Practice a philosophy of ‘one less thing’

Michael Bugeja, Des Moines Register

Iowans, like most Americans, lead chaotic lives. Consider that word, “chaos.” It comes from the Greek khaos, which means “the abyss,” a vast disordered and directionless space.

Many of us have fallen into that abyss.

Part of it stems from our being such an outstanding work force. At 64%, Iowa ranks among the top states in the country for the percentage of people employed. Iowa also ranks eighth in the country for working women, although pay gaps and other issues remain.

“Iowa has more households with all parents working than any other state,” Gov. Kim Reynolds stated in 2021, “yet we’ve lost one-third of our childcare spots over the last five years.”

This year she announced a new Child Care Business Incentive Grant Program, urging employers to offer childcare as an employee benefit.   

Lack of childcare is only one issue plaguing Iowans and other Americans coping with work-related stress.

According to one study, 59% of us are so busy that we only can manage 26 minutes of free time per week. We put off tasks like cleaning, paying bills and making doctor appointments, household repairs and healthy meals. 

An article titled, “The U.S. is the Most Overworked Developed Nation in the World,” notes that we work hard “with very little paid holiday, vacation, and parental leave to show for it.”

American employees labor an average of 1,767 hours per year. That’s 435 more hours per year than Germans, 365 more hours than French, and 169 more hours than Japanese. 

See this chart for comprehensive data. 

We work to pay bills. Inflation deflates us. 

Americans and Canadians are among the most stressed in the world. A 2021 Gallup study found that “57% of U.S. and Canadian workers reported feeling stress on a daily basis, up by eight percentage points from the year prior and compared with 43% of people who feel that way globally.”

Americans are not cutting corners at work. Their companies and institutions — including Iowa universities — are cutting budgets in a post-pandemic economy. That adds to workload.

Half of us feel trapped by our financial and individual situations. 

Americans multitask more than people in any other country, often depriving us of inspiration and creativity. There is no study that documents how we multitask while worrying about issues beyond our control.

Many of us spend hours rehashing meaningless interactions, foiled bids for love or attention, real or imagined slights, and other pointless triggers, from road rage to internet outages.

Let’s start with the news. It’s bad. We hear about war, hate crimes, shootings, poisonous politics and, lest we forget, mutating omicron variants. It’s good to be informed, but not at the expense of sanity. 

Take a break. You’ll hear the same reports in a week, a month, a year. One less thing.

Limit social media. Who cares if someone blocked or unfriended you or snubbed you because of a post? You don’t need to know the reason and then obsess about it in your 26 minutes of free time per week. One less thing.

Same holds true when someone stops talking to you at work for no good reason. Or gossips about you. 

“Telling office bullies that they hurt your feelings may feel liberating. But it’s a bad idea,” writes Washington Post columnist Karla L. Miller. “Sharing your hurt only helps with people who care about your feelings. Otherwise, it’s giving them ammunition.”

Ignore them back and interact only when proper for work-related reasons. One less thing.

The philosophy of one less thing is liberating. Say “no” when asked to do extra tasks or service at home, school or work. Saying “yes” is one of the reasons our lives are so chaotic.

The philosophy of one less thing is based on stoicism, which the ancients viewed as a way of life. As the Stanford Encyclopedia explains it, “Once we come to know what we and the world around us are really like, and especially the nature of value, we will be utterly transformed.”

Apart from politics or career, what do you most value? Your church or community? Your spouse, friend, family, partner, pet? A hobby? Travel? Hunting, fishing, hiking, gardening? Make a list.

Now make another. What petty issues occupy your thoughts in the course of a week? Which ones can you dismiss, block or ignore for the sake of wellbeing?

The Greek stoic Epictetus has recommendations that resonate to this day. He reminds us that troubles abound. It’s how we react to them that matters. He also advises us to cease worrying about things beyond our power or control. Epictetus reminds us that people are not worried about real problems “so much as by imagined anxieties about real problems.”

The philosophy of one less thing may not set you free; but it will free up time for the pursuits and people you most value.

Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja is a distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences at Iowa State University. These views are his own.

Annoyed: How to keep everyday irritations from wrecking your day

Michael Bugeja
BY MICHAEL BUGEJA, Iowa Capital Dispatch

 Robocalls are one of many daily annoyances that irritate Americans. (Photo by Getty Images)

We live, work and learn in an increasingly aggravating environment.

Robocalls rank among the top petty annoyances. We may overlook one or two, but several in a day can trigger ire.

Americans receive close to 4 billion robocalls per month, on track for 47 billion robocalls by the end of the year.

The content of calls is disturbing, but the timing can be even more so.

You’re preparing a meal, watching Netflix or enjoying another’s company when the cell phone vibrates — someone wants to indict you for tax fraud, extend your car warranty or report an unauthorized Amazon charge.

Arg.

The word “annoy” comes to us from the French, “enoiier,” which means to weary or vex. Webster’s defines it as “to disturb or irritate especially by repeated acts.”

Depending on party affiliation, you’ll get political texts and calls — a communique from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or an urgent message from Sen. Charles Grassley.

