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Democracy, accountability and empowerment: The case for journalism as a gen-ed course

As the availability of journalism jobs decreases, the future of the discipline might depend more on technology and general education

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By Michael Bugeja

Recent racist incidents and police violence have been caught on video, uploaded to social media and viewed millions of times, sparking protests and outrage and accelerating diversity agendas at colleges and universities.

In most of those incidents, the photographer was not a reporter but a bystander or victim of abuse themselves.

Reporters have been arrested in record numbers covering protests associated with the May 25 killing of George Floyd. Some 10,000 mostly peaceful protesters have been arrested and assaulted, too, with many such incidents caught on tape. In an op-ed in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, I ask, “What makes a journalist, the person or the device?”

Increasingly, I argue, it is the device.

In the hands of a journalist, however, or a civilian who knows reporting basics, you double its power.

Power is at the core of controversies about police brutality. Smartphone technology has empowered civilians whose photographs and videos undermine the authority of law enforcement, at times exposing lies, racist agendas and prosecutorial negligence.

Police departments rely on video and security cameras for traffic control, license plate recognition and crime detection. But when the lens is turned on them, they often are less enthusiastic.

Units equipped with body cameras may not release videos to the public or wait months to do so, as was the case in the killing of Elijah McClain. He had done nothing illegal but was wearing a mask while on an errand to pick up iced tea for his brother.

The issue here is accountability and transparency, key tenets of journalism. Reporters are watchdogs over government and file freedom of information requests to foster openness. They embrace the credo of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

These are lessons for everyone.

Everyone is a reporter

In 2005, Wired ran an article with that maxim:

“When man bites dog, who’s the first to report it? Don’t assume it’s your local paper or CNN. These days, ‘our man on the scene’ is often a swarm of amazingly prolific nonprofessionals posting up-to-the-minute stories and pictures of breaking news from their laptops.”

When I first read this, I was skeptical, fearing so-called citizen reporters would undermine the credibility of journalism. A month after the Wired piece, I wrote “The Media World as It Is” for Inside Higher Ed:

“(T)he promise of technology — that it would build social networks, democratize news and generally enhance information in two-way flows — has always hinged on the presumption of readily available and verifiable information. What are the consequences, not only for media, but for academe, when opinion displaces fact?”

I was worried about fake news years before President Donald Trump claimed to have invented that term.

But my own opinion has changed as technology became more powerful, mobile and ubiquitous in the form of a cellphone, especially the iPhone, which first made its debut in 2007.

Apple’s inaugural device included many features we still use every day, such a web browser, email, text messaging, music and video players, and maps applications. It also came with a first-generation YouTube default app.

By 2009, YouTube was registering more than a billion views per day. Now there are more than 2 billion users.

The power of cellphones is epic. We call them smartphones for a reason. The 2020 iPhone 11 Pro Max boasts a 12-megapixel ultra-wide, wide angle, and telephoto lens. Its video is as sharp as any network television camera, with a processor and neural engine capable delivering more than 1 trillion operations per second.

It can capture just about anything within a 120-degree field of view.

The increasing power of cellphones coincided with the decreasing presence of reporters. They are not yet extinct, but on society’s endangered species list. Between 2008 and 2020, U.S. newsrooms lost half of their employees, according to Pew Research Center.

News deserts are popping up all over. As Penelope Muse Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina, notes in News Deserts And Ghost Newspapers: Will Local News Survive?:

Many of the country’s 6,700 surviving papers have become “ghost newspapers” — mere shells of their former selves, with greatly diminished newsrooms and readership. The loss of both journalists and circulation speaks to the declining influence of local newspapers, and raises questions about their long-term financial viability in a digital era.

The choice is obvious: Bemoan journalism’s decline or inspire thousands of opinionated but omnipresent smartphone users. I embrace the latter. They may be the only option left to hold government and law enforcement in check.

Everyone has rights

They also have cellphones. Increasingly they document racism under the genre “while being Black” with African Americans insulted, threatened or arrested doing everyday things. Earlier this year Amy Cooper, a white woman, threw a viral tantrum and called police after a Black birdwatcher in Central Park asked her to leash her dog.

These frequent encounters are becoming more ominous. In June, Mark and Susan McCloskey brandished weapons at protesters who passed their palatial home in St. Louis. Another white couple, Jillian and Eric Wuestenberg, were charged with felonious assault in a parking lot incident during which Jillian pointed a gun at a Black mother and her 15-year-old daughter.

