Bringing Light to the Darkness: Grassroots Activism in Tea Gardens of Assam

With the first presidential debate happening tonight at Hofstra University, I’ve been thinking a lot about where the candidates stand on the issues I care about: human rights, reproductive rights, international trade, and labor rights. This is not, however, a post on the candidates. This is a post on rights and litigation, on grassroots activism and tea. This is a post about a woman named Sukti Dhital.

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Sukti Dhital (reposted with permission)

Please excuse me for fan-girling, but Dhital is pretty much the coolest person I’ve ever met. Born in Kathmandu, Dhital experienced what she calls an “unconscionable level of inequality” particularly plaguing women and other marginalized communities. As a child, she moved to Flint, Mich. and watched her friends’ parents lose their jobs at the General Motors plant, one after one. Coupled with a crumbling educational system plagued by budget cuts, Dhital knows first hand the loss that comes with economic inequality. She is also a graduate of Northeastern University, class of ’06, and is the deputy director of New York University’s Bernstein Institute for Human Rights. She also is a co-founder of the legal empowerment organization Nazdeek, which is based in both Delhi and Assam, India.  Today, I got the chance to hear her speak as a Daynard Public Interest Visiting Lecture at Northeastern’s School of Law, and as always, I took to Twitter.

 

Continue reading “Bringing Light to the Darkness: Grassroots Activism in Tea Gardens of Assam”

All Look Same, Especially When You Don’t Know What You’re Looking For

You’ve heard it before: All Look Same. This isn’t just some racist joke kids taunt on playgrounds, pulling the corners of their eyes and putting on unmistakably Asian accent. It’s actually a psychological phenomena known as Out-of-Group Homogeneity, and paired with the Cross-Race Effect, it explains why folks struggle to differentiate people outside of their own race. Essentially, interracial interactions are based on features only, while intraracial interactions are holistic–you literally take the person at face value if they’re outside your race, but if they’re within your race you see them as a whole, individual person. So it’s not an inherently racist statement, and it leads us to consider the larger psychological basis for mixing up people of the same race or even racial profiling.

So you’re an average New Yorker wasting time on your phone when you get this emergency alert.

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Via The Verge

 

 

Note that there was no photo attached, so New Yorkers needed to look up images on their own time. Images have flooded the media now, but initially, there weren’t too many photos available and so citizens were left with nothing but an Arab-sounding name and an age. (Fun fact, another result of the Cross-Race Effect is that people struggle to accurately guess the age of folks of different races! So the odds of someone accurately determining Rahami’s age based on a picture are somewhat slim.)

Various media outlets have already chimed in noting that this alert may have lead to citizens racially profiling their brown neighbors. Jessica Lachenal of The Mary Sue wrote that,

“By sending out an alert like this, which lacks critical context and information, people are left with only their imagination and previous biases to judge who “Ahmad Khan Rahami” might be. In a single moment, suddenly everybody who appears to be Muslim and/or Middle Eastern becomes a suspect.”

Lachenal cites the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, when Sunil Tripathi was mistaken for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Daily Beast ran a story on his family in April of 2015, check it out here. People searched incessantly for Tripathi, who didn’t show up, primarily because he was dead. He’d killed himself a month before the bombings even happened.

Let’s be clear: police were able to apprehend Rahami because a citizen saw him and called for help. But when we consider the number of young black men stopped (and arrested or killed) because they matched the brief description of a suspect, we can understand why an emergency alert with a lack of details is concerning.

Building the Beat: 10 Folks to Follow on Twitter

Walk into any intro journalism class anywhere in the country and one of the first questions posed is, “Where do you get your news?” The reality is that today, while most folks still get their news from television sources, a great deal of it (especially in that coveted 18-24 bracket) is digital, and more specifically, mobile. With that in mind, here’s a quick list of Twitter accounts I follow that help to shape my beat of Media and Race in America.