Americans received an estimated 18.5 billion political text messages in 2020, and there’s little you can do to stop them. Unfortunately, the National Do Not Call Registry does not apply to politics. Neither can you bar charities and debt collectors from contacting you as they are exempt from the Federal Trade Commission’s blocking list.

And then there is the mobile phone itself. Among the top annoyances are battery life, software updates and passwords. Once again, time, place and occasion dictate the level of exasperation. Your phone dies during an important call or updates and wipes out your passwords so you have to remember them again.

The password guessing game is infuriating. You get three chances to recall a password before you’re blocked and now must call the facility or organization to be reinstated digitally.

Then there is two-factor identification, increasingly used by schools and businesses. You can’t simply sit at the computer anymore and get to work; you have to find your phone and affirm, “Yes, it’s me.”

We also are annoyed face-to-face.

According to one study, top irritants include bosses requesting urgent work, no toilet paper left, empty milk cartons in fridge, friends canceling plans at last minute, and encountering someone you dislike at the supermarket.

Journalism annoys, too. Former Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson listed these bothersome cliches:

  • Familiar with the situation. “I’m always glad that the reporter didn’t rely on an unnamed source who was unfamiliar with the situation.”
  • War chest. “If political writers want to get cute, I vote that they replace it with the term ‘piggy bank.’”
  • Amid. “Amid these turbulent times, a little less ‘amid’ would make me happy. And we can ditch of ‘turbulent times’ while we’re at it.”

(For the record, my most annoying news phrase is “take a listen.”)

A Marist poll reported in December 2021 that “Trump” and “coronavirus” were among the most maddening terms, replacing “whatever” for the first time in more than a decade. Other annoying words included “Critical Race Theory,” “woke,” “cancel culture” and “It is what it is.”

Americans have a hard time trusting the news. The least trustworthy anchors in descending order are Sean Hannity (Fox News), Rachel Maddow (MSNBC), Don Lemon (CNN), Mika Brzezinski (MSNBC), Chris Matthews (MSNBC), Joe Scarborough (MSNBC), Tucker Carlson (Fox News), Chris Cuomo (CNN), Laura Ingraham (Fox News) and Anderson Cooper (CNN).

Cooper also was listed as among “the most trusted” after NBC’s Lester Holt, indicating how divided viewers are in ranking the news.

Considering worldwide disease and war, we might wonder why these trivial annoyances hijack our emotions, sometimes leading to outbursts that jeopardize character and reputation.

According to Psychology Today, “A minor irritation, a ‘petty annoyance,’ can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back under chronic stress.” We are asked to put things into perspective, think positively, be patient, avoid antagonistic people and understand moods, including our own.

People have been trying to tame emotions for millennia.

Stoicism, an ancient branch of philosophy, encourages us to face our feelings in a mindful way. One Stoic meditation that can help with annoyance is called the “premeditatio malorum.” Stoicism accepts that bad things can happen in life and urges one to imagine worst-case scenarios in logical, unemotional detail. If those bad things do indeed come to pass, then we can act quickly with purpose rather than be surprised and react with anger.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher, believed we have power over our mind, not external events. In his book, Meditations, he writes: “Begin in the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial.” Accept that as fact, he states, because being vexed at everything goes against human nature.

Do not take petty annoyances to heart. Rather, he opines, overlook the failings of others and “remember that all is opinion.”

Especially robocalls.

Guerilla theater, stunts and pranks make a mark on politics

MICHAEL BUGEJA Copyright 2022 Iowa Capital Dispatch

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has engaged in “guerilla theater” style tactics in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

In 1967, activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin staged one of the greatest political pranks of all time when they entered the New York Stock Exchange and threw dollar bills to the traders on the floor.

Free money, seemingly from the heavens, sparked reactions. Some rushed for the bills. while others waved or shook their fists angrily at the agitators.

But the media picked up the stunt, elevating the Hoffman and Rubin — and the organization that they led, the Youth International Party (Yippies) — into media darlings.

Hoffman called the stunt “guerrilla theater” and later observed, “If you do not like the news, why not go out and make your own?”

Guerilla theater is a form of political protest, typically involving public stunts, satire and pranks. It has evolved in our time via social media but its methods date back to the 19th century.

In 1896, William Crush staged a spectacle to promote the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, crashing two 35-ton locomotives head-long into each other. He even erected a town, aptly named “Crush,” attracting 40,000 visitors on the day of the event — making Crush for a time the second-largest city in Texas.

When the engines collided, the boilers exploded, killing two spectators. A photographer hired to document the event lost an eye to a flying shard.

Crush was promptly fired. He was later rehired because news and photos of the event created a buzz for the company.

Thus, he affirmed the motto — “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” — associated with P.T. Barnum, the 19th century American showman and circus owner.

Like guerilla theater, some of the most successful publicity stunts combine marketing with politics.

On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell took out full-page advertisements in top newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Todayannouncing it had purchased the Liberty Bell.

Here are details and text of the ad, “Taco Bell Buys the Liberty Bell”:

“In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country’s most historic treasures. It will now be called the ‘Taco Liberty Bell’ and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.”

