It Ain’t Just How College Students Get the News

John Robinson, not long ago the editor of the Greensboro News & Record, is now teaching journalism to students at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s written a blog post about how his students get their news, and while it’s not exactly shocking, it’s still interesting.

This is how one of my student’s began the diary of her day’s media interactions:

  • 8:15 a.m.: phone alarm sounds, snooze it
  • 8:30 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, snooze it
  • 8:45 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, turn it off
  • 8:50 a.m.: begin checking phone
  • Check text messages, respond
  • Check UNC emails
  • Check personal emails
  • Check Facebook
  • Check Twitter
  • Check Yik Yak
  • 9:05 a.m. Turn on laptop and begin work

That’s pretty much how she ended the day, too, minus the alarm.

I had 35 students in one of my classes record every interaction with media they had over the course of two days. The exercise surprised most of them with how reliant — addicted, in the words of several — they are to their phones and to social media. Putting aside the above student’s wake-up routine, it’s worth noting where her first stops of the day are not:No newspaper, no TV for news or otherwise, no CNN website. If it isn’t on her social media, she’s not going to get it.

That’s not uncommon, either. In fact, it would be more common if you add two more stops: “Check Instagram.” And “Check Snapchat. Respond to Snaps.”

As I read this I had to chuckle because if you were to push the time frame up – I am almost 50 and I have a hard time remembering the last time I slept that late – that’s pretty much how I roll in the morning too. I do consume news directly from traditional sources like newspapers, TV news and magazines, but honestly I do that more for depth and background than for news itself. Almost all of the interesting stories I read are shared with me by someone on one of my multitude of social networks and I seriously doubt I’m the only person in my demographic who can say that.

Later on in his post John writes, “They simply don’t access a great deal of mainstream news media outlets in their course of the day. They often get the news indirectly. But they still get it. (I was a college student once pre-Internet and they know a lot more about what’s going on in the world than most of my classmates did.)” That was true of my college experience too. So many people gave me funny looks when they saw me reading a newspaper or magazine even though it wasn’t assigned school work. Sure, plenty of people cared about news but many did not then and still don’t to this day.

What’s interesting to me is that most people I know in the working world already behave the way his students do. Many of them never paid attention to the news before social networks, and now they actually do because they’re bombarded by shares from their friends. (The reliability of these sources can be questioned, but that’s a post for another day). In my mind if a media company figures out the sharing economy then it’s made itself relevant. If not? Well, bless their hearts.

Fighting Anecdotal Fire With Anecdotal Fire

This article in Slate, written by a woman whose mother did not have her vaccinated and thus suffered through mumps, measles, rubella, etc., is an excellent piece of thinking about the current hubbub related to vaccinations. I like this part in particular:

I find myself wondering about the claim that complications from childhood illnesses are extremely rare but that “vaccine injuries” are rampant. If this is the case, I struggle to understand why I know far more people who have experienced complications from preventable childhood illnesses than I have ever met with complications from vaccines. I have friends who became deaf from measles. I have a partially sighted friend who contracted rubella in the womb. My ex got pneumonia from chickenpox. A friend’s brother died from meningitis. 

Anecdotal evidence is nothing to base decisions on. But when facts and evidence-based science aren’t good enough to sway someone’s opinion about vaccinations, then this is where I come from. After all, anecdotes are the anti-vaccine supporters’ way: “This is my personal experience.” Well, my personal experience prompts me to vaccinate my children and myself. I got the flu vaccine recently, and I got the whooping cough booster to protect my son in the womb. My natural immunity—from having whooping cough at age 5—would not have protected him once he was born.

(Bold emphasis mine)

There are a lot of things that frustrate me about the vaccination debate, not the least of which is that someone else’s decision to ignore science and logic might adversely affect other peoples’ health, but what really gets my goat is the trend the author points out of people refuting evidence with anecdote.

Recently I saw a post on Facebook in which someone shared an information piece of dubious origin that said something like: “Number of deaths from measles last year: 0. Number of deaths from measles vaccines: 106″ There are so many things wrong with this, but here are the most obvious:

  • First of all, if you’re going to share this kind of data then please share the source so it can be verified as legitimate.
  • Second, if it is legitimate then please share whether or not that’s in the US or the world. Why? Because if it’s the world then I can flat out tell you it’s BS. From the World Health Org.:
    WHO warned today that progress towards the elimination of measles has stalled. The number of deaths from measles increased from an estimated 122 000 in 2012 to 145 700 in 2013, according to new data published in the WHO Weekly Epidemiological Report and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The estimated number of measles deaths in 2013 represents a 75% decline in mortality since 2000, significantly below the target of a 95% reduction in deaths between 2000 and 2015.
  • Third, if it IS true and it is just the US then use percentages rather than raw numbers. One reason so few people would have died from measles is because so many people were vaccinated! What percentage of people who got the vaccine died? Vanishingly small. And while the percentage of people who die after contracting measles would also be vanishingly small, that doesn’t mean the disease doesn’t wreak havoc by making people very sick.