  1. Charles Blow, New York Times columnist and author of the (haunting and powerful) memoir Fire Shut Up In My Bones. Lately, Blow has been focusing a lot on politics, and has been writing some great pieces on Trump’s relationship with Black America.
  2. Yamiche Alcindor, another New York Times writer who covers national politics and social justice issues. I met her during my time at MSNBC, but she garnered a bit of attention when asking Senator Bernie Sanders a question.
  3. Jose-Antonio Vargas is an undocumented, gay, Filipino activist who tweets a great deal about immigration and intersectional identities. He’s also the director and producer of two films: MTV’s White People and Documented.
  4. Arthur Chu, who many know as the Asian Guy on Jeopardy, has since used his fame to address issues of sexism, racism and homophobia, particularly in nerd culture.
  5. Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of The Atlantic’s national correspondent and the author of Between the World and Me and more recently the Marvel Comic series Black Panther. Between the World and Me was written to be an updated version of James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” a response to today’s racial unrest, and practically all of Coates work reflects his reality as a Black man in America.
  6. Liz Plank, of Vox, was named on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in 2015. She used to be with Mic and formerly was a correspondent on MSNBC’s Krystal Clear, and while she mainly covers the 2016 election for Vox, her twitter account is a great source of commentary on all things race, feminism, and fact checking.
  7. Rabia Chaudry, a lawyer and the author of Adnan’s Story, the New York Times’ best-seller that follows up on the case of Adnan Syed. (If the name doesn’t ring a bell, go binge the first season of Serial–this case is one of the most important ones of 2014.) Chaudry uses her twitter account to talk about the rampant Islamophobia in our country.
  8. Ijeoma Oluo is an editor at the online weekly The Establishment. As with many folks in the journalism industry, Oluo’s feed is a mix of professional and personal, and she unapologetically tweets on police brutality and anti-Black racism on a daily basis.
  9. Jeff Yang, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, is now with CNN, but his real strength are his twitter rants, especially those directed at celebrities.
  10. Trymaine Lee is a national reporter for NBC and MSNBC, and as of right now, he’s covering the Charlotte Riots. If you want live updates right now, go to his page. He recently wrote a powerful feature on the Dakota Access Pipeline–a timely reminder that race issues in America are broader than just Black and White.

Keep in mind, I’m currently following close to a thousand accounts on Twitter, but these 10 are first and foremost the ones I recommend when it comes to covering race on our favorite 140-character platform. Is there anyone I missed? Who do you follow?

WTH, LAMESTREAM MEDIA! Media Bias pt 2

Last week, I wrote on the Hostile Media Effect and how it alters our perception of media bias. But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that media bias does exist in our coverage. In today’s post we’re going to highlight six ways bias can manifest in the news.

1. Diction
Perhaps the most obvious form of bias comes from diction, or word choice. Here’s a simple exercise to consider.

After an altercation with Bob, John died. 

John was killed by Bob.

John was murdered by Bob.

Technically all three statements are accurate and tell the same story: John was killed by Bob. But we read the three statements very differently. Vijith Assar of McSweeney’s wrote a creative gem called An Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar last September. The piece itself is brilliant, and I’ll likely utilize it in a future post, but it breaks down how the English language can (by every basic grammar rule we learn as kids) turn, “A quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” into “Speewainvolveijumpingrelateincidenwhilfowabrown.”

Or, “a police officer shot a black man” into “The St. Louis County Police Department was involved in an officer-involved shooting after officers came under heavy gunfire.” 

2. Emotive language

Connected to diction is emotive language. Empathy is one of our key identifiers as people, so the media will intentionally play to people’s emotions. But while emotive language might be appropriate during a human interest story on kids with cancer, it’s more complicated in say, war correspondence. In 2011, the Glasgow Media Group (a group of media researchers at Glasgow University) released the new edition of their book, Bad News For Israel, which highlighted the usage of terms like “atrocity”, “slaughter” and “brutal murder” in regards to attacks on Israelis in occupied territory by television news teams. By contrast, the studies found, that same emotive language was not used to describe the attacks on Palestinians. Similarly, when examining those perpetrating violence, Israelis were called “vigilantes” or “extremists” while Palestinians were called “terrorists”.

3. Omission

When reporters omit information, they are actively choosing to leave important facts out of a story. Perhaps the reporter decided not to include a contradictory source or an editor cut content due to corporate interests. Although we’d love to believe that truth and justice are journalists sole motivators, there are shareholders to placate at many large media groups, and sometimes it’s out of the journalist’s hands. But readers don’t know what they don’t know–omitting information hurts the people who are most affected by the news itself: the audience and those directly involved in the story. Mac McClelland, formerly the human rights reporter at Mother Jones, sums it up quite neatly in an article on the whitewashing of Hurricane Katrina.

“Telling only the happy half of the story isn’t just a disservice to some abstract principle like truth or fairness; it’s a very real disservice to the people on the ground.”

