any time and I just also say I'm so thrilled that this event is being co-hosted by the Nelson Center and Watson that's typical of what we do at Brown we collaborate I'll just speak for the Watson Institute our future depends on our ability to keep engaging the most vital parts of Brown all of Brown and especially the Nelson Center so we have a a typically extraordinary panel of brown alums let me just start with the first question but I'd like each of you to answer you know maybe briefly um we're bombarded with all different kinds of information all different kinds of media today and you all played a role in generating media and curating it and so there's so much distrust today so much concern that there's no true that there's fake news and where do you find truth in the media how do you find truth in the media Jenny had the problem that I stuck first now that is actually I think probably the biggest question then is facing society I mean it's a really tough and hard question it's a great question okay there's a I think that I mean I took semiotic sat Brown which I don't know if anybody did back in the day modern culture and media it changed its name and they taught you nothing me people walked out there saying nothing means anything a tree is a dog is a yeah you walked out of there and like there were some people like yes yes and then the rest of us were like what um but but I think where you find truth is it's all about I think it is all about curation right now you you have to find and I also think it's about referees people are looking for people to call the balls and strikes right now you you you have the Fox News you have the news coming over here I you know I grown up reading the New York Times The Washington Post in the Wall Street Journal so I think that's where the truth is and I know a lot of journalists that are that are there but I think we do there's so much out there now because of how technology has changed it there are so many people that are saying that they're the voice that I think that what we are looking for or the way to find truth is to find people who are sort of factually cutting things down and places where you can go like it's almost like we need a modern-day encyclopedia that you can go to a place where you can look something up and and and you can sort of weigh it with the lenses that are around it now what's also happened and I'm looking at Jenny down at the end is and out and some of Allens writing which is amazing is there are lenses that these people that you think are truths are putting around things like I as a woman watching presidential coverage in this election cycle you see Howard Schultz sorry old CNN get a Town Hall yet you see Kamla Harris or Elizabeth Warren put out policy after policy but they can't break through and that is quote-unquote neutral people who probably think they're neutral but are finding it more interesting to have a corporate CEO get a Town Hall then someone who's talking about child care so there are one of the things that happened I think is that that we are starting to realize that people then really see themselves as truth tellers don't maybe realize that they have biases that are that are influencing the way that they're telling their truth so I think that's that's a big challenge that's coming up and you're gonna need to have more people kind of challenging that orthodoxy without with also understanding that people are really trying to give a rounded picture and and you don't and so a lot of people are sort of professing their biases before they report the news that's that gets a little hard too but I think that's that's kind of what you're seeing in the media right now at least that's what I'm feeling John so thanks to Ed I got to lead a study group this past semester at Watson thank you it was really you said yes to the idea and and it was called the news versus the truth and one of our our participants right here and I learned some really significant things because the co-leader of the session was a brown psychology professor named Steve sloman who's written a book called the knowledge illusion in which he makes the point and we explored this at length in the study group that we each define truth differently we tend or I should say form our beliefs based on what people who we trust tell us and so there's truth which is you could boil that down to you facts you know gravity is the truth even though it's a scientific theory it's it's true you know certain things are just true but a lot of the contentiousness that we feel and the shifting ground we feel I'd argue has to do more with how people are applying those facts the conclusions that they're drawing from facts you know everybody in the abortion debate right now may agree on all the facts about when a heart beat it you know is discernible and you know how mitosis and meiosis occur and all of that but they disagree on the outcome and that has nothing to do with a disagreement about basic facts that's belief systems if anybody went to synagogue this morning or is going to church tomorrow that's not you you you might take issue with you know with the truth the factual nough some of the stories underlying the Bible but you're still going to church or the temple and and I think that's at the core what so sources of truth are going to depend on what circles you're in separate from facts which I think depends on the audience the the receivers the consumers of information having a better understanding of how to how to parse what they're hearing so news literacy information literacy I think becomes very important Oh to build on all of that I'll start by going back in time to one of the first stories I wrote when I was at Fast Company and it was the first ever profile of a young tech executive named Mark Zuckerberg which at the time until very recently was something I was very excited to tell people we put him on the cover there was only they only had six million users and they were still so new out of the old college only system that I didn't have I wouldn't have a Facebook account and I think I