So here’s the point, and I’m going to type it really slowly so the anti-vaxxers can keep up: You are entitled to your opinion. You are also entitled to ignore science and generally do stupid things. Your entitlement ends where others’ well being begins, thus if you decide to not vaccinate your children then your family should NOT be allowed to partake in any public activities or enjoy any other societal benefits that would put you in direct contact with the vaccinated population. No schools, no restaurants, no stores, no swimming pools, no movie theaters, no malls, no amusement parks, no public parks and no places of business (okay, maybe Walmart). Nada. Nothing. Don’t want to participate in 21st century public health programs? Fine, then don’t participate in 21st century public gatherings.

Some Things Shouldn’t Be Left to the Market

North Carolina’s freshman senator, Sen. Thom Tillis, is getting some pretty bad press today for saying that he has no problem with restaurants not being required to make their employees wash their hands after using the bathroom. Of course that’s the headline version that’s grabbing everyone’s attention, but when you see it in context it’s not quite that bad. Here’s what he said:

Tillis said his interlocutor was in disbelief, and asked whether he thought businesses should be allowed to “opt out” of requiring employees to wash their hands after using the restroom.

The senator said he’d be fine with it, so long as businesses made this clear in “advertising” and “employment literature.”

“I said: ‘I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,” Tillis said.

“The market will take care of that,” he added, to laughter from the audience.

In that context the quote’s not nearly as bad as the headlines and social media posts would lead you to believe, but even so his stance is terrible public policy. First of all, just because you require a sign doesn’t mean it’s going to be seen. More importantly, how do you propose to deal with all the people who get sick or die before the word gets out that a restaurant is toxic?

I’m all for letting the market decide in many areas of our lives, but public health ain’t one of them.

Vernon Robinson Digging for Ben Carson Gold

Folks who have been paying attention to politics in North Carolina, and Winston-Salem in particular, for any amount of time will instantly recognize the name Vernon Robinson. He’s a conservative gadfly who labeled himself the “black Jesse Helms” and ran some of the most vitriolic campaigns these parts have ever seen. While he’s never won a major office – he did at one point when a seat on Winston-Salem’s city council, but that’s A-League ball in the world of politics – he has been a heckuva fundraiser and he’s put those skills to work as he toils to draft Ben Carson to run for POTUS. Mother Jones has the story:

Dr. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon, author, tea party hero, and Stuck On You star, is contemplating a presidential bid in 2016. He’s being cheered on by conservative activists—and by the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, a super PAC founded in 2013 to urge Carson to run. The PAC sends out emails touting Carson, gathers signatures for petitions aimed at coaxing him into the race, and it raises money from conservatives enthralled with the prospect of a Carson presidency. A lot of money. According to Federal Election Commission filings, the Draft Carson PAC has raised an impressive $12.2 million since its founding—slightly more than Ready for Hillary, the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. Draft Carson has, in fact, done very little besides fundraise…

The guy responsible for collecting and managing Draft Carson’s huge haul is Vernon Robinson, the PAC’s political director and a notorious, perennial candidate with a history of rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric. An African-American, ex-Air Force officer from North Carolina, Robinson has repeatedly run unsuccessful campaigns for Congress. He calls himself “the black Jesse Helms”—a comparison the director of the late senator’s foundation declared “sad.” His congressional campaign ads—one of which characterized undocumented immigrants as flag-burners and sex offenders—are so out-there that political science professors use them to illustrate mudslinging at its dirtiest. In 2006, a Republican running against Robinson in a House primary said that he “scares me.” But win or (almost always) lose, the common thread in his political career has been remarkable fundraising success, with a big chunk of the proceeds Robinson has raised flowing to a small camp of conservative fundraisers, and sometimes, himself…

Robinson, meanwhile, has quietly turned his quixotic Draft Ben Carson effort into a lucrative enterprise for himself. FEC filings show that the PAC paid out over $250,000 to a consulting firm called Tzu Mahan. Buzzfeed reported in November that Tzu Mahan—its name a mashup of ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and 19th century Navy admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan—is a one-man company, run by Robinson. Robinson’s reaction, when asked about his high salary, was candid: “People get paid to do politics,” he said.