You can anticipate new forms of guerrilla theater to infiltrate campaigns in the midterms and beyond.

Taco Bell headquarters, the National Park Service and Congressional staff offices received thousands of complaints, overlooking the “April Fool’s” aspect of the ruse.

Later that day, White House press secretary Mike McCurry got in on the joke, telling reporters, “We’ll be doing a series of these. Ford Motor Co. is joining today in an effort to refurbish the Lincoln Memorial. It will be the Lincoln Mercury Memorial.”

More than 1,000 print and broadcast outlets covered the Taco Bell story, generating free publicity worth the equivalent of $25 million.

In the digital age, guerilla theater spawned a new genre called prank advertising.

Guerilla theater goes to the movies

The method has crossed over to movie theaters. One of the most successful promoted a remake of the horror movie “Carrie” in a video on YouTube, viewed more than 75 million times.

Titled “Telekinetic Coffee Shop,” it shows a production company setting up a scene in which a man spills coffee on the laptop of an agitated woman with paranormal powers. As patrons order coffee, not realizing the prank, the woman thrusts out a palm, levitating the offending man up a wall to the ceiling. Her anger escalates as chairs and tables telekinetically move away from her. She screams. Wall hangings fall and books fly off shelves.

The video cuts to a blood-soaked image of the actor portraying “Carrie” with the closing credit: “In theaters October 18, 2013.”

Movies are fair game for guerrilla theater, as in Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2020 “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

Former President Donald Trump’s then personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was depicted in an indiscreet encounter on a hotel bed with Borat’s daughter pretending to be a TV journalist.

We’ll skip the details, but you can read this to refresh your memory or even view the segment here.

Political stunts

Guerilla theater now uses social media to pull off political stunts and pranks.

Instead of protesting a Tulsa rally in 2020 by then incumbent candidate Donald Trump, TikTok users and K-pop fans used internet to feign interest in the event, requesting more than a million tickets. That prompted campaign officials to build an outdoor venue for the anticipated overflow crowd.

The building where the rally took place had seating capacity for 19,000 but only 6,200 attendees showed up.

After the election, the Trump campaign set up a hotline for people to report election fraud. Pranksters flooded the line with mocking calls about his losing to President Joe Biden.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, has resorted on occasion to political stunts. In April she challenged progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a debate, using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

A month later in the presence of two Washington Post reporters, Greene followed Ocasio-Cortez out of the House chamber, shouting “Hey Alexandria!” and taunted her for support of far-left groups.

“You don’t care about the American people,” Greene shouted.

You can anticipate new forms of guerrilla theater to infiltrate campaigns in the midterms and beyond.

Ethics aside, as history has shown us, many of them will prove successful.

“Fake News”: Shear-Colbert Symposium Lecture 

By Susanna Meyer, Times-Republican

The invention of the internet has changed journalism a lot over the years, and during Professor Michael Bugeja’s Thursday lecture “Fakes, Hacks, Fibs and Tales: Journalism Ethics” on Zoom, he dug into how news has slowly warped into opinion, what role social media plays in the problem and how to combat it both in the short term and the long term.

Bugeja teaches media ethics, technology and social change at Iowa State University (ISU) and was the second speaker for this year’s Shear-Colbert Symposium lecture series at Marshalltown Community College (MCC). The theme of the 2022 symposium — which was originally organized by the late history professor Tom Colbert — is “Fact or Fake: Information Today.”

Bugeja started his presentation by discussing how the distribution of news has changed in recent years and said more people now get their information from social media instead of directly from news outlets. He also went on to address how little confidence people had in the accuracy of the news they consumed.

“Seventy-two percent of Republicans expect the news to be incorrect, 46 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents feel this way. So if you believe that the news is fake, why are you viewing it? The answer to that is because it’s convenient to do so,” Bugeja said.

In the past, the public had to wait for the next news cycle to get reports, allowing time for fact checking. Bugeja said the internet has created an instant gratification culture which does not always provide enough time to ensure the accuracy of information. Furthermore, because a large portion of the population gets their news for free online, fewer reporters are in the field due to a lack of income.

Bugeja also showed a media bias chart, which sorted an array of news organizations into left leaning, right leaning and neutral categories. He said the neutral middle is less appealing because it is both crowded and unprofitable.

“Consumers want news on demand but then pundits tell you how to feel about it, and that’s important because the margins are too low in the more objective middle,” Bugeja said.

For the rest of the story, click here or visit: https://www.timesrepublican.com/news/todays-news/2022/04/isu-professor-advocates-for-truth-in-media-during-mcc-lecture

‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ is now a shared one

The spread of misinformation via the comedian’s influential podcast and through social media provides a glimpse of a world without journalism.

Podcaster Joe Rogan in 2017. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, File)

By: Michael Bugeja

Spotify, a Swedish-owned streaming audio service, signed a $100 million contract with New Jersey-born comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan to provide exclusive content for subscribers.

Let that figure, $100 million, sink in.

That is more than twice as much as Steph Curry, the NBA’s highest-paid player, will make in the 2021-22 season.

So what did Spotify get for its money?

“The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast featured COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, prompting musical artists — Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, among them — to pull their work from Spotify.

