I Need a Holiday

Guest Post by Emily Garbutt, Senior Account Executive

When I started reading, Trust Me I’m Lying, by Ryan Holiday I didn’t know what to expect. In the beginning, I was excited to read it because not only am I a huge fan of American Apparel crop-tops and leotards, but I’m also a fan of successful people. They inspire me to push myself to my limits.  I was ready for this book to enlighten me, I was ready for it to inspire me, and it did…just not in the way I thought it would.

I always look for themes in what I’m reading. I think that’s just how my mind works. So, page after page of Holiday’s ‘manual,’ I tried to find some cohesive or conclusive element, a means to his madness. After racking my brain and searching high and low, I saw the answer was right in front of me; so apparent I’m embarrassed it didn’t hit me sooner. Money. Money. Money.

The reason I avoided this all too obvious conclusion is that it seemed like there had to be more, much more. I knew a greater explanation existed. There had to be a more powerful force driving bloggers, editors, and publishers to utterly destroy ethical boundaries (in the way Holiday’s book depicts) than just for money, there had to be a system behind it all. Then it hit me. The media are a business (and all too often the public forgets this).

Just because the blogosphere exists virtually and is “intangible” doesn’t mean it functions any differently than a “brick and mortar” business. Or does it? The problem with the online media, is that its economics are much more stressful than that of a “brick and mortar” business. They make their money from advertisements and site traffic. In an economic system where money is made on a “page view” basis, it’s no wonder bloggers get desperate. So desperate they fabricate stories. So desperate they alter reality. So desperate to deliver, to do their job, to compete, that they just make up whatever they feel like or know will make people click.

GarbuttCan we blame them? They’re just trying to do their job, just trying to please their editors. In fact, they’re not all that different from the Washington Post reporter, Janet Cooke, who was just trying to do her job when she wrote her infamous 1980’s article, ‘Jimmy’. The story, according to Cooke, was about an 8-year-old heroine addict, Jimmy, who was introduced to the drug by his mom’s live-in boyfriend.

Cooke’s alarming story of a child heroine addict earned her the Pulitzer Prize until, due to overwhelming speculation against her, she revealed to the Post she fabricated the story. The Pulitzer was returned and Cooke resigned. A year later when asked in an interview with Phil Donahue why she did it, she explains she was under immense pressure to deliver a story to her editors. The Post’s newfound fame after its coverage of Watergate in the 70s led Cooke to fabricate a jaw-dropping story to keep her employers’ status (let’s recall again, the Media are a business, status means money).

I’m not trying to defend Janet Cooke. I think it’s appalling what she did, but I guess in some way I feel some sympathy for her, just as I feel some (emphasis on some) sympathy for the pressures bloggers face. In the age of the online media, there are no distinct lines; there are no concrete rules. So what do we expect? As consumers of the media, we’ve gotten greedy. We want interesting, thrilling, arousing news and we want it now.

I thought understanding the concept of ethics in general was difficult, but understanding media ethics is way worse (especially online media ethics). All this confusion sparked by Holiday makes me want to take a holiday…

Trust Me Ruined Me

Guest Post by Cathryn Curoe, Aspiring PR Professional

According to my educational background, I seem to be drifting toward a career in Public Relations—a career I now fear entering thanks to author Ryan Holiday’s book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.

Holiday uses his book to expose the lowered standards to which many online journalists now hold themselves, whether consciously or subconsciously. It is difficult, however, to firmly decide where the blame for these lowered standards of news dissemination should be. Is it the blogger? Or is it something bigger?

Curoe image

“The fool who feeds the monster”. Viñeta de 1913 en Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper. Originally posted by Ricardo Galli.

News in this age of instant gratification is expected to be more than just accurate. It’s expected to be quick. Big stories no longer have the luxury of waiting till the morning paper to be reported; with the infinite Internet and blogosphere, these stories are now reported immediately, sometimes literally within seconds.

So what are the ethical implications of our insatiable need for timely news? The answer is the tumbling of long-established journalistic values, which, at their best, include the following: accuracy, confirmation, tenacity, dignity, reciprocity, sufficiency, equity, community and diversity. In our great need for speed, I would argue we tend to overlook most or all of these values—as readers, and possible news disseminators ourselves.

Holiday’s explanation his game of blog manipulation got me interested in doing some of my own exploration of online news sources to see if I can spot discrepancies on my own.

Turns out, I now question literally every single online post I see.

One particular article stood out to me, however, because of its hilarious irony. I searched for “media deception” and Bill Randall’s article from The Washington Times Communities, “Media lies and deception are destroying America,” popped up. It seemed promising at first—until the author pointed out different cases in which the media had allegedly manipulated a story and therefore lied to the American public.

Interestingly enough, this writer chose three political cases (TARP/Stimulus Bailout Funds, the Tea Party, National Debt Crisis) and cited media coverage with what can be assume to be a liberal bias. Each case has two sections: “How it was reported” and “The real truth.” I choose not to label myself as a Republican or Democrat. Yet I can still detect a conservative bias in how he describes the “real truth.”

