I cannot meme today. I has the dumb.

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There is a social media component to my job. In my mind, this means remaining up to date on all trends in social media and reacting to them in a way that has a positive effect on my company.

As I am physically unable to do this, there are times when I wonder whether I’ve grown too old for that part of my job. Should I relinquish this responsibility to one of the college students on my staff (which is how I got the job in the first place)?

Normally, I recognize this sort of thought as mere insecurity and move on by writing a blog post or stoking my confidence by reading the mentions, re-tweets, and comments that have appended themselves to the original content I’ve created via my company’s social media accounts.

Then, on Thursday, one of my colleagues sent me this:

After some 30 seconds of reading and analyzing, I was no closer to understanding its meaning than I was to understanding who created the “shoes” pictured in the upper left corner, or who would wear them.

According to popular social media sources, these types of memes have been all the rage this year. I had a much easier time interpreting the meaning of these memes when I accepted that I have never read surrealist literature nor will I ever devise to call myself a surrealist, then broke down and viewed a few more memes that better fit my personality and knowledge base. Like this one:

Full disclosure, though not the exact same as those pictured above, I do have this one pasted to the back of my office computer, visible to anyone who enters my workspace:

The image sharing power of Pinterest and Facebook as well as the ease with which we can now edit photos has made popular this kind of content creation. But, honestly, what the hell?

I can’t count the number of times, while browsing through my wife’s Pinterest account, I’ve uttered that line. The things that people create are, more times than not, completely inappropriate for any context outside of their own. Take the surrealist meme pictured above. It’s funny to some people, mainly people like my colleague who sent it to me and have the knowledge base to understand it. Beyond that circle of culture, the meme is dead .

It’s also entertaining in its own specific time. Once created, the shelf life of said meme (there is no research on this that I can find this morning, check for an updated post later) probably mimics the normal distribution curve associated with innovation diffusion theory, happening in real time and in hyper-speed. My best guess about a meme’s interpretation by a specific culture, and if lucky the mainstream, is that the meme itself is dead as its exposure begins to fall to the right of the curve’s peak. There is little chance that it will ever become popular again, at least for that particular generation.

Shifting gears, Richard Dawkins conceived of memes and mimetic behavior as a specific trait of evolutionary relevance. Particularly, as humans mimic the behavior of others in their culture, the hope is, these new behaviors will have some sort of positive effect on their biological sustainability (this is my interpretation of what I’ve read of memes on Wikipedia, and I plan to read more of Dawkins soon). If we apply this definition of memes to, say, a study of what is popular on Pinterest or what people are sharing the most on Facebook, what will we find out about the culture of which we are a part? According to my wife’s homepage, the sustenance for us includes laboriously decorated baked goods, abbreviated/hyper-focused workouts, one’s hairstyle, and finger mustaches.

For my entertainment, I want to see cats in adorable poses illustrating some life concept superimposed over the cute images. For my brain’s sake, I hope social memes like these begin to die off like our ancient ancestors. For the researcher inside, I hope the meme wars continue, drafting more creative minds in the fight toward whatever we’re hoping to accomplish. At least we all have plenty of, “What the …” moments ahead of us.

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So you think you’re a pro

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It’s 2011. Somehow we found ourselves in the middle of a social media revolution.

A recent article in the Journal of Sports Media1 spurred me to begin thinking more carefully about the connection of social media and the process of “professionalizing” journalism. Journalists and writers, it’s no secret, enjoy talking about journalism and writing. And, what they say about journalism as a concept is not altogether good: “clearly, at the start of the 21st century, many experienced journalists fear for the future of journalism” (p. 1).2

Generally speaking, popular effects research on the media tend to behave in a manner that posits the media as a negative entity that causes heavy users to behave differently and contrary to normal expectations. Think of Putnam’s Bowling Alone or Postman’s Technolpoly and Amusing Ourselves to Death. At the most basic level, these books argue that something is wrong and that the cause of these social ills is the mass media.