4. Lack of verification

The ethics of journalism requires us to verify the accuracy of our information. It’s what separates us from propaganda or straight up fiction, and it cannot, under any circumstances, be forgotten. It’s why sites like Politifact.com and FactCheck.org exist, why bastions of journalism like the New York Times and Mother Jones hire entire teams of fact checkers to make sure that every article is as accurate as possible. Ideally, you want three independent sources for a single piece of information. Sometimes statements aren’t verified and you see it blow up in a big way, like the time media outlets reported that hundreds of Palestinians were massacred in the Battle of Jenin–a massacre that really wasn’t.

5. Selective Reporting

Imagine you’re an editor in a newsroom, and your supervisor tells you that due to interests high above your pay grade, you need to run fewer stories that criticize Hillary Clinton. Not the election as a whole, just try to keep Clinton’s name out of the mud. You feel weird about this, but you want to keep your job so you tell your writers, “I know we’re two months out from the primary, but let’s try to focus more on Sanders, for better or for worse.” Is this hurting anyone? Yes, yes it is. Not only is it, again, harmful to the principles we hold on truth and fairness, but also because newsflash: audiences notice.

Earlier this year, I got firsthand experience with it. I wrote a blog post (for this site) which was edited and reposted on the Huffington Post. This “Bernie Sanders hit piece” wasn’t really a hit piece, more just me using the forum to process some feelings, but the Huffington Post added a [slanted] headline and the comments section filled up with folks telling me to stop bashing Sanders. Interestingly, their rage wasn’t 100% connected to my article, but to the overall sentiment that the Huffington Post was slanted toward Hillary and thus only running negative articles on Sanders. I don’t know whether this is true, but what I do know is that a whole lot of people saw what they believed to be selective reporting and didn’t like it.

6. Decontextualization

Decontextualization is a type of omission in which the omitted information is essential to understanding a decision, action or event, its underlying motivations or key events leading up to it. We see it all time, whether it’s a politician’s quote taken out of context or a video clip of a confrontation without enough background information. As journalists, it’s key that we include all of the information to give our readers a full picture of the situation. And perhaps even more importantly, it’s our job to fill in the information gaps when others try to pass of information out of context as the truth. 

Blast to the Past

Recently, I was talking with a friend about the whole Y2K scare, how our parents generation believed the computers wouldn’t process the year 2000, how the markets would crash and how civilization as we know it would burn out. Looking back, it seems unfathomable. But so did the 2011 Rapture and frankly, most of our childhood dreams–I wanted to be a chiropractor. Sometimes, 20/20 hindsight is a blessing.

That said, sometimes, people’s predictions of the future aren’t always apocalyptic. Certainly, we all were hoping that 2015 would bring Marty McFly’s hoverboard. And perhaps even more disappointing is that the hopes and dreams of some members of the media didn’t come true (and alarming for those that did).

In this 1981 newscast by KRON, audiences were exposed to the concept of reading the newspaper on the computer. Let that sink in for a minute. That’s about 1/120th of how long it would take to even load the entire paper onto your computer, so you can take two minutes if you need. Of course, we know today that reading the news online isn’t so far off, but reading it in newspaper form (page by page) is far from what we do today. Sure, you can view the New York Times front page, but most websites today recognize that their readers want the sites to update as the news changes, not in the static way traditional print media exists.

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Marty is also horrified that it took 2 hours to receive the electronic newspaper over the phone (Wikimedia Commons)

Looking ahead to the future (1994), innovators at the Knight-Ridder design lab envisioned a tablet device that would let subscribers download the daily paper and take it on the go. Roger Fidler recognized what others didn’t–that mobile devices would rule the 2000s and the 2010s. (Check out the chart below from Wireless Week to see how much of our digital media is being consumed via mobile devices versus desktops and tablets.) But what they didn’t count on was the fact that consumers today don’t want ads, to the point that ad-blockers letting ads through is creating waves. Interestingly, the folks over at Knight-Ridder also believed that readers would want articles geared toward them–like Amazon’s algorithms to suggest products.

Speaking of Amazon, perhaps the most entertaining of the media predictions was this video, from the Poynter Institute, called Epic 2015. The creators of the video predicted that the media landscape would be dominated by Google and Amazon, who combine to create Googlezon, taking on the New York Times and running the media giant into the ground. In the last minutes of the video, the narrator presents a frightening picture: for some, the algorithm create a deep and expansive newsfeed, a river of information tailored to one’s interests. But for many, it is a shallow, factually inaccurate wading pool (probably full of Harambe memes). I’d argue that today, we see these sort of echo chambers happening–not through Googlezon, but through Facebook. The Wall Street Journal created an interactive graphic set called Blue Feed, Red Feed, exploring the issue of filter bubbles on Facebook that limit our access to the news. Facebook, in response, told it’s users to seek out information outside their newsfeed.