And this brings me back to ethical writing and the journalistic values discussed in the text. I would argue this piece lacks equity (allowing sources of both sides to be represented equally), and also brings into question, once again, whether opinion has an ethical role in the news?

I am a firm believer in everyone having a right to his or her own opinions. However, they do not belong in a piece that does not clearly state its political/religious/social agenda to its readers. Choosing to write under a façade of neutrality is simply unethical manipulation.

I often fear that my career in PR will force me to face some of these difficult ethical decisions. I just hope I have the knowledge to know what’s wrong, and the strength to do what’s right.

Closer to God No More

Guest Post by Lita Smith, Future White House Press Secretary

3 LancomeThe issue that the U.K. regulators had with this Lancôme ad was that it was overly Photoshopped. Therefore it was a wildly exaggerated portrayal of the product’s effects when used. My issue with this ad is that, like all beauty ads, it gives the audience their idea of perfection. This perfection is completely unattainable. The models in their ads do not even look like the perfection they portray, their image is displayed after extensive ‘airbrushing.’ And yet people in today’s culture still have an obsession with looking flawless, and will go to grave lengths and spends ridiculous amounts of money to do so.

I am no saint when it comes to this. I own my fair share of cosmetic products and have had some microdermabration treatments and spray tans in my life. I have done all this and purchased all this in my own desire to achieve attractiveness. I was born and raised in Dallas, TX, a city commonly known as the “want-to-be Beverly Hills.” We have salons and Starbucks at just about every street corner and just as many gyms to match. Beauty is of the utmost importance and women, as well as men, will not stop until they have achieved it.

I can remember when I first moved to Milwaukee; I immediately saw a difference in the way people dressed and presented them selves. Maybe it was just because I was in a big college city, or it was because I was in the Midwest, but the apparent difference in one’s attitude about their appearance was more relaxed and sensible. The women here do not wear tiny skirts to class with heels and their hair styled to perfection. The men do not look like they could be body builders and everyone seems to be perfectly fine with it. They all find one another relatively attractive.

At first, I was very apprehensive to change my style and my own way of dressing, but as the years rolled on I realized that superficial looks could be just as unattractive as not putting any care into your appearance. So now, I think I have found a ‘healthy’ balance between the two. I no longer wear as much make up as I did in Dallas (just mascara and a hint of blush on occasion). My shoes are no longer high enough to bring me closer to God. I do not tease my hair anymore and I allow its natural curl to show more often then not. I still work out a ton and my obsession with clothes has not ceased to exist. But I have a better sense of my own confidence. And as advertising major I can appreciate the beauty in a model or actress but I also understand that their pictures are not always real. They did not just wake up and show up to the Oscars. They had to prepare hours ahead of time. And I have neither the time nor the urge.

The 411 on Mindfulness

Guest Post by Emily Garbutt, Senior Account Executive

I’m not really sure how mindfulness relates to ethics just yet. I guess I’m still trying to define mindfulness itself. So, here it goes…

The inherent nature of ‘mindfulness’ is not thinking, it’s being…just, being. That’s it. Contrary to popular assumption, it’s not rocket science. It’s simply allowing whatever is to be without judgment, expectation or resistance. It’s acceptance, acknowledgement of the present moment and patience.

MF Garbutt imageWhat I find most intriguing about the concept of mindfulness in general, even just the word itself is that when it’s first introduced, people almost seem to fear it. People (and when I say people I include myself) initially think it’s bogus or some type of hippie voodoo, gypsy crap. We’re speculative of it because it’s foreign to us. There’s nothing wrong with that because it’s somewhat human nature to be apprehensive about things we don’t yet understand. I would argue however, that the fear or speculation we may feel toward mindfulness is the first step in attaining it and more importantly understanding it.

Mindfulness, like life in general, is a journey. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and we’re meant to learn lessons, make mistakes and forgive ourselves throughout the process. I think once we start, we’re forced to continue down the enlightened path because we just can’t help ourselves. It’s like we’re being divinely propelled to absorb all of its lessons.

In yoga, we’re taught to honor ourselves every practice. This, most importantly means, honoring our own physical capabilities to execute certain yoga postures. We’re not supposed to look at our neighbors and say to ourselves, “my warrior one isn’t as good as his, or I can’t do bridge pose like she can”. We’re encouraged to accept where we stand within our own individual practice because it’s exhausting, discouraging, frustrating and downright insane to constantly compare ourselves to others during yoga and more generally, in life itself.

Just as we do in yoga, we must do when practicing and learning about mindfulness. We must honor our own journey without comparison, without judgment. We must freely allow ourselves to be propelled down the enlightened path and absorb the lessons it teaches us along the way.

Ethics: A Means of Change and Way of Life

Guest Post by John Muir, Aspiring Sports Broadcaster   

Living is easy. Not quite so simple is living while being mindful of one’s ethical responsibility in society. From experience, I know all about both of these ways of life. I used to go around saying and doing whatever I wanted. Very similar to some other teenagers that you likely remember from your past. Possibly, this was person was a friend, an enemy, or even you yourself. There was no filter on what would come out of my mouth and nothing to check my behavior.