Because cellphones recorded each incident, consequences ensued. Cooper lost her job at an investment corporation and faces misdemeanor charges. Eric Wuestenberg was fired from his support staff position at Oakland University. The McCloskeys were each charged with one count of unlawful use of a weapon.

These videos are deeply troubling, but the one shot by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier was horrifying. Some called the documented killing of George Floyd a state-sponsored execution.

Frazier was on a grocery store run with her 9-year-old cousin when she saw Floyd being arrested. She used her cellphone to capture former police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, killing him.

Frazier’s lawyer, Seth Cobin, told the BBC, “She felt she had to document it. It’s like the civil rights movement was reborn in a whole new way, because of that video.”

The comment about civil rights reverberates in former reporters of that era. The primary goal in the 1960s and early 1970s was equal treatment in all aspects of society for African Americans. I covered protests by the American Indian Movement whose leaders, including Dennis Banks and Russell Means, sought economic independence, preservation of native culture, autonomy over tribal areas and restoration of stolen lands.

Civil rights and liberties are fundamental aspects of journalism education, which utilizes case law associated with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, among other statutes.

Civil liberties are associated with the Constitution.

Every journalism graduate should know freedoms of the First Amendment — press, speech, religion, assembly and petition — as well as unlawful seizures of the Fourth Amendment and due process of the Fourteenth.

Those liberties are at the heart of a federal lawsuit filed against the city of Minneapolis and its police department for actions against reporters covering George Floyd protests. The suit alleges that reporters were assaulted and arrested by police without cause, “all after these journalists identified themselves and were otherwise clearly engaged in their reporting duties.”

Protesters have the same rights as reporters, according to 42 U.S. Code § 1983, which protects citizens from being deprived of “any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution.” Any entity violating that law can be held liable in class actions.

Everyone should know that.

Everyone needs gen ed

But does everyone need journalism? I think they do.

And yet, journalism rarely is on the list of required courses in colleges and universities. That has to do in part with the history of general education. Originally, in the early 19th century, it sought to complete the liberal education of the aristocracy. In the 1960s, it attempted to make liberal education more accessible to nontraditional students. The culture wars of the 1980s heightened consciousness about feminism and canons of underrepresented groups. More recently, general education exploded with dozens of courses based on budget models rewarding departmental enrollment.

Nevertheless, gen-ed courses still fall under the usual umbrellas of humanities, social sciences, and math and physical/biological sciences.

Rarely will you find journalism in the mix. Many reporting courses are skill-based and excluded on that basis. Journalism is neither humanities nor social sciences; it is one or the other and sometimes both. Courses like media history clearly fall in the humanities camp; others like public affairs reporting in the social sciences group; and science communication in both.

General education includes survey, theory and concept classes. When viewed in that manner, several journalism courses easily adapt.

They also may be popular. Americans on average use smartphones about 5.4 hours per day. The 16-24 demographic interacts on social media about 3 hours per day. As such, general education students would benefit from courses in news/media literacy, cultivating the next generation of news consumers who possess the ability to spot fake news and dis/misinformation.

A survey course in media law and ethics also might enlighten students about rights, liberties and precedents, all of which are vital for future generations seeking change.

A theory class in world press systems might expand and diversify knowledge. Specialized courses might be popular, too, such as “History of the Black Press,” “Social Media and Change” or “Gone Viral: Videos That Made History.”

Journalism education has focused for decades on graduates securing media jobs. As those decrease, along with enrollments, the future of the discipline might depend more on general education. But the case here is about democracy, accountability, transparency and empowerment.

Without a robust news industry, monitoring government and investigating the corporate elite, our only hope may be in the hands of the people, literally and figuratively.

Michael Bugeja, distinguished professor of journalism at Iowa State University of Science and Technology, teaches media ethics and technology and social change. He can be reached at bugeja@iastate.edu.

VIDEO: Reporter Arrests (Cameras, Constitution, Consequences)

This presentation discusses the disturbing trend of reporter arrests during George Floyd-related protests, focusing on how the camera has caused a power shift in the authority of police and the practice of journalism.

Goals of the presentation:

  • To show how cameras have documented social ills in society.
  • To review reporter arrests in recent George Floyd protests.
  • To cite legal ramifications associated with constitutional rights: freedom of press and assembly, unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process.
  • To document how cameras and wireless technology have caused a power shift in society affecting authority of police and practice of journalism.
  • To make recommendations (a) for curricular changes in general education and (b) for reporters covering protests.