was the first person from the class of 84 outside of anybody was in academics to have a Facebook account it was the only time I've ever been a trailblazer of any kind so six million users and Mark and his entire executive staff were my first Facebook friends too so as part of teaching me how it worked and to understand the potential power of this platform that they were still trying to figure out themselves the extraordinary thing about it and I knew enough about the world and I certainly knew enough about people to know this was nonsense but they were building the entire energy and momentum of the site on people sharing information about themselves and calling that news and that was great and that was good the news feed was build brand new and his his his proud use case for why it was so important was people were complaining about news feed on news feed and it was generating news about news feed and it was this whole big thing I said and see it works and sure enough here we are many many years later it's it's working so to build on trust and bias what ended up what ends up happening is that people take their status and their role as communicators in their communities however they define that digitally in their lives and they begin to broadcast things that make them feel good and I wish I could believe that presenting them with a set of fact even as basic as gravity as gravity would be helpful but what but what we're it doesn't matter what we're seeing overwhelmingly is at least from my point of view as someone who daily column about race everyday I'm lead liam neeson say something terrible are we talking about robert e lee again who got shot I mean it's just the most grim look at the American psyche that you could possibly imagine and yet people want it really engaged in this because it's the hard work of confronting their biases their hard work of understanding a history that has never been surfaced so between truth and and media like a history major this is the history majors answer we have to understand everything about our origin we have to understand how our communities are founded and why certain people never get a mortgage even though they're creditworthy and why people gravitate to certain types of news and information and then share it and the truly truly dangerous thing about Facebook is that I don't even get to see the news that you see and then it just disappears and nobody is held accountable so those are the kinds of difficult issues that we're asking voters to and readers and subscribers to talk about and and parse when they really want to talk about you know same-sex marriage or they want to talk about you know limiting civil rights or people who consider themselves part of a faith-based community saying terrible things about refugees at our border you know there's just no common ground right now so for me ultimately and I want to end that's my little sad little speech here on the idea of trust because it's something that we're really grappling with is that how do you develop trust how do you develop a brand that's trusted how do you develop a voice as a curator that people will follow and believe and will pay for ultimately because that's what the media has to do we have to solve the problem of getting people to pay for the reporting that's truthful is that the the Edelman Trust Barometer this year it's a it's an annual survey of the institutions in our world around the world that people trust and for the first time NGOs rank second – not just business but my employer I just my employer to understand the news I under and to under and to be truthful with me and to weigh in on issues that matter to me I trust and NGOs next that I trust business in general and last comes media and in between there's government somewhere it's already sort of a shifting fight to the bottom media and government but the idea that people trust their employers is taking real it's taking real root here hey and we're asking employers to weigh in there's there everyday there's another amicus brief or you know collect letter and they're worried about transgender rights and access to bathrooms and same-sex marriage and they're really moving on these issues because the their employees want them to so it is a it's a strange new development and that the cynical answer is I trust people who pay me were smart enough to pay me because I can that is the one sign of their good judgment but actually but with the I think Howard Schultz is sort of found out a little bit but for the with with some exceptions we've seen some extraordinary leadership Wow it's hard to go last here um I think thinking about truth building on what all of you said really right now there's an opportunity more than ever there information for more and more sources and it isn't that when people were getting news from a few places there wasn't bias they were clearly biased these forever there have always been people writing the news and so I think that the more information there is there's actually also an opportunity to address who's writing it I think more and more as Jenny mentioned it's people are bringing out to begin with who they are and what their biases are when they're right excuse me when they're writing the news when they're reporting when you see on Twitter if people are using that as a source of news you can go to their BIOS and see who they are and where they're coming from and I think that that's a challenge to curate and figure out what is real what is true what our facts effects even are the same for different people but also it's an opportunity to be able to hear from people who are using their own voices to tell their own stories and I think there's power in that I think there are all sorts of new and old mediums I have a podcast company so I'm particularly fond of that medium but I think part of the power of that is that you're hearing people tell their own stories with their own voices and at some point it's really a literacy issue how are we gonna figure out how we identify what's true and what's not to us so on Facebook if you're looking