Screen Shot 2013-02-16 at 5.52.24 PMAlthough I was fortunate enough to have a loyal group of friends, many outside of that alliance were not a fan of the person that I was. When I left the sheltered high school setting for the much larger collegiate stage, I entered knowing absolutely nobody. Prior to my freshman year, I realized that there was an opportunity for change. That change was to live my life obeying the ethical standards set forth by society. I began thinking about my words and actions prior to putting them on display for the world. Not only was the reception of others better, but I personally began to feel better. I had to begin putting conscious thought into every decision I made but it has been more than worthwhile.

Pride is taken in the fact that I now live my life ethically and do what is right by the culture in which I live. When I read in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work, Wherever You Go, There You Are, that ethics has been defined as “obedience to the unenforceable,” I could not do anything but agree.  Not abiding by ethics brings no legal consequence, and ethical standards cannot all be found in the law of the United States. However, when one disregards ethics, they do a disservice to other people and themself.

As I have found from experience, life is much more worthwhile when one is fulfilling his or her duty as a world citizen to hold in regard ethical practices. Ethics is not a part-time action but rather a life consuming matter. However, I could not imagine going back to living a life where a single decision is made without weighing the ethical implications. If you have yet to allow ethics to be a major part of your life, give it a try. I promise that you will not regret the decision.

Unapologetic Deception

Guest Post by Rebecca French, Aspiring Photojournalist

A key component to informational journalism is the distinction between truth and objectivity. Objectivity connects the aspects of human perception with the facts of the matter and then further developed knowledge on the subject. Journalists are often perceived as refusing to allow their personal bias to influence what they report; however, in many cases, like that of Mike Daisey, a pragmatist approach of an ever changing stream of consciousness might be more evident.

ADaisey was accused of fabricating extreme accusations about the Foxconn factory he visited in China where Apple manufactures many of its products. Daisey then shared these viewpoints in his theatrical monologue performance of “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” The turmoil begins when Ira Glass’ This American Life picked up the monologue and similar stories from Daisey as a regular segment on the show. After a few months of speculation, it finally came to the surface that Daisey had in fact manufactured a significant amount of information in his monologue, which he claimed as non-fiction. This American Life was then forced to retract their association with the performance claiming they were unable to confirm the details of the story and would not have aired if they knew it was fabricated fiction.

One of the major issues addressed in this story is the idea of perception and initial understanding. Walter Lippman said, “for the most part, we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see,” rightfully defining our generation as unapologetic assumption-makers. We have become complacent in our understanding to the point where we assume the media and content we are being shown and told is right and just. As the “seeing is believing” generation, we are quick to assume what we’re told constantly in digital media corresponds with the reality around us, when in fact, it’s far from the truth. We have lost our way from the days of oral culture and the handed down traditions of the Greeks and instead see things through our pragmatic perceptions that are ever evolving as we encounter new and interesting content.

As convergence takes a bigger role in the process of research, we need to learn to use sounds, images and words in conjunction with the factual details to emphasize the active investigation behind our journalism. An active audience in accordance with tenacious investigative journalism can produce educational content, while maintaining interest. However, we have become the cat chasing the mouse, on our hunt for constant new and interesting content, and rarely take the time to slow down and realize what we see might just be a deception from reality.

Graphic courtesy of: journal.journalisminnovation.org

Less Can Be So Much More

Guest Post by Leah Steinbruecker, Future Public Relations Professional

John Kabat-Zinn starts off with the delivery of what mindfulness is; how this act is through an ancient Buddhist practice of waking up and living in harmony with oneself and with the world, but also examine who we are and what is this world we are living in. The overlying picture is being in “touch,” with oneself, the world, the people around you and etc.

AMy initial reaction as I was going through “ Wheverever You Go There You Are” and reading what mindfulness is and some of the tips Kabat-Zinn gives the reader, such as concentration, asking questions and breathing, was a little overwhelming and seemed like something that I did not connect to. I was not interested in living my constant life having to take in my surrounding and breath a certain way, I actually thought it was a waste of time when I could be doing something more useful.

However as I continued reading, and listened to other peoples’ thoughts in class discussion, I started opening up my mind a little bit more. I started to realize that living in today’s age of constant news flow and social media, that I should be more mindful.

As I concluded the book being full of mindfulness knowledge, I came to the distinction for my life that I do not have to practice mindfulness on a constant stream. I do not have to go through my days and keep questioning what is happening or be in meditation as I am walking to class. For me, I realized I can practice mindfulness in the morning when I wake up. Take three to five minutes and just lie there and realize what is around me, feel the warmth in my bed and how soft the pillow is under my head.

I have turned my initial thoughts and now believe in the act of mindfulness. I agree with the Buddhist practice of being in “touch” with myself and surroundings and have found that I do not have to live in constant mindfulness, but take time out of my day and make the time mine.