Rogan apologized to Young, Mitchell and Spotify.

Then a clip surfaced documenting Rogan’s use of racial slurs over a 12-year period. He apologized again, stating he never used the N-word “to be racist because, I’m not racist.”

Rogan claims not to have a racist bone in his body, but the malady usually is associated with the mouth. His reaches 11 million subscribers per episode.

Let that figure sink in.

That’s 2.6 million more than the population of New York, America’s largest city.

More importantly, that is almost half (45%) of the 24.3 million digital and print readers and viewers of all U.S. daily newspapers.

Here’s another number: $69,635. That’s the average highest paid salary for a news editor in Massachusetts, which pays more than any other state for the position. Editors are responsible for moderating content for truth and appropriateness. The average news editor salary across all states is $58,415, eerily equivalent to the average salary, $58,690, of a Facebook moderator. (More on them later.)

To be sure, the Joe Rogan saga will likely fade by the time you read this as another outrage flares across our screens. But the emphasis here is on news vs. entertainment, and the impact of the latter on the health and well-being of society.

One of Rogan’s proclamations focused on Generation Z: “If you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I’ll go, no.”

As of February, 12,311,814 people ages 18 to 29 contracted COVID-19, more than any other age group. Some 5,476 have died. But, hey. When you amuse 11 million listeners with disinformation, perhaps that’s a minuscule number not worthy of consideration.

Neil Young took exception to that on his website. “Most of the listeners hearing the unfactual, misleading and false COVID information on Spotify are 24 years old, impressionable and easy to swing to the wrong side of truth.”

He’s right. According to the Pew Research Center, only 3% of people ages 18 to 29 get news from print. Some 7% rely on radio and 16% on television. A whopping 71% rely on smartphones and other devices for updates and notifications, mostly from social media and streaming sources, from Facebook to Spotify.

The COVID-19 economy has been particularly harsh on journalists, especially editors overseeing newsrooms. Here are data from the Columbia Journalism Review:

  • At least 6,154 news organization workers were laid off between March 2020 through August 2021.
  • At least 100 U.S. news organizations have closed throughout the pandemic.
  • Another 42 outlets were absorbed through mergers and acquisitions, bringing the number of eliminations to 128.

In the wake of the Joe Rogan scandals, Spotify quietly removed 70 of his podcasts. In journalism, this is known as retractions. In social media and other hosts of dubious information, it’s known as a “404 Not Found” error.

Because of threats by artists to remove content, Spotify now will post “content warnings” that promote dangerous false or deceptive medical information “that may cause offline harm or pose a direct threat to public health.” These include assertions “encouraging the consumption of bleach products to cure various illnesses and diseases.”

Spotify’s new policy is a whitewash, literally and figuratively.

Offensive content continues, warnings aside. But there are consequences.

Social media and streaming platforms are aware of the threat, not to humanity, but to its bottom line. For instance, Spotify denies that Rogan was the main reason why its stock plummeted by 18.9% in the aftermath of his scandals.

That’s why social media platforms employ moderators to screen offensive content.

CNBC reports Facebook spends billions to review millions of pieces of content every day. TikTok, Twitter and YouTube outsource that work to third-party companies.

Moderators are attracted to the prospect of working at home for an average of $16.50 per hour. But job risks include digital PTSD from viewing and deleting content about bestiality, incest, pedophilia, suicides and murders.

Other PTSD symptoms that develop from viewing thousands of offensive posts include adopting conspiracy theories promoting the Earth being flat, the Holocaust never happening, and the U.S. staging the 9/11 attacks.

To help alleviate the human emotional toll, Facebook has turned to computer moderation to delete disturbing content. Nevertheless, many obscene posts slip through because AI lacks the intelligence (and conscience) to catch them.

The environment allows the likes of Joe Rogan and company to “experience” the world any way they wish, without worrying about its impact on society. They have replaced reporters as the main purveyors of news. Moderators have replaced editors who once protected the audience from objectionable content.

This is your world without journalism.

Now let that sink in.

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Tags: Joe RoganMisinformationSpotify

Michael Bugeja, distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences, is author of Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine (Oxford Univ. Press) and Living Media Ethics (Routledge/ Taylor & Francis). These observations are his own.

Michael Bugeja

Pajama Journalism Lacks Standards

Pajama ethics: bear in mind these 4 principles when doing desktop-based reporting

Copyright 2022 by Online Journalism Blog

Image by morgaine CC BY-SA 2.0

“Pajama Journalism”—reports you can do in nightclothes on a computer, without going anywhere or talking to anyone—should not define online news, but the practice is widespread. In a special guest post, Michael Bugeja argues that following just four basic principles of reporting can help improve this form of journalism.

The Internet greatly enhances the ability to assemble a story in record time, using information from social media, blogs and databanks. But while this expansion of access has opened up new prospects for reporting, and increased productivity — it also brings risks to credibility.

The rise of “PJ Journalism” is due to multiple factors. Reporters work in downsized newsrooms with scant travel budgets, if any, and are evaluated by productivity levels. Recently isolation due to COVID-19 has added a further reason for remaining indoors rather than onsite.