through your newsfeed and it looks like it's from a reputable source that's great but how do we actually know that that's true and to me that comes back to that curation factor who are the people I trust what are the institutions that I do still trust in my before I started this company I worked at Bloomberg News as a reporter so I have a lot of respect for traditional or not so traditional media and I think that it's important and there are things about fact-checking and these big institutions are big institutions for a reason but I think it comes back to I actually think it's a good thing that we're questioning now what is true where is this news coming from how do we take those facts like gravity look at the lenses that those facts are being reported through and identify what we think is correct because there isn't really one truth there are all these different truths depending on where you're sitting so that's not a very easy answer but I think that it's sort of like we have to have the responsibility to take on that education to try to figure out what is accurate and what isn't and how we move forward with that sort of lack of clarity we're gonna just do maybe two more questions and then we'll open it up to the audience so please generate some questions but for this one maybe anybody can weigh in but maybe this one will focus on Jenny Backus and John Klein so the to the 2020 presidential campaign I was about to say is it about to begin but it's it's we're well into it in a big way Jenny as a person who's trying to shape a message for clients and John is somebody who's from up for a big organization tried to develop strategies for delivering the message what do you think are gonna be what's gonna be the critical platform on which discussion happens in this wild media space well the interesting thing I've learned like now maybe through four presidential campaigns and watching media cover presidential campaigns and trying to impact it is that there's a huge tendency to try to run the last race and not this race so and and candidates that have you know we started off before Barack Obama even got onto the scene with Hillary and McCain and McCain was trying very hard not to be Bush and Hillary was trying very hard not to be John Kerry and Barack Obama was just doing his own thing over here and I think that is something that you know or I've watched John like came I got to work actually with John on presidential debates when he was running CNN and CNN did something really innovative they decided that people would want to listen to presidential primary debates which like in DC was like what why would you ever go to California Democratic convention and all those crazy people and hear them talk it really changed who you saw in and I worked in the o for cycle of the Oh eight cycle and then sort of I was at Google in twelve sort of watching from from outside but then we kind of now we have millions of debates so that model that CNN built they're still trying to have a presidential bait how are you gonna have a presidential debate with 36 people on the stage or even 12 those debates are not going to serve the same role anymore so I think it's hard to sort you can say oh this is going to be the Twitter or the snapchat or I think it's gonna be I think it's actually the technology that's gonna be the most powerful it's gonna be the one that's actually helping people actually talk to real people in these states because there's so many candidates you can't win with a huge TV buy right now you you're gonna have to go and find six thousand people in in Ames Iowa to like go out in the middle of the snow in February and caucus for you you're gonna have to so but I think it's what is happening is media is changing how candidates are running so in order to get news Elizabeth Warren goes to Georgia or Beto goes gets his hair cut now there was a great there was a great Karen Tumulty column in DC which is like shared by all my friends about like what would have happened if amy klobuchar I went to get her hair cut or like that would have been a holdover vias question so I think that's gonna be really interesting I guess to add these two things and then turn over to John because I'll give you a nice hard question here but the last two days I have been so troubled by what has happened with this Nancy Pelosi video um and I think it is getting to the core of what the biggest challenge because first of all there are foreign actors that are deliberately using our social media platforms and are some of our own problems I mean there we're helping them but to shape this election and and that video of Nancy Pelosi the President of the United States retweeted and Fox is talking about like it's a fact and Facebook won't take it down right face that's the thing and Twitter like all these people on Twitter like Jack or you can take the video down Jack are you're gonna take away so that was a big test for me whether or not the old sort of system of ethics and values I mean I've been sort of caught I'm a Democrat so I've been constantly disappointed I have lots of Republican friends I have been what why haven't they said anything about Trump like it just it's crazy like the ones I used Bob Dole and all these people I first met like what happened to them now it's the same thing with the media I was like okay well they learned their lesson from last cycle they won't let this happen again and they're not so I don't know I'm a little bit so that's a good example of I it's gonna be the technology tool I think the way it is it's an accountability that it's gonna be massive countability that actually ends up forcing people to change their behavior if Lindsey Graham has everybody in South Carolina say you can't do that or if if people go at Zuckerberg and say we're gonna boycott all your corporate advertisers we're not gonna we're gonna take we're gonna take away your accounts we're not gonna give you clicks on eyeballs that it's gonna be actually technology that enables collective action to actually hold people accountable for bad behavior I think that's