Demystifying Media Reflection – Week 2

James T. Hamilton

Starting this post this week, I’d like to offer a bit of a disclaimer. What will follow will sound like I am insulting the subject of this post, but in reality, I view them with the utmost respect. While I am criticizing the work in a way, I am not criticizing the person.

This past Thursday, the Demystifying Media class had the opportunity to hear a talk by Professor James T. Hamilton of Stanford University. Hamilton discussed the work behind his new book: Democracy’s Detectives: The Economics of Investigative Journalism. The book takes a look at public affairs reporting from a cost-benefit analysis point of view. What Mr. Hamilton finds is that public affairs reporting (investigative) is beneficial to society, but that type of reporting is become less and less common. Especially among smaller news content producers. Because investigative reporting is more expensive that other types of reporting, larger media organizations tend to be the ones who conduct that type of reporting. That presents a problem in news reporting in that investigative reporting is relegated to a small subsection of organizations that can afford it. Society does not benefit if smaller organizations can’t do in-depth reports on issues. One of Mr. Hamilton’s solutions to the issue is the development of better computational journalism tools and methods.

I was reminded of Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods throughout the course of the talk. In a roundabout way, the book is about how the gods we worship in America (and through most of the world) have changed. Gods from the old-world (a nod to America’s immigrant heritage), such as Odin, Mad Sweeney (a leprechaun type figure), Vulcan, and Easter are being pushed out of their roles by gods of the new world. The new gods include Media and Technology. The book is a nod to the fact that over time, people change what, or in this case whom, they worship. People rely on their gods to dictate their world view. With American Gods, the gods are of old are representative of more emotional, humanistic, and carnal beliefs. The new gods are representative of the reliance on very calculated, non-human, non-emotional objects.

American Gods came to mind during Mr. Hamilton’s talk, because it felt that both the issue and the solution(s) in his talk were driven by very non-human, non-emotional objects – economics and technology. Technology drives consolidation and efficiency in a market. Those that can’t compete either shift their focus to something else or die. With the context of the past 20 years of change in the news media landscape, it’s not difficult to see technological change as one of the drivers of investigative journalism’s current issues. However, it also seems counter-intuitive to rely on technology (computational journalism) as a way out of a problem that was in a large part created by technology.

“Technology is the current god we worship, and even if it causes us harm, it can still be our savior. Right?”

I don’t have a solution. However, Mr. Hamilton’s talk reminded me that solutions to problems are never easy to find. Some of us look to our old gods for the answers, and some of us look to our current gods, and it’s very difficult to look for the gods of the future.


There were quite a few stories that caught my eye this week on TechCrunch.

The first is an article called “Inside Amazon’s surveillance-powered no-checkout convenience store.” It’s about a prototype store Amazon is developing that requires no cashiers. The article was interesting, because it was my first time seeing (sort-of) the implementation of technology Amazon is using to make the store a reality. I had heard about the prototype store a few months ago. The store is described as surveillance powered, because from the moment you walk in, you are monitored by thousands of cameras. The cameras are able to discern any object someone picks up from the shelves, and adds it to a digital cart. According to the article, every spot in the store is able to be monitored by several cameras at once. Multiple cameras enable a fail safe type system where if a camera fails, the other cameras are still active in monitoring the shopper. I appreciated the article even more, because there was a recognition that this type of experience may turn off many types of people, because they are constantly being monitored.

In the blockchain and cryptocurreny space, TechCruch had another article that I found fascinating. The first, “Diversifying the blockchain” is a story about a technology group called Maiden and one of its co-creators, Raine Revere. Maiden’s goal is to foster a more inclusive blockchain space. Blockchain technology is notably populated by people from technology and finance sectors, and according to the article, both sectors are know for being not too inclusive to newcomers. Maiden is looking to make entry into blockchain technology easier for underrepresented groups by making the space more accessible in terms of technology and cost access. An ironic part of blockchain technology is that its intention was to be used as a decentralized technology that gives no advantage to one group over another. Because the technology is based on computer cryptography, there is a real barrier to access for some people. I’m not sure if the work Maiden is doing will have any real impact on the blockchain space (no one knows how blockchain will evolve), but I do have to give credit to Revere and Maiden for the effort in trying to put blockchain back in the direction is was originally intended to go.

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