The Battle for ‘Trayvon Martin’



One of the biggest news stories of 2012, the killing of Trayvon Martin, nearly disappeared from public view, initially receiving only cursory local news coverage. But the story gained attention and controversy over Martin’s death dominated headlines, airwaves, and Twitter for months, thanks to a savvy publicist working on behalf of the victim’s parents and a series of campaigns offline and online. Using the theories of networked gatekeeping and networked framing, we map out the vast media ecosystem using quantitative data about the content generated around the Trayvon Martin story in both offline and online media, as well as measures of engagement with the story, to trace the interrelations among mainstream media, nonprofessional and social media, and their audiences. We consider the attention and link economies among the collected media sources in order to understand who was influential when, finding that broadcast media is still important as an amplifier and gatekeeper, but that it is susceptible to media activists working through participatory or nonprofessional media to co-create the news and influence the framing of major controversies. Our findings have implications for social change organizations that seek to harness advocacy campaigns to news stories, and for scholars studying media ecology and the networked public sphere.


‘Mapping the Trayvon Martin Controversy.’ MIT Center for Civic Media blog.

Moby Dick Project

Participated in the Knight Foundation-funded Moby Dick Project workshop on July 29, 2011 at Stanford’s, where we used design thinking to develop ideas and interface mockups for re-inventing the way people consume news.

My group focused on the problem of background context for news stories. Our solution was an app or web interface for reading articles which incorporated a timeline of articles on the topic displayed as an interactive graph of news volume over time, and the ability to search for related articles by a keyword referring to either a related topic or an alternate perspective on the story. Below the graph, headlines of the most-read articles, fitting within the window of time the user is browsing and categorized by your selected keywords, are listed. Navigation history would be stored in scrollable panes so that users could browse laterally or dive deeply and the return to the original article. [A video of my presentation of our interface is below.]

Group Presentation Video

Interface Mockup


Original Call for Participation

Why Are We Still Consuming News Like It’s 1899?

Anyone find it odd that Fox News personalities compare themselves to Network’s Howard Beale?

Originally published at Unrhetorical.

I know I’m jumping on this rant pretty late in the game but I just watched the 1976 film Network for the first time last night.

If you haven’t seen the film, Howard Beale, the anchor of the nightly news program of a fictional fourth news network UBS, goes literally mad and takes the rest of his impoverished network with him. Hoping for greater and greater ratings / market share, the news program turns into bona fide edutainment with Howard Beale–a raving truth-spouting lunatic–at the center of the circus. Through most of the film, despite his psychosis, Beale is a character whom you can empathize with and even root for as he preaches against bullshit and encourages everyone to chant with him: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

I expected to do a search online today and find a least a few clever writers comparing Network‘s antics to the last five to ten years of Fox News’ programming. I even speculated that if I failed to find such comparisons made by any of the other major cable or network news outlets, that they would be afraid to draw the edutainment criticism to themselves. What I didn’t expect to see was Wikipedia’s “Culture References” for Network to list examples of both Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck voluntarily comparing themselves to Howard Beale.

Certainly, the stage antics and truth-spouting style of Fox News’ personalities are reminiscent of Howard Beale’s exhortations. But Beale was truly mad. He heard voices telling him what to say. Beale’s popularity wanes after a transformative encounter with the chairman of the large corporation that owns UBS. The chairman, furious that Beale decided to turn his attention and audience against a planned corporate buyout by an Arab firm, offers Beale his own apocalyptic sales pitch preaching money and corporate power as the only thing that matters in the world anymore, and then instructs Beale to spread the gloomy message.

In the end, Beale is a puppet. He has become so disillusioned and volatile that he is now a slave to ideological argument. I’m not sure exactly what to make of the reflexive satire of O’Reilly and Beck actually choosing Beale to be their standard-bearer.