Ten years ago on this blog I made a standing offer to any local elected leader to help them learn how to use this revolutionary new medium called blogging to communicate directly with their constituents. The only person who took me up on it was indeed Vernon Robinson. We met for coffee at the Starbucks on Hanes Mall Boulevard, and had an interesting meeting. I ended up helping him set up a blog on my blogging platform, but he really didn’t do anything with it. Ten years later what I remember most about the meeting were two things: First, that he tried to pay for his coffee with a gold coin that was alternative currency to the US dollar and the manager had to inform him he wouldn’t allow it to happen in the future, and second that he seemed far less vitriolic and more politically pragmatic in a one-on-one conversation than he was when talking to the press or campaigning.

So here’s my advice if you’re considering sending some dollars to the Draft Ben Carson campaign: caveat emptor. Heck, that’s my advice for sending money to any political campaign.

Squeezing the Middle

The Wall Street Journal, that bastion of the liberal press <sarcasm>, has the story behind the squeeze on America’s middle class. In a nutshell the economy has rebounded nicely and consumer spending is up, but when you dig into the numbers you find that the spending is happening at the high and low end. Some interesting excerpts from the article:

Since 2009, average per household spending among the top 5% of U.S. income earners—adjusting for inflation—climbed 12% through 2012, the most recent data available. Over the same period, spending by all others fell 1% per household, according to Mr. Cynamon, a visiting scholar at the bank’s Center for Household Financial Stability, and Steven Fazzari of Washington University in St. Louis, who published their research findings last year.

The spending rebound following the recession “appears to be largely driven by the consumption at the top,” Mr. Cynamon said. He and Mr. Fazzari found the wealthiest 5% of U.S. households accounted for around 30% of consumer spending in 2012, up from 23% in 1992…

Revenue for such luxury hotel chains as St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton rose 35% last year compared with 2008, according to market research firm STR Inc. Revenues at midscale chains such as Best Western and Ramada were down 1%…

For the first time, U.S. builders last year sold slightly more homes priced above $400,000 than those below $200,000. As a result, the median price of new homes exceeded $280,000, a record in nominal terms and 2% shy of the 2006 inflation-adjusted peak.

Total sales last year, however, were up just 1% compared with 2013, and more than 50% below their average from 2000 to 2002, before the housing bubble…

There are some real issues with this kind of market, not the least of which is that it doesn’t do enough to create the kind of economic ripple that benefits everyone. For instance the fact that builders are focusing on fewer, but larger and more expensive houses definitely has a down side:

Homes are generally the biggest purchase Americans make. Housing dollars ripple through the economy by triggering spending on appliances, furniture and landscaping.

Fewer homes means fewer new buyers and that means fewer appliances, furniture and other household goods and services sold. In the end that means fewer jobs. Fewer new homes being built also means that demand for existing homes will rise, which leads to higher prices and thus even more would-be buyers are priced out of the market. That puts more demand on rentals which leads to higher rent; higher rent means less money to save each month which helps put a down payment ever further out of reach. In other words a very nasty cycle.

Of course markets are inherently cyclical and at some point in the future this will all turn around, but what’s become very apparent is that the Great Recession continues to have a negative effect on our country long after it officially ended. The middle class has been bearing the brunt of it, and it looks like people are starting to figure it out. It will be interesting to see if anyone in the political field figures out how to use that to their advantage; someone like, say, Elizabeth Warren.

48 Years of Sewing Balls

The whole “Deflate-Gate” kerfluffle from this year’s AFC Championship Game put the most focus on the actual footballs than we’ve seen in years. That makes this five minute video about the making of the balls, and one lady who sewed them for 48 years, seem super-appropriate as we get ready to watch Super Bowl XLIX.

BTW, have you heard that the powers that be don’t like the idea of identifying the 50th Super Bowl as Super Bowl L? Instead it will be Super Bowl 50, which kind of irks me because I was really looking forward to getting all kinds of schwag with my last initial on it.

Ever Wished You Could Just Crap Money?

If you’re really healthy you might be able to make a pretty penny selling your poop:

Some people with Crohn’s disease also benefit from fecal transplants. So a company called Open Biome has been facilitating fecal transplants to patients in need, and paying healthy poopers a hefty sum for their services.

Fecal matter is transferred either through endoscopy or swallowed capsules, and Open Biome has already shipped about 2,000 treatments to almost 200 hospitals, according to theWashington Post. They’ll pay you $40 per sample, plus an extra $50 if you come in 5 days a week (the donations have to be made on-site.) The only thing is, you have to be super-healthy: only about 4% of prospective donors make the cut.

As someone with a decidedly juvenile sense of humor I found this next part to be particularly good:

Open Biome gives their anonymous donors names like Vladimir Pootin, Albutt Einstein, and Dumpledore

Personally I prefer Sir Poopsalot or The Godfather of Poo.