that's gonna be the sort of way that's like my thoughts all right give you the Nancy Pelosi – there you go you know in terms of in terms of what's influential filterless platforms the the more direct connection there is between a candidate and and the voters I think the more influential these town halls that that that the networks have started to do I think are phenomenal for that because the candidates actually get to speak at length about what they would do and it's not you know built-in fireworks or you know fights or anything like that and we we work hard at CNN in in the 2007-2008 debate cycle – I was I was really surprised when I got to CNN the the producers of the debates not you in particular but the the the commonly held belief was that our job was to get them to fight with each other and I had to say what wait a minute like I had been out of the news business for six years I had been at CBS News for a long time and overseen 60-minute sidestep but then I left and I and I had a start-up for six years and I come back and I see this I said well no you know as it as an audience member I actually want to hear them say what they'll do if they're president so let's get rid of the fighting and we tried an experiment I think it was South Carolina debate what was three of them right there was Hillary Obama and John Edwards still right we did it in two parts we had the classic kind of debate structure they're standing at podiums and they're you know we're firing questions at them and then for the second half we had them come down off the podiums remember and sit in those comfy chairs and have a conversation and they got to speak at length and we got to hear them and the second half was you saw a spike in the ratings for that which should have cured once and for all this idea that the classic debate structure is the way to go and people want to hear if I clearly you had empirical evidence that the audience really does want to hear more from them so now you're seeing in in the town halls you get the chance to do that and then of course it still gets back to what Professor Steve Sloman taught me which is what your friends tell you about what they're hearing and seeing so you know I think it's very powerful if you can hear Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren speak at length it gets rid of all power of media outlets to spin it right in those first few moments and then of course it gets you know thrown into the into the the rinse cycle and and you know everybody else gets to define it and suddenly other you know people start coming away saying well actually yeah what she you know she was terrible I thought she had been great but now I realize how terrible she was but you know for those brief shining moments you get a you know get a direct connection but then I think a lot depends on what your friends say about it you know I'm leaning more toward this because I like her ideas about Bobby Barb's you know she's got more ideas and I thought she'd have that surprise that's good and that's sort of how people start to make up their minds we can turn on that so my job after so Gore quote-unquote lost his first debate the size and lies debate like he lost the spin and expectation so my job in the carry cycle Michael Huli said you have $500,000 to buy online advertising to say Gore won what I mean to say Kerry won whether or not he did so that's what that's that's exactly what you're talking about remember we we got rid of a thing went there there was a there was a post debate there there would be the spin room where you know journalists would wait and all the candidates would file in and we would rush to stick our mics in their face and they would tell us how well they did right and and we got rid of the spin room because it's like what why would we as a news organization willingly put ourselves in position to be Spahn you just heard them talk make up your own mind but all of that says very controversial and it's not the conventional approach that's taken so I think part of the issue is the way that establishment media had fallen into this this sort of hand-in-hand collusion with the entire political establishment as to how a campaign is covered and talked about and a little bit of the distrust you were speaking out I think is earned you know has been Mike my career in media spans I think alike an increase in sensationalism in News and a decline in you know kind of rigorous or classical you know news values of you know sobriety and and and just present the information and and lo and behold we're down at the bottom of the trust pile well you know let's start fixing that to the degree that we can win back people's trust I think it's important this this last question I want to turn to Ellen and Jenny Kaplan I catch myself not infrequently now turn on the TV turn the channel to Walter or you know grab the New York Times and just get that yet the honest truth and I am in my few more self reflective moments I think NASA for something that never really was and those establishment channels themselves excluded lots of voices whether intentionally or not and were and reflected power and so what I want to ask you both is to what extent is that true and have we gotten beyond that in any in any positive way okay I'll start well first of all you can still pick up in New York Times people may I have forgotten but I think that I think it's both I mean I do think that the news as both a few were just referencing has become significantly more sensationalized and I think some of it comes down to the fact that it's a media business and I know that when I was at Bloomberg during the 2016 election cycle stories that had Trump and the headline did better like they got more clicks people wanted to read them more and depending on where you are that I mean that's what you want you want your stories to get read and so I think that there is definitely there has been a since since then news has become more sensationalized on the other hand I do think that there have always been issues with power and truth and all of these different