However, in none of these accounts specifically, and in the larger world of research generally, do journalists, news-makers, or the news media (aside from complaints of bias against FOX News) act as a primary culprit in turning well mannered folk into norm-upsetting hippies. It’s always entertainment media or the overuse of new technology, etc. Yet, journalists are the most forward-thinking group of media-makers discussing the process of “becoming more professional.” This is, of course, an entirely separate conversation.

The question facing all journalists is no longer “should I engage with social media,” but “how should I engage with social media.” The “revolution” of social media has forced anyone with a voice needing to be heard to adopt technologies they do not necessarily understand and adapt their message these technologies, which do not necessarily fit the journalist’s method of communication.

Engaging with social media is a casual enterprise. The first thing I did when I logged on to Facebook was accept an invitation to be in a relationship with the girl I’d been in a relationship with for a couple of months. Without knowing it, my online destiny was sealed. My relationship became a “news” item.  In the world of the “news feed” professional news outlets now compete for attention among the myriad of content posted by individual users each day. In so doing, producers of content enter a realm outside of their control. At least when you print a paper or direct a television show or air a radio broadcast, you are in control of how your content looks, feels, and sounds. Publishing a website gives you a large amount of control over your users’ experiences, provided users can actually find and use your site. But Facebook, for example, renders each user, brand, news outlet, and log-on-once-a-month Larry as equals.

To become relevant in the social world, one must somehow become similar to the social world, but in a way that does not sacrifice one’s professionalism. This is no small feat. Consider how quickly you post status updates. Do you use as much effort source-, fact-, and spell-checking these updates before they go live? Have you ever had to delete a post or offer a correction to something you posted earlier? Has something you’ve posted ever split hairs within your organization while being well accepted by your audience? Does your organization have a “best practices” guide to social media?

And, questions of professionalism extend much further than merely what to post, what not to post. What I love about the Sports Media article is its focus on sourcing. Do you pull athlete quotes from Twitter and what’s the professionalism of that? Shouldn’t you be interviewing your sources for solid stories, not picking up stories from Twitter? The answer here is unclear. In fact, everything with respect to the relationship between professionalism and social media is unclear. As Reed suggests, when things begin to clear up, ” it will be up to journalists and the organizations for which they work to decide how to preserve credibility in this environment that arguably demands more of them” (p. 58).

Good luck. It’s been a difficult road to “professionalize” journalism until now. Social media is not making it any easier. But, if journalists can do what they have always done well and get ahead of the trends, they may soon be able to use the social movement to help shape what it means to be professionally social.

Notes

1 Reed, S. (2011). “Sports Journalists’ Use of Social Media and Its Effects on Professionalism.” Journal of Sports Media 6(2), pp. 43-64.

2 Ornebring, H. (2008). “The Two Professionalisms of Journalism: Updating Journalism Research for the 21st Century.” Proceedings from the 2008 International Communications Association Annual Meeting, Quebec, Canada.

An old and a new

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I read a fun blog post from the folks at Wired two weeks ago about the capitalization of the word, “internet.” AP Style dictates that you ought to capitalize the word, but others across the globe have done away with this rule.

Why? Because it’s too commonplace to warrant the same status as other proper nouns, like “Web site”.

Actually, “web” and “net” go lower in Wired‘s case.

This caused me to think about things that still exist, regardless of their anachronistic style, as well as things that have not yet been invented, but may not be far off.

The one “old” thing that literally appeared into my line of sight this evening is the picture located to the right. If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to view the photo, it is an icon of a floppy disk. By clicking this icon, you can save a search, journal article, or citation from the online database I’m surfing. What’s funny is that I haven’t owned a computer in the past six years that even has a way to process these things, and yet they are still an iconic representation of what we have all learned is the process of saving something electronically.

It would be interesting if the databases and online spaces that used this image replaced it with something more modern, say, a picture of a cloud? It would make logical sense, but would it get the message across?