This is not to say that “PJ Journalism” is inherently bad, if you view the digital world as having its own reality apart from the physical world. Stories about the Dark Web would be one extreme example of this, but you could also argue that newsworthy statements and discussions which would have previously taken place in the physical world now increasingly take place entirely on social media and other virtual spaces.

I teach media ethics at Iowa State University and decided last month to do a session on “PJ Journalism” to illustrate shortcomings in rushed reports — and how to avoid those.

There are four key dangers that the pajama journalist faces:

  1. Linking issues, failing to cite source content or point to original documents.
  2. Missed opportunities, failing to contact sources for additional information.
  3. Due diligence, failing to note if officials or organizations had been contacted to respond to content.
  4. False impressions, implying the writer was onsite at an incident or event.

Here’s how those dangers can be avoided — demonstrated through deconstructing a CNN article by Theresa Waldrop, titled “Washington State head football coach ousted after refusing Covid-19 vaccine”. It concerns the firing of WSU’s head football coach, Nick Rolovich, and four assistant coaches who failed to comply with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Links are missing

If you are going to use a computer to assemble content, you owe it to viewers to provide links to original content.

This digital standard was missing in a few instances in our example article.

The lead and following paragraphs use the attribution “said” in reference to a news release, rather than “stated” or “noted” — the preferred terms when you cite an inanimate object, such as an athletic department or news release.

Worse, no link was provided to the news release.

No links are provided either for “a statement” (fifth paragraph), Rolovich’s hiring on Jan. 14, 2020 (accessible here), and while a link is included in the sentence “Earlier Monday, the National Hockey League announced that Evander Kane of the San Jose Sharks has been suspended,” that link opens to another CNN report, not the NHL announcement, which I found here.

The article does include some links: a link is provided for Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation requiring full vaccinations for state employees. And a link was provided for his salary.

But here’s where we hit the second item on our checklist…

2: Missed opportunities for contact

Opportunities are missed to approach those in the story

The reporter might have contacted the governor for a quote about Rolovich’s firing. But she leaves it at that.

There’s another missed opportunity for contact when the article references a Twitter statement by Rolovich in which he states that he is not getting the vaccine for “private” reasons.

It ends, “I will not comment further on my decision” – but things change, and a good reporter should check if the person is still refusing to comment or if they have new things to say — as turns out to be the case in this story…

3: Due diligence

He posted that statement on Twitter on July 21, 2021. And he would comment further—initially not whether he got the vaccine—but about his decision not to commentas in this article in the Spokesman-Review.

Rolovich did confirm why he is not getting the vaccine—a fact omitted from Waldrop’s post. USA Today reported on Oct. 9 that he was seeking a religious exemption.

That disclosure would have made the Waldrop report more substantive. So would have a quote from a lawyer or theologian. 

4: Avoid false impressions

The video of the conference could have been linked here – or even embedded

A more serious omission comes in the last five paragraphs, featuring quotes from Rolovich about his situation: no link is provided, implying the reporter was at the postgame interview where those comments were made.

This is an unintentional oversight, but everyday viewers might not realize that.

You can hear the Rolovich quotes in this YouTube video of that news conference.

Embedding the video would have not only avoided this — it would have provided a more valuable and engaging article, potentially increasing the amount of time readers spent on the story.

All too often these lapses are found in reports by cable news sites disseminated by wire services and reaching multitudes. Little is added by way of context—including whether additional information might be forthcoming—and then updating accordingly. Quotations are lifted from news conferences or on-site interviews without reference to source material, as if the writer was at the scene.

Basic standards that make reporting better

It’s important to note that Waldrop’s piece does contain information that viewers would have considered newsworthy. Again, my intent is to show how attention to basic standards—linking, additional information, updates and context—could have enhanced her article.

That used to be the task of copyeditors, eliminated in typical newsrooms. The onus now is on the reporter, which makes this discussion particularly vital.

Instant digital access allows reporters to keep pace with rapidly occurring developments. But the danger here is relying too much on access without the reporting. Eventually, that affects credibility—not only of the outlet but of the platform itself.

Audience Concerns

Image by nataliej CC BY-NC 2.0

In a recent piece for Poynter, I wrote how Americans can’t tell the difference between fact and factoid, assigning political labels to news outlets based on columnists rather than reporters.

I argued for new standards to label opinion and, in some cases, require subscribers to opt-in to get them in newsletters.

Online editors and producers need to rethink what is becoming conventional practice—hurried reports without substantive context or updated information—that parades as quality journalism and is re-distributed as such.

Keep in mind that viewers (not to mention the competition) also question such reports, especially if content seems political, divisive or controversial. That’s when posts can be called out, often by what they omit as opposed to what they state.

We can apply higher standards with links to original content; additional quotations via phone, email or text; notations about whether new information is forthcoming and when; and transparency, attribution and links to actual conversations, without any semblance that a reporter was on the spot.

These simple practices will build trust and add value, especially since links to original content help SEO for an outlet. Moreover, updated information will be re-tweeted and shared, again enhancing credibility.