biases in news and I do think that as many of us learned here at Brown it's about finding different sources and figuring out it isn't just turning on Walter Cronkite or just reading the New York Times it's how can we use different sources to try to not just be within an echo chamber to read the same things over and over again how can we try to sort of deepen our understanding of the stories at hand and I think that is through different kinds of mediums whether it's social media or podcasts or just different kinds of newspapers whatever it is taking a minute to think like okay I can read the New York Times and watch a YouTube channel and listen to podcasts and all of these different ways to actually get different perspectives instead of just going to that one source and I think that's more powerful than just turning on one TV channel and accepting it as fact thing I have in the back of my mind is that for all of the multiplication of media channels maybe they're just accentuating misogyny accentuating biased ethnic bias is rather than I'm worried that that those aren't washing out yeah I I would just quickly would say I agree I mean I also think that increasingly we're only reading the news that appeals to us so my news may be more addressing things that I care about and so misogyny is being addressed head-on in what I'm reading but that's because that's what I'm interested in and it's what's targeted towards me on Facebook or Twitter and everything that I read is that way but that's for sure my own echo chamber and it may be that yours is very different and so you're not getting that news and I agree with you that there is a risk the question is how can we a lot of this it seems like a lot of what we've talked about throughout this panel is how can we as a community of citizens or people in the world change that and and get out of our echo chambers and try to overcome and maybe use technology in a different way to instead see more opinions instead of fewer opinions yeah you really you really hit to the crux of the matter here is that what is what is the what will compel people to step out of their normal media consumption to find a reliable voice that may be different from them because everything about that voice is going to feel so foreign but it's going to feel unreliable and and I was really a struck just listening to our CNN our C I mean I wish we had more time to just ask you a million questions about what it was like back in the day because I have never been a political reporter but every now in my then in my life I've been sort of I dipped into that world and I went into a spin room once I was following the it was in New Hampshire and I was following it was 2004 all the Democratic candidates and it is when you're used to it it seems like a perfectly normal thing and when you're not you think this is how it happens here no no wonder where I'm at and I I walk into the spin room University of New Hampshire they clearly hated journalists the only snack was a huge bowl like this filled with prunes I got the joke I got the joke and then when I got into the spin room it was filled with political operatives and the candidates their candidate surrogates and media everyone assumes I was with the Sharpton campaign it was the most amazing I walk in you know I've got a pad and then suddenly every cameras on me you know just waiting for me to say something about what l sharpen it just said on stage and that to my other point of our trust the talent pipeline in every aspect from technology to media to reporting to branding and all of it is so thin and we just keep identifying as talented and promoting the exact same person this is 2004 right so the ability to find an alternative another voice is going to feel so jarring for anybody who remembers even with some fondness though the great and the three great men of television news so anything that we can do and anything we can do together or anything I can do to be in service to this to make sure that we're pointing to people who are creating a body of work that is quality and that's serious and that we can underwrite them and we can subscribe to our local papers and we can listen to important podcasts you know all of these things it's as important as you don't eating right and exercising every day it's exercising our right to support the media that will make the world better not worse actually there are microphones here so if you can just move to the microphone and we'll start taking questions and please be brief and the panelists also will be brief yeah thank you so much for sharing off your opinions I think it was fascinating to get all the different perspectives so I wanted to jump off of one of Jenny's earlier points which was the idea that media companies are essentially businesses even social media companies are businesses and there are a lot of intrinsic factors and money a lot of coming from advertisers and there's an intrinsic motivation in my opinion to show people content that will kind of you know exacerbate their emotions and you know get them going so even with you know things like what John is working on artificial intelligence and options that might help alleviate it and just distill it down to facts are those even viable solution or is there a viable solution to this problem with all this money coming in the system and an intrinsic motivation for social media companies and media companies to display information that kind of panders to human psychology to some extent well I would just say that one of the best things that has happened in the last under the trump administration has been more people are paying for media like the rise of subscriptions to newspapers more funding into sort of the old truth tellers or the gatherers is going to give them more money to get out onto those platforms and kind of fight back because it is it's actually an interesting policy question that's happening right now in Washington of its Facebook a news gathering organization or are they a media platform under one way they're regulated they don't want to be seen as in news