My “new” thought for the day deals with social media. I was watching one of my authors on television two weeks ago and realized that, no matter how much I tweeted or shared on Facebook the link to the Book TV website advertising the show, I could not make people watch the show, nor could I make it any easier for them to do so. Someone without access to a television, or one they can control, might get frustrated that I keep sharing non-television content about a live television show. This could even foster negative will toward me.

The technology already exists, based on your television service provider, to program your television to record specific shows without ever having to be in front of your television. I predict that this technology will develop to the point where even the lesser-known providers make available recording apps for DVR subscribers. When this technology is finally adopted by a chunk of the population, the wise entrepreneur will design a social app that allows individuals to share television content, offer people the option to record the content directly from their device, and even interact with the programming – among peers.

In the same way I find out about dozens of new pieces of content each day through the social web – that is, content I would not have discovered otherwise – so to will people be able to watch television they may never have known existed. This could mean great user engagement with television (seen until recently as a one-way medium), the lessening importance of the television schedule, and even the demise of primetime television.

Senators take on Facebook (this could get ugly) – You and 4 other like this…

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When do you know you’re powerful? When the Senate sends you a letter concerning your dorm-room creation and the potential harm it could serve for the American society.

Today was probably the first time I’ve ever heard the words “Senator” and “Facebook” mentioned in the same news story, nay, same headline. While the government is throwing a hissy fit about what Facebook has done with personal privacy this week, what they’re neglecting is that regardless of whether your information is being shared via third-party sites, your information is still in cyberspace – no matter how many times or ways you lock it up.

The Senate is simply trying to delay the process.

Of course, all of this is even funnier when you think about what Facebook will probably look like in five years. It may very well not exist, which is the opinion of more than a few people around here. Our Senators are not doing a horrible thing by trying to keep Facebook in line, but couldn’t they be spending their time doing something more useful. They must think we’re really lazy or that we’re too ignorant to figure out how to use the social media sites they (the Senators) have probably never even seen.

The ugly side of sport

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When we hear about football celebrities doing stupid things, my roommates and I make the same joke: “You know what? I bet Jerry Jones would hire him.”

Lately, Jones has sort of become known for picking up renegade stars, such as Terrell Owens, for reasons only he can understand. Most of us believe Jones just wants as much media attention for his beloved football franchise as possible. While this view might be cynical, I’m not so certain it’s that far from the truth.

Michael Rosenberg recently posted an article on SI.com about sports celebrities and the media’s coverage of their “ugly sides.” Nothing in history can compare to the media time spent covering Tiger Woods’ multiple affairs, but Rosenberg asks a few extremely simple, yet relevant questions:

How much of this did we need to know? And if you’re going to be a sports fan in any conventional sense — because you want the escape and enjoy the games — does it help, in any way, to check the Internet for the latest embarrassing cell phone camera shots of a famous athlete?

Or would you rather just watch the games?

Why is that national news outlets, such as CNN, NPR, and others that traditionally only give the most major sports limited coverage at best feel, the need to report on the moral scandals within sports? And, more importantly, why do these outlets feel it’s necessary to report on something like the arrest of one of Woods’ mistresses?

I’m asked all the time about whether I think “news” is changing with the advent of new technologies. Although I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the views held by people who actually care about newsworthiness, I’m obligated to think that what was once considered “news” a few years ago is now resigned to the boring/negative category in the minds of most media users.

People don’t have to get their information from traditional news outlets anymore. I’m tempted to think that news about foreign affairs and other “important” (an extremely relative term) topics isn’t even considered news by a number of people in our world. If you don’t believe me, please explain why Adam Lambert is featured on CNN’s homepage talking about politics and why what he thinks matters.

Journalism in freefall? Maybe not

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An April 13 article in The Atlantic’s business section online (Do Journalists ‘Grieve’ the Decline of Journalism?) recently put a few things in perspective for me.