In the end, standards aside, rushed journalism is still news to many. But we are advocating here for reports that have an extra dimension. A few hours to contact sources via text, email or phone call is not too much to ask. Neither is a bit more effort to verify data or add context.

The public deserves better, and we can easily provide it with online tools.

How we got from there to here and what comes hereafter

Journalism educators and editors must accept these hard truths and teach these new realities to our undergraduates.

Newspapers are discarded in a recycling bin at the Hoboken train terminal, Friday, March 4, 2016, in Hoboken, N.J. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

By: Michael Bugeja

In 2010, in a piece for Inside Higher Education, I wrote the following: “Without editors monitoring political campaigns, voting rights would be trampled and elections, routinely rigged. Candidates wouldn’t run for office; they’d purchase it.”

It was one of the many pieces I have written over the years as I documented the decline of the newspaper industry and the forces that factored into that.

Because of that work, I have some ideas for leaders to implement. Here’s the history and here’s what we can do about it.

For the rest of the article, click here: https://www.poynter.org/educators-students/2022/how-we-got-from-there-to-here-and-what-comes-hereafter/

Political sectarianism fuels vaccine resistance

A group of people holding signs

Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Protesters gather at a March for Freedom rally demonstrating against the Los Angeles City Council’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees and contractors on Nov. 8, 2021. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

By Michael Bugeja copyright 2021 Iowa Capital Dispatch

Protesters gather at a March for Freedom rally demonstrating against the Los Angeles City Council’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees and contractors on Nov. 8, 2021. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Emotional intelligence is the ability to fathom our feelings so as to reduce stress, enhance reasoning and perceive emotions in ourselves and others so as to enhance awareness and mental well-being.

The ability to process emotions has many benefits. We can interact prudently and mindfully with others, communicating effectively, overcoming challenges and defusing conflict.

The global pandemic requires such intelligence. We should empathize with others who have succumbed to coronavirus and its variants.

Those who received the vaccine have overcome one of the biggest challenges of the century.

But partisan politics and conspiracy theories, often promulgated by social media, have done little to defuse conflict.

The opposite of emotional intelligence is sectarianism, which has become “especially acrimonious in the United States,” according to a study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Sectarianism is defined as political polarization driven by the urge to dominate and revile supporters of the opposing party.

Unlike emotional intelligence, sectarianism increases stress, triggers imprudent or even dangerous actions, and uses communication as a weapon, especially on social media.

As such, sectarianism does little to overcome challenges or defuse conflicts.

To practice emotional intelligence, we have to take inventory of our deepest desires, fears, beliefs and values.

Ask yourself, what do you wish more than anything in life? What prospect terrifies you the most? What are your convictions about political parties or policies? What moral principles do you embrace without question?

If you answer those questions, chances are you will not succumb to those who would mislead and manipulate you. They analyze your emotions and set a plan in motion to deceive you.

If you desire upward mobility, you can enhance your work ethic via mindfulness or fall prey to scammers with get-rich schemes. If you fear loss of employment, you can improve your skill sets or blame company policies for your shortcomings.

Political sectarians transform neighbors, friends and even relatives into godless socialists or ignorant fascists.

Kitchen debates, especially on holidays, can be disconcerting. When it comes to social media, we can unfriend those who disagree with us. And while that is generally unharmful, sectarianism in the time of pandemic can be lethal.

A computer engineering study, titled “Does social media misinformation cause vaccine hesitancy?,” identified a large anti-vaccine community on Twitter. Users relied on the platform to spread disinformation and conspiracies suggesting vaccines are unsafe or ineffective.

Another study, “The Anti-Vaccination Infodemic on Social Media,” noted that vaccinations are “one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine,” offering humanity a solution to halt the COVID-19 pandemic. That goal was undermined by the anti-vaccination movement spreading misinformation about safety. The study analyzed behavior on Twitter and found anti-vaxxers used emotionally charged language to dissuade others from being inoculated.

The same result was occurring on other platforms, including Instagram. When such tweets and posts were banned, anti-vaxxers developed their own coded language to circumvent monitors.

Instead of using hashtags like “#vaccineskill,” they used “abstruse hashtags like #learntherisk and #justasking.” They also spelled “vaccines with cedillas, “vaççines,” or modified spelling with brackets and parentheses, such as “va((ines.”

Because of social media crackdowns, NBC News reported that anti-vaxxers targeted local media. Whether on Twitter, Instagram or network TV affiliates, the goal was the same — information laundering.

Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor at Syracuse University, who studies media manipulation, notes: “If you make a harmful position sound reasonable, then more people who would otherwise not be inclined to believe it, might be willing to look at it as an issue with two sides.”

National news has been featuring anti-vaxxers who contracted coronavirus recanting previous beliefs and begging doctors too late for inoculations on their death beds.

This scenario has played out before in America, as early as 1721. James Franklin, older brother of Benjamin and publisher of The New England Courant, attacked an early type of smallpox inoculation called variolation —inserting into a recipient a minute amount from an infected person. The ensuing disease often would be milder and death, in most cases, averted.

The Courant attacked the procedure and attributed smallpox “as Judgments from an angry and displeased God.”

Benjamin Franklin came to the opposite conclusion, using emotional intelligence to keep an open and independent mind.