because it's a different set of rules so there's a lot of fighting about like how do we define these guys but more funding into truth-tellers both in the traditional media and then sort of outside documentary films podcasts the media the New York Times does podcast is like one of the most well listen to podcasts out there and they they're still telling this sort of the same truths that they were reporting but they're now using their increased subscription dollars to fight in that realm so I think that is maybe one way people do need to make money you need to pay journalist journalists like teachers and nurses are woefully underpaid but it's a financial business you need to be able to fight back but I do think that's how you're gonna do that's how you're gonna fight it is is when other people and you learn how to manipulate those social media platforms just like the Russians then we will win so I'd also question the premise that conflict creates audience would at at CNN we eliminated as much as we could the conflict and we had the highest ratings we've ever had including today during the Trump bomb so people the more noise there is in the system people crave analysis and understanding the most DVR'd show on the CNN schedule is Fareed Zakaria GPS which is conflict free zone it's all analysis and people can't miss it and so I think it's important for media people to grasp that the most popular podcast you know you're not building your podcast based on conflict let's get people to fight it's let's open your mind and let's have intriguing conversations right what we're actively trying to do is our mission is that we're trying to amplify underrepresented voices and so our mission is based on the idea that what people actually want what draws people in is good storytelling and that doesn't have to mean fighting in fact I think a fight becomes quite boring especially right now people are used to that divisive debate fight get going at each other and don't trust it anymore and don't want to hear more of that so I think some of it may come down to exactly what you're referring to which is that that isn't actually what people want but I think there is momentum that has to be shifted a little bit when you think about what big media companies think gets ratings because they think that the conflict gets ratings the question is can new kinds of media can startups shift that and show and can consumers show that actually what they want is a deeper understanding I think that's actually part of the reason that podcast is an industry have blossomed so much because at the same time as many kinds of media's our media is getting shorter and shorter and more and more bullet points and all these different things podcasts instead are more and more in-depth stories that can be definitely conflict free zones but it's really like a full narrative yeah and look at I don't know you want to get to the next question but just one final like NPR is a conflict free zone and it's got 25 to 30 million weekly listeners it rivals if they if they were ad supported they'd be making a lot of money so you know it's there's proof everywhere I think it's lazy executives it's just easier to promote a fight because no one's gonna fire you for doing that like everyone does that so I'm just gonna do that it's what I hope is that data is gonna open our eyes to what actually works and I think what actually works is more information thanks so much my name is Dewey why god I'm a graduate of Brown and also the late great WB are you news I have a person I have a brief observation based on what all of you are saying in most digital platforms the user is encouraged to search out what he or she wants and that automatically excludes everything else in the analog platforms via the Walter Cronkite world of old there may still have been biases but the viewers were exposed most likely to viewpoints they weren't necessarily just searching out on their own so I have a question how do we strike a balance in the new media world so that the average user is exposed to more than just what occurs to them I mean like the answer to that is social media so I I want to build on what you were saying about conflict free zones because I think it is so important to be able to speak to people as human beings and and and just to create a product that's welcoming for folks Jessica Yellin who's a journalist I care very much about and I admire her was recently at one of our conferences and she talked to coach that she received when she first started to cover politics and she was told to watch ESPN because that debate were you know a bunch of men sit around and fight about the game they just watched is was the model and you know which is which is not welcoming to anybody but a certain type of 18 to 34 year old man who is very valuable to advertisers and that's what the entire model is built around in the rest of the media is written by entertainment media is built around attracting a 14 to 16 year old girl so just let that wash over you so if you think about they're human beings if you are if you're looking for meeting you're designing media or you're amplifying media and sharing it with your friends I mean that's welcoming to somebody who's not just a teenage girl who's gonna buy makeup and tickets or a guy who wants to fight about the game then suddenly you've got something that you can share you can share and you can converse with people about then it becomes a welcoming thing but it's going to be the design and you're absolutely right about it and you are right about it to wdr you news is not late it's it's alive and well and doing a lot of podcasting my name is Curt Spalding I'm with a Ibis the Institute for environment society here at Brown quick question for the first time I think in 2020 we're going to see climate change become an issue somewhere aligned in the top five conversation and the media hasn't done a wonderful job I think watching Chuck Todd try to change things in January and of course our good friend Anderson Cooper got criticized for questioning where the climate the idea