 

What makes a journalist — the person or the device?

By Michael Bugeja Iowa Capital Dispatch

Demonstrators stand in front law enforcement who are holding a perimeter during protest on June 1, 2020 in downtown Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Reporter arrests and assaults continue to rise during ongoing George Floyd protests with more than 300 violations of First Amendment rights, according to U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Incidents have been captured on video. This compilation includes the blinding in one eye of freelance photographer Linda Tirado.

Des Moines Register reporters Andrea Sahouri and Katie Akin also were assaulted and arrested, according to Editor Carol Hunter. Akin said “I’m press” or “I’m with the Des Moines Register” 17 times in about 30 seconds.

It didn’t help.

Huffington Post reporter Christopher Mathias was arrested covering the protest in New York. Here’s a partial transcript:

Mathias: “Can you look at my press pass? I’m a journalist. You’re arresting a journalist right now.”

Officer: “Then you should’ve gotten out of my way.

Mathias: “I did get out of your way, you ran past me. Can you please get my phone? It’s right there. Please get my phone.”

Officer: “Shut the f**k up. Get him out of here, let’s go.”

In video after video, police focus as much on the cellphone as on the person holding the device.

Technology changes media history. We have a new chapter.

In 2013, Detroit Free Press photographer Mandi Wright covered the arrest of a suspect on a public street. An officer tells her to stop taping on her iPhone. She identifies herself as a member of the press but the officer says, “I don’t care who you are” and confiscates the phone.

Wright and the officer tussle over the phone, and he arrests her. Upon release, she discovered the memory card of her phone was missing.

Outcry was huge.

The professional photographer’s blog, PDNPulse, wrote that the police had “a public relations mess on its hands” violating Wright’s First Amendment rights. It also noted “the Detroit police department has apologized to the paper’s editors, and promised to issue a directive reminding officers that they can’t interfere with anyone videotaping them in public.”

Wright still works for the Free Press and was among journalists in Detroit covering a protest when police opened up on them with tear gas and rubber bullets. A projectile struck a bystander.

A new normal is being established. Increasingly, reporters may be fair game for assaults and arrests even if they identify themselves documenting history as it happens.

The issue seems more about how history is being documented, on camera, than by whom, raising the question about what makes a journalist: the person or the device?

In 2013 when Wright was arrested, the iPhone 5 was a sixth generation cellphone with a 1.3Ghz processor with 1 GB of Ram. Its main feature was an 8 megapixel camera that was 40% faster than its predecessors.

Those features pale compared with the 2020 iPhone 11 Pro Max’s 12-megapixel ultra-wide angle, wide angle, and telephoto lens capability. It excels in live broadcast with a processor and neural engine delivering more than 1 trillion operations per second.

In other words, it can capture just about anything within a 120-degree field of view. And you can buy one for about $1,000.

Some 80% of Americans have cellphones, and 45% of those are iPhones, with its popular demographic being users ages 18-34.

Those users have in pockets a device whose main purpose is a telephone but that functions as telegraph (messaging), radio station (audio), television station (video), blogging (newspaper), live streaming (film crew) and multimedia (all of the above).

The cellphone, in particular, the iPhone, empowers citizens as well as journalists to document what happens in the street, classroom, boardroom — any room or physical space.

Increasingly, citizens tape police arrests that purportedly violate human rights as well as constitutional safeguards.

Citizens have First Amendment rights just as journalists do, and violations thereof can be actionable in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S. Code § 1983, which protects against “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.”

One class action suit already has been filed in Minnesota. Lead plaintiff Jared Goyette reportedly told police he was a member of the press covering protests but was shot in the face with a rubber bullet.

“Without journalists there, police or other people in power can feel a sense of impunity that no one will see what’s happening anyway,” Goyette says. “Everyone needs to know people are watching.”

And the camera enables that.

Reporters are trained to document rather than doctor content, especially video and photographs. They typically have a bachelor’s degree heavily weighted in the liberal arts and sciences and skills classes involving mastery of equipment. Most important, they study media law and ethics.

Reporters also are held to professional standards and face termination and litigation themselves if they intentionally mislead the public or fabricate information.

Education is key in the debate about reporter arrests, and police need some now about free press and assembly rights.

Reporters and citizens whose cellphones are confiscated should inform police that they do not consent to searches of the device on grounds of Fourth Amendment freedom from incidental seizures.