Despite his belief in inoculation, Franklin still experienced the loss of his 4-year-old son Francis to the disease. Francis was scheduled to be inoculated but suffered from a spell of diarrhea. Franklin had thought it best to wait until the symptoms passed. By then, though, his son contracted smallpox naturally and passed away.

Rumors spread that Francis died from the smallpox inoculation.

For the rest of this life, Franklin bitterly regretted not getting the inoculation earlier. He confessed that in his 1771 autobiography, clearing the air about the rumor so that others would not be deterred.

“I do hereby sincerely declare, that [Francis] was not inoculated, but receiv’d the Distemper in the common Way of Infection,” Franklin wrote. “Inoculation was a safe and beneficial Practice … and that I intended to have my Child inoculated, as soon as he should have recovered sufficient Strength.”

To this day, Franklin is revered as a scientist and patriot. Perhaps others can heed his message and get the vaccine.

MICHAEL BUGEJA

Michael Bugeja is the author of “Living Media Ethics” (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) and “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine” (Oxford Univ. Press). He is a regular contributor to Iowa Capital Dispatch and is writing a series of columns on the topic of “Living Ethics.”

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Hoaxes and scams take an emotional toll

Michael Bugeja

MICHAEL BUGEJA, IOWA CAPITAL DISPATCH

The cost of internet scams and hoaxes isn’t limited to money. (Photo by Michael Geiger via Unsplash)

Countless people have lost millions of dollars to online hoaxes and scams, but the biggest collective loss concerns trust. Losing trust hurts us more than money ever could.

Internet deceptions afflict everyone, from a child awaiting a pet to a pensioner awaiting a Social Security check.

Let’s deal with pets first, as these scams have become prevalent during the pandemic.

 Freya, pictured here at 12 weeks, is a Maine Coon purchased from an Iowa breeder registered at The International Cat Association (TICA) and Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA). (Photo by Michael Bugeja)

Many people, including me, wanted a kitten or puppy to help alleviate the stress of working at home. Unbeknownst to us, there are hundreds of fraudulent websites that prey upon your longing for that perfect pedigreed pet.

For instance, I wanted a Maine Coon but was almost taken in by scams.

Maine Coons, the largest cat breed, are highly desirable and typically go for between $1,500-$4,000. Often there is a waiting list with non-refundable deposits.

Internet has acclimated us to get anything we want on demand, and so many fall for these scams.

When you google “Maine Coon Kittens for Sale,” or crowdsource for them on Facebook, you will get hundreds of websites with adorable pets that somehow have not been reserved, selling for bottom-basement prices.

Here’s a screenshot of a scam site. (All pet scams use the same methods.)

 Screen shot of an internet site claiming to sell pedigreed kittens.

Those photos featured here are likely pilfered from reputable breeders registered with the International Cat Association or Cat Fanciers’ Association. The kittens would cost thousands. But wait — there’s a sale on this site! You can get these gorgeous cats for $400 apiece.

If you click on “Buy Now,” you won’t be able to telephone this breeder. Everything will be done online through their websites. But wait — there’s more! You’ll get your kitten with a half-price shipping rate of a few hundred dollars.

It’s a bargain, and your pet will be shipped immediately.

You’ll be asked to pay via Venmo or Zelle or other pay site. As soon as you hit “send,” your money is lost.

By now you and perhaps your children have invested emotionally in a particular pet. You have become a prime target for more deception.

Here’s what comes next. You will be asked to cover boarding fees. Perhaps the pet has missed its flight or became ill and now you must pay for a ventilated cage as well as vet fees. And if you refuse, threats about pet abandonment and legal costs follow.

You will never get the kitten or pup.

These sites are so numerous that as soon as you report one to the website hosting company, the scammer simply creates another site with a new name and same script.

How to spot a scam

To check if you are dealing with a scammer, go to the “About” tab of the site. Select and copy a suspect sentence that does not sound quite right — perhaps one with an awkward word or seldom-used phrase. Then paste that suspicious sentence onto an internet search engine.

If it is a scam, you will see multiple websites with the same sentence, all offering kittens depicted with different backgrounds (because photos are stolen various from legitimate breeders).

Other popular scams include fake Amazon charges, Social Security/IRS violations, and internet/telephone service refunds.

No matter the con, fraudsters often read from the same script.

Case in point: IRS scammers will state that you were audited and must pay penalties with gift cards or face jail time.

The scam has been so successful that the IRS has a video about it.

But this is just one of thousands of scams that most of us deal with or ignore daily. The AARP reports up to 150 million illicit calls per month.

Hoaxes do as much damage as scams. Those are associated with mainstream and social media and prey upon our fears, beliefs, and values. Here are common ones:

  • Fear of a certain ethnic, social-class or political group.
  • Belief that people who look different are inherently immoral, moral, unintelligent or intelligent.
  • Belief in or skepticism about the paranormal.
  • Conviction about a political party, candidate, religious deity, etc.

Hoaxsters typically persuade us to take action by affirming our fears or validating our biases. And in an age of deep fakesvoice cloning and conspiracies, we just might take the bait and base life choices on falsehoods.