is climate change is gravity it's not to be date debated so how do you think they're gonna do with this I just read Jay in sleaze twenty two-page statement on climate change and I could only understand or pages of it it's so thick and hard and I know something about it I was the reason administrator of EPA for Obama so how do you think they're gonna do with this and I don't and I wanted to say great for CNN because Ted Turner I think his spirit around climate issues has always been with CNN and editor being a brown alumni to speak to that you know another thing I learned in our study group is too much information really overloads people the reason that people rely on their friends to tell them what to think is because there's just way too much information out there and there's more than ever as we've established so you you do need to boil things down but you don't have to dumb off' I them and and you it's it's it isn't so much having to drill certain you know facts pounded into people's heads over and over again there is something to be said for making a you know just a vividly powerful illustration of one piece of information or another you know but but people you know when I'm a big I sent to Anderson around the world we did a series called planet in peril to try and get at it in that way to tell the stories of people who were affected by climate change and and what it meant you know one image of a polar bear you know stranded on an ice floe can do more to sensitize people to you know the realities than anything but I do suspect and you probably know this better than anyone as peoples beach homes start to float away or is you know you go to Miami and and and you're driving along the street Miami and suddenly it's flooded in in the middle of street it's going to start affecting people more profoundly we saw at Midwest floods this you know this this past spring I think it'll become easier for journalists to actually access those stories and illustrate them mister quickly add to that I also think that there's a huge corporate understanding now of climate change and I hate to sit I mean I remember taking Ross Heights class and earth and other ethics like it actually but corporations are actually taking a moral position on this and when you have corporations pushing up here who advertise and then you have like my niece who just graduated from UT Austin who like I can't have any cup in my house because it violates some some and I've always recycled wrong and I need I just get really stressed about it like but then and then you have like the New York Times it just like literally has been pouring dollars if you've been reading them into like the planet and what's been happening I think you're gonna just organically see it this time to the town hall voters are gonna ask the questions the media corporate sponsors who are sponsoring and underwriting all this stuff are gonna ask the questions I think you know yeah I I think it's really flipped it's almost like gay rights in some sense is like it's now just become an accepted thing which is really good media is not good at leading a discussion it's better at following what you know they are all trying to hit that bullseye of what you care about right now as opposed to here's what you should care about they're not as efficient at that I also think that like gay rights as you mentioned it's sort of a generational thing as well I think that the beach homes is a great example for an older cohort and I think that from what I'm seeing and hearing young the younger generation the people who are just starting to be able to vote climate changes like their biggest issue it's their top issue and even though the challenges that young people don't tend to vote which is a bigger problem but I think that as those people get older it too will become more and more prevalent but it's hard to tell how candidates will do with it until they have to actually answer the question but it will clearly be a top thing this go-around Hey so thank you um John just a quick comment your comments on the Town Hall format and the lengthy discussion really echo I think what Howard Stern of all people and his new book talks about with his interview format being that he kind of lamented that he never got Hillary Clinton on his show because he makes the comment that his long-form at interview hour hour and a half actually humanizes these people in a way that even people who disagreed with you know certain people on his show will call in and say you know I kind of see their point right so I think that's a valid point but my question revolves around the whole issue of curation which I completely agree with it's really critical but the problem I have is that I think there's a step prior curation which is you know I read New York Review of Books NPR and I'm proud of myself for only following sources that I trust I've spoken with people who are avid Fox viewers Infowars viewers and they firmly believe they've picked a curation channel that they can trust so I guess my really question is is how do we step back from that and even maybe even before we talk about social media kind of like creating these you know clusters of people is there a sort of a worldview problem and how do we address that how do we sort of break through this worldview that prevents me from seeing even the arguments on the other side without resorting to an ad hominem attack because my answer right now is they're Dissidia that's right that's not a productive way to have a discourse we have we have you're an idiot and I'm a liberal you know nutcase from Berkeley so how do we get beyond that and create dialogue around our different worldviews that breaks through sort of this wall that we formed around our worldviews I'm sure Allan configured yourself I don't know it's going to be very helpful I'm so glad you bring that up yeah that is a huge thing it is the the the the Fairness Doctrine acquired broadcasters present to present opposing points of view you had to and under the Reagan deregulation they eradicated the Fairness Doctrine yeah you know