In the past, beauty was said to be in the eye of the beholder. For better or worse, media history now is in the lens of the holder.

Technology’s role in journalism protest arrests: How phones have changed things

Technology played a major role in gutting media outlets. Further, the public used to rely on reporters to cover spot news, but the cellphone enabled everyone to do the same.

The Lurid Legacy of Coronavirus: Fear of Humanity

By  Michael Bugeja, IOWA CAPITAL DISPATCH


Back off! Social distancing was already a problem before coronavirus. (Photo by Getty Images)

Do you remember thriving downtowns, even in rural areas, with cafes, diners, restaurants and maybe even lunch wagons; hardware, clothes, book and department stores (some with lunch counters); TV-, car- and shoe-repair shacks; smoke, pet, barber, beauty, music and antique shops?

Then the mall opened. Maybe a Walmart superstore, and slowly several of those hometown landmarks went bust.

For more than a quarter century, megamalls had served as the main gathering place. Then came Internet and online shopping with eBay and Amazon, sparking a retail apocalypse.

In 2016, J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy’s and Sears each closed more than 100 outlets. Every year, one after the other, major chains filed bankruptcy. In 2019 alone, more than 9,300 popular stores shut their doors, the biggest year ever for closings, according to Yahoo Finance.

The exodus from physical place affected houses of worship. By 2018, Gallup found at an all-time low the percentage of Americans who belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. Only 50 percent of respondents attended services, down from about 70 percent between 1937 through 1999. The drop-off intensified in the ensuing 20 years.

People were disappearing altogether. Parks and libraries often were empty. Children played video games, patrons checked out eBooks. Teens texted into the wee hours in locked bedrooms. Adults ran apps on androids instead of laps in recreation centers.

By 2018, Americans were spending 11 hours per day looking at screens instead of each other. Factor in six hours sleep, and that’s 75 percent of waking hours.

The great outdoors used to mean nature — hiking, gardening, bird-watching, swimming, fishing and hunting. It still means that for some of us. But for many, the outdoors came to mean simply leaving houses and offices, navigating physical space in cars the way a submarine navigates the sea.

And yet, some downtown stores managed to survive. Some malls stayed open. Churches, synagogues and mosques welcomed the faithful. Parks and libraries were maintained, and community centers provided meeting spaces.

When we needed a break from social media, we could stow smartphones and wander the half-closed Main Streets and malls. We soul-searched on occasion with congregations. We relaxed in parks, exercised in gyms and patronized Ticketmaster for large gatherings at concerts and sporting events.

In this election year, political rallies were attended by hundreds of thousands.

Then came the coronavirus, and everything stopped, closed, or was banned or canceled.

The coronavirus has demon-like characteristics. You can have it with no apparent symptoms and spread it within close proximity of a neighbor. It takes a while to activate within a carrier, so you can test negative on a Tuesday and still spread it on a Thursday.

There are many fears in this life. Top ones are known by the suffix “phobia,” as in acrophobia, fear of heights; claustrophobia, fear of enclosed spaces; entomophobia, fear of insects; ophidiophobia, fear of snakes; astraphobia, fear of storms; and trypanophobia, fear of needles.

But of all the terrors, one in particular is the most intense in all of us: fear of the unknown.

Coronavirus taps into this, triggering panic behaviors.

Handshakes, a symbol of peace tracing back to the 5th century B.C., are forbidden. Yes, for good reason, because the virus is apt to be there. Even President Trump has found it hard not to extend a hand. At a news conference about the coronavirus, the Washington Post reported that the president continued “to shake hands with other speakers, many of whom are members of the White House Task Force charged with trying to stem the disease.”

Because of the emphasis on hands, sanitizers quickly vanished from store shelves. Hoarders bought crates of them. According to the New York Times, one Tennessee man bought 17,700 bottles to sell at exorbitant prices on eBay and Amazon before those online companies prohibited him and others for price gouging.

purellNevertheless, I checked Amazon on March 15 and found one seller “discounting” a one-ounce bottle of Purell sanitizer for $342.80.

Things are going to get worse before they get better. But they will get better. Sooner or later, a vaccine will be developed, and we can all go about living our digital, cloistered lives.

Maybe.

For almost two decades, I have documented the erosion of community because of technology, noting how it would change culture and, ultimately, ethical values established in time, place and society: truth-telling, fairness, responsibility and civility. I am not optimistic.