Most of us like to talk about things, and the things we talk about are, most likely, considered news by the parties talking about them. For those of us who actually pay attention to nation- and world-wide current events, we like to say we keep up with the news and enjoy staying informed. However, when news is removed from its context, which is what happens when it’s reported (according to Neil Postman), it sometimes takes on new meaning.

Take the decline of journalism for example. Everyone likes to talk about how journalism is beginning to fail, and that technology will eventually render the profession obsolete. People can get/make their own news through Twitter and Facebook, and the need for traditional reporters and news gatherers is no longer a societal priority. The problem with this rumor, however, is that the people perpetuating it aren’t the people who care about journalism in the first place.

For those of us who actually value the kind of news we receive about overseas conflicts, the goings-on in Congress, and the state of our nation’s educational systems, the fate of journalism couldn’t be more clear – it’s not destined for a fatal doom, at least not any time soon. Have a look at this quote from The Atlantic article:

It’s not just the new media gurus who think there is value in simple aggregation, or complex interactive graphs, or blogging public policy twenty times a day (Harold Pollack called the health care reform story “the best-covered news story, ever.”) There are Web sites that exist primarily to chronicle and lead the transformation because they find it interesting and important. Executives at newspaper and magazines companies consistently hail the challenges of new media as unprecedented opportunities to provide richer stories to the widest audience in history (the ones not named Rupert Murdoch, anyway).

It seems strange that we would say new media threaten journalism while aiding the rest of society (which seems to be the popular buzz). But, why can’t new media help journalism? Is there some reason we perpetuate stories because they’re conflict-laden? I venture to believe that the people predicting journalism’s failure don’t  want to live in a world where journalism doesn’t exist.

Despite increased use, new media still baffling

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Perhaps I’m a bit late in making my decisions, but I’ve finally picked up a Sherlock Holmes novel after seeing the movie for fear of having missed out on a valuable piece of literature. And while my mind is in the mood for solving mysteries this month, one continues to allude me – why, after Tweeting for two, spending the bulk of my day in the corporate Facebook world, running two blogs, updating LinkedIn, and following an untold number of social media guru blogs (not to mention @DanSchawbel who recently posted, “You have to be as committed to your social media profile as you are to your husband or wife”), do I still find it a struggle to maintain my social self (while also struggling to take CNN’s Rick Sanchez seriously)?

Well, I guess you could call me the present-age do-it-yourself-er. Now I’m not comparing myself to those thousands of families who began new lives farming in America and subsequently paved the way for the American Dream as a do-it-yourself kind of enterprise, but I will say that none of this social media, citizen journalism stuff was ever taught to me. And it probably wasn’t taught to you either unless you received a link via your Twitter account that took you to some Youtube posting where some “guru” explained the world of Facebook.

However, recently I found an article via PoynterOnline explaining how a group in Ohio is funding an academy to train citizen journalists. One portion of the article reads:

Academy leaders “will equip citizens with the tools and training they need to tell their stories through videos, news reports, blogs and visual design projects,” the foundation said in a statement. “Students of all ages will learn to express themselves by producing relevant, local content using such new technologies as mobile media players, digital video cameras and editing software. Students also will learn basic journalism tenets and web-broadcasting skills.”

Oddly enough, this sounds similar to what I might expect university admissions counselors to use as a rough mission statement to attract prospective journalists to their struggling communications programs. On first read I was obviously concerned about the state of academia and the legitimacy of my degree program, but I soon began to realize that no one-time, six-figure donation could ever compete with the well endowed, not to mention accredited, universities.

If nothing else, this first-time shot at a citizen journalist academy could pave the way for an entirely new media literacy movement in our country, and with the increasing frequency with which media are becoming extensions of the human body (McLuhan on “the extension of man“), increased media literacy may not be that bad of a thing. And who knows, it may even be good for the local media outlets who publish citizen journalism.