part the argument was look there's so many soy is one thing when there were three broadcasters and there was one newspaper in town or whatever but now there's so many sources of information shortly you don't need to you know balance everything within everything but they did not anticipate the rise of right-wing radio right which never has to present an opposing point of view or you know whatever the left-wing analog of that might be and and I think it would be a pretty good idea thank you for raising that to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine it would be hugely controversial it won't happen in my lifetime but it's it's it would be it would be worthwhile to some because they never anticipated the damage to society that's caused by the siloed and it and and liberals are as guilty of it as as as conservatives because nobody's got a corner on the truth you know people hated the idea that Trump was gonna take on China aggressively about some of their very unfair and scary practices I mean you try to do business in China as some of my companies do and you know it's you just can't you know and and and and that's wrong and and so you know it turns out maybe that turns out to be a good idea so absolutism on on any front is dangerous and anything III think Fairness Doctrine is a since we're so entrepreneurial maybe we could do it ourselves without worrying about the the government coming in because the truth is you know the minute you hear a Fairness Doctrine of course there's not the binary as false there's more than there's not there's ten points of view there's not two points of view but the practice of routinely including other points of view isn't false so if there was a way to find sources media media companies who be you know willing to to state maybe certification isn't the right thing or a blue checkmark isn't the right thing but just be part of a community that would actually routinely do the hard work because it is hard work and most people don't want to do it I mean I just want to do it I curate a newsletter which is opposing point of view and it's it's hard and I do a lot of fact-checking of other people's stuff and sometimes i amplify things that I personally am uncomfortable with I don't feel like I fully understand for the sole purpose of making sure that I am doing a good-faith effort as a curator it's Benny but then you have FoxNews who has just totally given up pretending that they are a news station and they are almost propaganda now I mean in there completely yeah and I it's hard to think as I always used to make my bosses go on Fox News Harry Reid was the first Democrat to go on with with back in the day because I'm like you have to talk to people that are not like you're such a good person I try I try now I completely applaud people that aren't going on and I was always like more access take on hard questions because it's not it is literally they don't even care about the truth I mean it's like when they won't admit that the Nancy Pelosi video is doctored my god that is that's I do not news I feel like Chris Wallace is like blinking like is sign for help how come on your podcast I also think that in the meantime before we can do something like pass the fairness we pass the Fairness Act I think some of it is actually going back to trying to get closer to face-to-face conversations and really talking to each other I mean the person who you want to call an idiot and I'm sure they want to call you an idiot as challenging as it is if you were to sit down with someone and hear their story to me it's all about the way that we create empathy between people is storytelling as human beings and so how can you be open to and be in a situation where you're listening to someone's story that's significantly different from your own and so I think that it is through different kinds of platforms and different ways that you can try to be closer to someone rather than further and further apart as we resort to things like social media all the time it goes back to the emphasis on town halls how can we take that ourselves and really understand the other thing that I would say for the trying to figure out what sources are true I feel like there's an educational component like we don't have any part I didn't have any part in my elementary middle or high school where I really was evaluating news sources and trying to understand what facts were even if you know what I should be seeing in different sources and how to judge those things so how do we introduce that into curricula because I mean it's vitally important I think yeah be this this is education we've we've reached the end of our hour but I'll just say listening to the diversity of views the sheer smarts of this panel makes me feel a little bit regretful I don't have a brown degree but more Horne very very deeply grateful to be part of this community to be teaching here at Brown to be a Brown parent so I want to thank you all Jenny Bachus John Klein Ellen McGuirk Jenny Kaplan thank you all for your questions and [Applause]

2 thoughts to “Commencement Forum ─ The Future of Media and Political Engagement”

  1. Advertisers pay the most into media, not subscribers, that's always been the case and it always will be. Once NPR started taking corporate dollars, they gradually been losing more and more of their truth telling ability. But they had to, to survive, as there wasn't enough coming from subscribers. And the purpose of advertisers is to get you to make knee-jerk emotional decisions and open your wallet, explicitly counter to "truth-telling". On NPR, corporate advertisement is designed as PR, to make them seem more benevolent and caring than they are. And a lot of media, especially in the social media space, is advertising designed to look like it's not advertising. Once small independent channels start getting popular, you are going to see corporations and advertisers move in and acquire them or otherwise use their money and power to influence them and if they can't do that, slander them.

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