The coronavirus has set a dangerous precedent — that everyday human contact can be deadly. As such, social distancing will continue as long as we can be distantly social on Facebook and Instagram.

The real challenge for the multitudes who will survive this scare is learning to trust each other again, in person, with a handshake sans sanitizer. The alternative — continued, deeper, damaging self-isolation —may be the lurid legacy of this crisis.

We will need leadership at all levels of government as well as in our schools, churches, homes and work places to avoid that viral scenario.

Instructions to Hold Virtual Classes Using Canvas

Teachers using the educational software Canvas can utilize the “conferences” function to hold online classes for the duration of your institution’s ban on face-to-face classes due to the corona virus crisis. Below are step-by-step instructions.

STEP ONE: OPEN CANVAS AND GO TO YOUR SECTION

STEP TWO: GO TO SETTINGS

STEP THREE: GO TOP NAVIGATION TAB (Step One) AND THEN DRAG CONFERENCES TO THE TOP (Step Two)

STEP FOUR: YOUR NAVIGATION MENU SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS

STEP FIVE: NOW SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM AND HIT SAVE

STEP SIX: CLICK THE CONFERENCE TAB (Step One) AND THEN + CONFERENCE (Step Two)

STEP SEVEN: 1. FILL IN THE DESCRIPTION OF THE CONFERENCE 2. INVITE THE ENTIRE CLASS. 3. CLICK UPDATE. NOTE: You can unclick the box and invite individual students

 STEP EIGHT: CLICK START

STEP NINE: CLICK VIDEO

STEP TEN: YOUR SCREEN SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS

STEP ELEVEN: SHARE COMPUTER SCREEN OR LECTURE URL. Note: If you want students to see a PowerPoint or Photoshop or any other application, click the “Application Window” tab.

NOW STUDENTS SEE THIS

STEP TWELVE: GO TO YOUR LECTURE BROWSER TAB TO SCROLL DOWN AS YOU SPEAK NOTE: Your students will see your scroll. Toggle back and forth as appropriate.

FINAL NOTES:

  1. CLICK HERE for student instructions on how to use the “conferences” tab on Canvas.
  2. You should alert your students if you are using this function. Schedule a trial run, perhaps.
  3. You can call on individual students. Ask them to hit the video camera on their screen and they will appear for all to see.
  4. You can record your conference and reuse it.

Student Instructions to Attend Virtual Classes via Canvas

Follow these procedures to join your teacher’s Virtual Classroom. You must be enrolled in one of his or her sections using Canvas educational software. Classes may be scheduled online when  your institution closes for weather-related or flu-related emergency reasons.

STEP ONE: YOU WILL RECEIVE AN EMAIL INVITATION

You will receive via your institution’s email an invitation to join a live conference.


STEP TWO: GO TO YOUR CANVAS SECTION

Click “Conferences.”


STEP THREE: TURN ON YOUR MICROPHONE

Click on the icon so your voice is activated.


STEP FOUR: ALLOW ACCESS TO MICROPHONE

Be sure to click allow


STEP FIVE: CHECK YOUR MICROPHONE

Test the microphone and click “yes” if you can hear your voice.


STEP SIX: LET CANVAS TO ACCESS YOUR CAMERA

On occasion, you may be asked to participate via your phone or computer webcam. Click  allow  and  start  sharing.

STEP SEVEN: HOW TO USE VIDEO CAMERA FUNCTION

Do NOT click the video button unless your instructor calls on you to answer a question or you want to ask him or her a question. After you ask the question or participate in the discussion, you can click off your video and your picture will disappear from the class screen.


STEP EIGHT: HOW TO SHARE YOUR SCREEN

There may be times your instructor asks you to share a photo or digital product. Or you may want to show the class a website. In that case, click the “Share Screen” button below.


STEP NINE: HOW TO SHARE APPLICATIONS

Perhaps you might want to share a file in one of your folders, a video, a presentation or a photo in Photoshop. In that case, ask Dr. B for permission. If he grants it, hit the application tab and then choose the program you want to share. NOTE: You should close all non-class related applications or content you do not want the class to see. 


STEP TEN: HOW TO SHARE WEBSITES

You may want to share a link to your blog or a news or information site. In that case, you should ask the instructor for permission and then hit the browser tab. NOTE: Be sure to close out any open tab that you do not want to share with the class. Very important for privacy!


STEP ELEVEN: YOU SHOULD SEE YOUR TEACHER AND THE DAY’S LECTURE

This is your window into your section as if you were seated in your instructor’s class. Follow all the rules of engagement as if you were face to face.