The issues that presented in these videos don’t stand alone; they’re issues we consider today. How to best market print media in the digital age, how to get audiences to interact with ads, how to prevent memes from taking over our newsfeed? Most importantly, both as journalists and as consumers, how do we know what matters? It’s not something we can let a computer decide, nor a single person. When a million stories are begging to be heard, consumers rely on the collective media to tell them what is important, without the smoke and mirrors of algorithms and investors. If we can’t do that, then we shouldn’t call ourselves journalists.

(This segues us nicely into Thursday’s topic on media bias and our need for honest and ethical reporting!)

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(Wireless Week)

WTH, LAMESTREAM MEDIA! Media Bias pt 1

In my last post, I briefly mentioned the idea of the “hostile media effect” in regards to media bias. And as our favorite beauty queen-turned-politician-turned-reality tv star loves to remind us, the mainstream media is often called out by viewers across the political spectrum as untrustworthy and unfair. Is this totally deserved?

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The simple answer is…not entirely. Of course, there are screw ups that lead the public to lose trust in an organization, like Brian Williams’ scandal in 2015 or CBS’s 2012 coverage of Benghazi. But mainstream (or LAMEstream, if you know what’s up) doesn’t necessarily deserve all the scrutiny it receives, thanks to the hostile media effect (HME). In a nutshell, HME refers to the phenomena of audiences perceiving a bias that doesn’t exist.

For example, a liberal student reads an article and comes away believing the article was conservative-leaning, perhaps due to their own far-left stance–even though the article in question wasn’t biased. The kicker to HME is that the bias may exist in favor of the slighted party–so in the above case, the article itself is left-leaning, yet due to HME, the liberal reader comes away believing the article is right-leaning and thus, biased.

HME isn’t a new concept but it’s certainly been exacerbated by the speed at which we produce and consumer content, thanks to social media. A number of researchers have examined HME, most notably Lee Ross, Mark Lepper and Robert Vallone studying the effect of media bias and HME in coverage of the Beirut Massacre. Researchers concluded that both pro-Israeli and pro-Arab viewers found the news coverage to be biased against them, even while watching the exact same newscasts of the massacre. (It’s an informative though lengthy read, and if you want to know about the Beirut Massacre itself, I suggest the New York Times’ The Beirut Massacre: The Four Days.) When we extrapolate perceived biases into race-related issues in America (which are still some of the most controversial issues at play), it’s easy to see how perceived and actual biases can be hard to untangle and even harder to navigate, especially as a person of color in America.

While HME does effect audiences, it is still critical to understand where bias comes into play when we report content. Next week, we’ll address some common causes of bias and dive into how language itself plays a role.

 

Finding Focus

For my blog this semester, my intention is to focus on the media coverage of race issues in America, with an emphasis on language. Having taken a previous journalism course with Northeastern professor James Ross (Covering Conflict), I spend a fair amount of time reading into the coded language used to weave bias into articles and scripts. Most outlets have some form of bias, whether it’s coming from personal beliefs and prior experiences of the writer, or coming from an adherence to corporate interests. It’s not always easy to see the bias as a journalist, but readers—especially those involved in a story—often perceive bias (even when it’s not actually biased against them!) This is known as the hostile media effect, which we’ll go into in another post.

But at other times, it’s not an explicit bias so much as a belief that this event is simply not newsworthy. Every day, producers and editors have to make quick decisions before press time or to make changes as an anchor goes live. Maybe there’s an inherent bias from the director telling producers how to angle their story, or maybe the scriptwriter didn’t think about how the term for protestors winds up being different between Blacks and Whites. Many consumers don’t think about the nuances in our language when it comes to reporting the news, until reporters “mess up” and “bias”—of whatever sort—becomes apparent.

Given that my hope is to examine media bias of race-based issues, I recognize that I’ll need to consume news from numerous outlets, with a variety of political and social stances. As a basis, my intention is to seek to balance out “news” coverage between media giants Fox, CNN, and NPR, as well as utilizing some other networks such as Vox, Fusion, and Mic, that tend to be more left-leaning and, in the case of the latter two outlets, that target mainly the 18-34 demographic. Vox, Fusion and Mic have all examined the way that “main stream” media outlets cover race issues, so while there may be a separate bias inherent to more left-leaning outlets, they are more critical about the language itself.