Dealing with emotional fallout

The outcome is not in squandered funds but in loss of trust and the pervasive feeling that everyone is out to deceive us.

If you fear or suspect being scammed, visit the Federal Trade Commission site about what to do and how to report fraudulent activity.

If you have been scammed, you are likely feeling unhealthy symptoms, including anxiety, shame, depression, fear, insomnia and much more.

There is no government entity to help with that. Restorative practices include forgiving yourself; joining a local support group; confiding in a psychologist, pastor, mentor or trusted partner; and becoming active in your community.

Serving others, especially in volunteering, builds confidence in yourself and trust in others. Often that is the best remedy.

How can we keep our composure when everyone is so angry?

MICHAEL BUGEJA

 Everyone seems to be angry these days, but maintaining composure can help calm people around us. (Photo by Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash)

Everyone seems angry, cheated, entitled, resentful, deprived — new American norms afflicting every walk of life — from viral Karens and road-raging Kens to berserker travelers and conspiratorial lawmakers.

What has happened to Americans in the past decade?

Many blame fake news. Others, social media. And some say we’re responding psychologically to real depredation and disenfranchisement.

Whatever the cause, many of us seem to lack composure. Simply defined, composure is a feeling of calmness in the wake of criticism or crisis, knowing we have the wherewithal to handle any situation that might arise.

Life is difficult enough without coronavirus. Wearing masks is sensible and essential. But that has triggered all manner of rebellion, covering the mouth and shrouding identity when many of us want to air complaints.

A New York Times article, “The March of the Karens,” associates that name with “a type of interfering, hectoring white woman, the self-appointed hall monitor unloosed on the world,” demanding to speak to police for trivial or imaginary transgressions.

There is no consensus about the name of the male version of Karen, although “Ken” is gaining traction. He is described as an entitled snob, never satisfied with anything, “a jerk to the waiting staff, who always wants to speak to the manager.”

The Times article makes a salient observation. A Karen or Ken “has only words as weapons, and those words no longer hold as much power as they once did.” As a result, they resort to people with real power to enforce their wishes, and they resist.”

That enrages them.

Pandemic pique, road rage

A biting rebuke of this reaction is Late Show host Stephen Colbert’s satiric rendering of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with the theme changed to “I’m begging you, please just wear a mask.”

Masks have sparked a rise in unruly airline passengers, with the Federal Aviation Administration levying more than $1 million in fines. Between January and August 2021, the FAA logged 3,889 reports of unruly behavior, “nearly three-fourths of which were passengers who allegedly refused to comply with the federal face mask mandate in airports and on airplanes.”

Anger doesn’t abate when traveling in cars and trucks, with or without masks. In the past seven years, some 12,610 injuries and 218 murders have been attributed to road rage. A statistical report attributes causes to drunk driving, mental breakdowns and emotional strain.

Political angst

Americans are feeling emotional strain because of partisan politics. According to Science Daily, “Nearly 40% of Americans surveyed for a new study said politics is stressing them out, and 4% — the equivalent of 10 million U.S. adults — reported suicidal thoughts related to politics.”

A 2016 report by the Pew Research Center found for the first time since 1992, majorities in both parties express not just unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other party.” Some 55% of Democrats are afraid of Republicans and 49% of Republicans are afraid of Democrats.

An article in Psychology Today titled “The Politics of Fear” explains how politicians use that emotion to divide us, often with the media’s help. “Fear is a very strong tool that can blur humans’ logic and change their behavior.”

Americans were fearful before the pandemic. Fear is at its zenith. An article in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders notes that fear is a normal response to the presence of danger. “However, when threat is uncertain and continuous, as in the current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, fear can become chronic and burdensome.”

We see segments regularly on the news. Fear is at the heart of rage in stores, cars, planes, and on the floor of Congress. Everyone wants to speak their mind no matter whom it hurts or offends.

As Benjamin Franklin once observed, “Thinking aloud is a habit which is responsible for most of mankind’s misery.”

The solution: composure

The antidote is composure. There is a dearth of it at the moment, but it is not yet dead.

Forbes published a useful article about how to maintain composure during difficult times. Here are recommendations:

  • Do not take things personally, allowing emotions to dominate your day.
  • Keep a positive mental attitude and project confidence in everyday activities.
  • Act decisively when situations warrant but also be accountable for your actions.
  • Remain calm in crises. Speak less. Listen more.

Those are easy to remember but hard to practice. But the more you do, the more others will heed and model that behavior, especially at the workplace.

To effect this, Franklin practiced a daily routine. When he awoke each morning, he envisioned the good he would do in the world. When he went to bed each night, he reflected on how well he lived up to his intentions.

For better or worse, all of us wear the mask of moral character that no cloth covering can conceal. Composure reflects that character, enabling you to rise above the daily vexations that plague us.REPUBLISH

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Michael Bugeja

MICHAEL BUGEJA

Michael Bugeja is the author of “Living Media Ethics” (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) and “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine” (Oxford Univ. Press). He is a regular contributor to Iowa Capital Dispatch and is writing a series of columns on the topic of “Living Ethics.”

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