STEP TWELVE: CLOSE OUT THE PROGRAM

You can log out of the class at any time if you have to leave the session for an appointment or when the class ends. Be sure, however, to close your Canvas tab as well.


In case you have any difficulty accessing the virtual session via Canvas, please contact your institution’s computer support number.

Technology, Cheating and Loss of Trust

The Houston Astros used technology to help win the 2017 World Series. Students cheat using cell phones, wireless earbuds, spyglasses and smart watches. The speed and stealth of technology are too tempting to resist. But the desire to win at all costs has its downside, too.

The Houston Astros baseball team may have won the 2017 World Series with a little help from technology, but the sign-stealing scandal had deeper repercussions than the penalties imposed by the Commissioner’s Office.

The penalties were the harshest possible under current rules: Houston Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were fired, and the team fined $5 million with loss of first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

The scheme involved use of a centerfield camera fixed on the opposing team’s catcher relaying signs to the pitcher: fast ball, change up, curve, and so on. The video was relayed to a monitor in a hidden space in the dugout. Once the sign was decoded, a trash can was banged to signal what the next pitch would be.

This had to be done within a second or two, but the speed of technology allowed it.

Once discovered, the scandal cast doubt on every game the Astros won with its cheating system. That was unfortunate, too, because the team was immensely talented and probably would have won the series without cheating.

As the New York Times noted, the effort wasn’t especially needed as in “2017 Houston hit .279 at home with 115 home runs and a .472 slugging average. On the road, where elaborate sign-stealing should theoretically have been more difficult, the Astros hit .284 with 123 home runs and a .483 slugging average.”

But the real damage was to the sport and, more specifically, to the business of baseball. According to another Times report, “The business of baseball depends on the public’s belief in the legitimacy of the competition. That is the implicit deal between the league and fans, and without that trust, everything falls apart.”

That’s the ethical lesson, too. Cheating obliterates trust. Often, it isn’t needed except to insure a winning season … or semester.

Last year Forbes published an article titled “How Technology Is Being Used By Students To Cheat On Tests,” describing how students use wireless earbuds connected to smartphones in backpacks with pre-recorded content related to exams. Other tech-related cheating involved Google glasses with pre-programmed answers and even smartwatches connecting to third-party off-site accomplices transmitting answers.

Temptation is part of the human experience. However, technology has spawned new strategies that some people just cannot resist because of ambition, greed or monetary reward.

When dealing with temptation, ethical people consider consequences, which often are greater than cheaters initially anticipate. They ponder the worst-case scenario and whether they are able to pay that price.

The price usually involves something worse than loss of a job or promotion, or a failing grade on a test or course; it can result in loss of trust, triggering irreparable harm to a person’s career or future.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine focuses on how omnipresent technology undermines personal and professional values at home, school and work.

Deadly Censorship: China and Coronavirus

Whistlerblower physician Li Wenliang who warned the world about the deadly coronavirus and was punished by police for spreading rumors, contracted the disease and died in Wuhan Central Hospital. He was hailed a hero on the mircoblogging site Weibo, which carried the hashtag #IWantFreedomOfSpeech (now banned). His case shows the dangers of a world without journalism.

In the wake of his death, The Guardian reported “outrage and frustration felt across China over the initial cover-up of the deadly virus.” Some 1.5 billion Weibo users alone expressed their anger and grief on how Dr. Li had been treated.

According to the Guardian, Li was one of eight people detained for spreading rumors about the dangerous disease, with “the fates of the other seven, also believed to be medical professionals,” still unknown.

Government censorship not only silences truth but also often counters with propaganda and misinformation to minimize the impact on policy and national image. An example occurred with the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in then Soviet Ukraine, which threatened all of Europe. To this day, the death toll from the meltdown has yet to be disclosed but has been estimated between 4,000 and 27,000 people.

The New York Times has reported that China had 20,438 confirmed cases of the disease as of early February. During the SARS outbreak, at this time, it had 5,327 cases.

A pandemic risks the lives of thousands.

Conversely, a free press saves lives. Censorship kills, as history has shown us from Chernobyl to coronavirus. Worse, in the absence of journalism, social media spreads misinformation that scientists have difficulty addressing or correcting. That has led to the term “infodemic,” prompting the World Health Organization to work with tech companies to minimize falsehoods about the coronavirus and other diseases.