In the news, again

We’re getting all kinds of famous here at Donald-Smith-Gillentine Inc.

Author fair and book sale highlights local authors

SIUE’s Gillentine wins Degree Completion Award

And the previously announced Illinois Press Association Award got some ink this week.

In general, it’s been a good week for the DSG crew. The semester is winding to a close, and since I won’t be teaching over the summer, I’ll have plenty of time to write my fingers off.

At least, that’s the working plan.

Oooooooklahoma and AEJMC

I am happy to report that my sort-of first academic conference went well, in that I completed my presentation and no one threw anything at me or shouted “Heretic!” and tried to chase me from the building. My barometer for “went well” might be a little low, but remember, I work in the news business.

Technically my first academic conference was the Walter Cronkite Conference on Media Ethics and Integrity, where I spoke about the 2014 project to rewrite and update the SPJ Code of Ethics a couple of years ago. I was a bundle of nerves there as well, but I was not presenting original research; merely reporting on a process in which I was part, and with extensive assistance from then-chairman Andrew Seaman and former chairman Kevin Smith. 

The conference took place the first weekend of March at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., which is just south of Oklahoma City. I flew down on Feb. 28 and took the afternoon to look around Oklahoma City before settling in to be all academic and stuff.

This is me landing in Oklahoma. Another state checked off the life to-do list.

This is the first academic conference where I was presenting my own research, and as my friends and colleagues know, my research last semester was wrought with blood and tears, so I was more than a little uneasy about the presentation.

But no moreso than my traveling companions, both of whom are my fellow first-year masters students and at least twenty years younger than I, the younglings.

Meet Rahul Menon and Jonathan Johnson, two of my fellow grad students and Power Rangers. They call me GradMom. This picture lives in proof that Jonathan can exist without his Alienware baseball cap.

I’m glad to report that AEJMC is a fairly low-key and welcoming conference, with three or four presentations per hour in small rooms with receptive audiences. Following the presentations, there is a respondent (who apparently was tasked with reading all the papers) who gives initial feedback, then questions and comments from the audience.

The respondent for my session could not make it, which was both a disappointment and a relief – I hope for real feedback, but I’d be just as happy not to get it in front of a live studio audience. I’m shy. 

I attended many other sessions as well, and got a sense of what kind of research is taking place on the academic side of the field. This is different than the usual trade conferences I attend (and certainly different than the pop culture cons). 

The trade conferences tend to be focused on practical applications, career advice, recounting of methods and approaches, and other how-to’s for performing and promoting journalism.

At the pop culture cons, there’s usually people in costume. This was not present at AEJMC.

The Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at OU was amazing. I wanted to steal their building and bring it back home. Their newsroom was bigger than some newspapers I’ve worked, I’m just saying.

Here are some of the research projects I heard presented:

• A game-based intervention on adults for media literacy did not yield the expected results, but showed promise for refinement in helping to promote the ability to discern fact from fiction in news content. 

Note: The more education one has, the more one interacts with text and the more time you spend on content, the more likely you are to be able to discern fact from fiction and resist manipulation. Yet another nail in the coffin of “not everyone needs an education,” in my opinion. 

As one person in the audience suggested, it is high time universities considered mothballing the old-fashioned “speech” class requirement in favor of intro to media or media literacy for all undergrads. Not every professional adult is going to give speeches in their work life, but everyone will need media literacy going forward. Food for thought. 

• Along that line of thought, West Texas A&M University developed a service learning model for media literacy. Freshman students went through a five-week training course in media literacy, then went into the area high schools and taught the principles of media literacy to high-schoolers. The high schools want to incorporate it into their curriculum, but are swamped with mandates and limited on time and resources. 

The program emphasized the importance of balance and fairness, evaluating sources, internet censorship, citizen journalism around the world, the impact of social media, and more. Then by teaching it to younger kids, the students learn better themselves.

Note: The program focused on finding a middle ground between championing journalism’s goals and successes, and dwelling endlessly on our errors and doom-and-gloom challenges. Teaching young people that all media is suspect, that journalism is dead and everyone online is awful does not help foster the next generation’s ability to navigate the media landscape or build a better one.

Or, as one speaker put it, a critical look at mass media should not turn into a conspiracy-theory cynicism that serves only to further tear down the profession and the industry.

• An examination of automated journalism in China. There have been previous studies of this, but focused only on such news in English. What is automated journalism? Apparently, news stories that are aggregated by algorithm, with no humans involved.

This is a beast heretofore unknown to me. The creation of aggregate stories alone was a bit of a shock to me a few years ago, when it tore down the age-old prohibitions on citing and linking our competitors’ work by compiling “stories” with links and citations to other news organizations. But at least those stories still have a living, trained journalist doing the compiling and evaluating the sources’ veracity. This is the closest thing I’ve seen yet to replacing journalists with robots. 

It’s safe to say I’m not a fan.

Fortunately, the study found that readability and expertise rated higher for human-written news than automated, although for some reason readers rated credibility marginally lower for humans than machines. If you want to read more about Robby the Robot Journalist, Emerj did a piece on news by A.I. in January. 

• Research on health podcasts found that doctors and people who have been personally diagnosed with an illness carried much higher credibility with podcast listeners than hearing the same information from a podcast host who did not have medical credentials. It also had a higher impact on health behaviors, and a higher interest in downloading and following the podcast in the future.

Another podcast study focused on commercials: the average is 5.1 commercials per podcast in the top 100 iTunes-distributed podcasts, up from 2.4 a decade ago. About 31 percent were sponsorships, and 87 percent directly or indirectly related to the subject of the podcast. 

• This one will not please my teenage son: While 71 percent of Americans age 18-24 are habitual Instagram users, as much as 25 percent would qualify as “problematic users.” Social media addiction is a real, trackable thing, folks. 

The addictive gratifications of compulsive Instagram use rival those obtained by food, sleep and sex, though they do not have a classification as a mental disorder (yet). They defined it as a state of unconscious activity, of compulsive use with multiple gratifications. I am probably mangling this definition, but it was an interesting study. 

• In popular culture, there were examinations of Mad Men as a paradoxical feminist text, the portrayal of bisexuality on CW shows, the representation of Asian Indians in American film over the last 10 years, and the Kardashians’ impact on awareness of the Armenian genocide.

Don’t laugh. I didn’t know either, but they’re an Armenian episode and have apparently made a significant impact in advocacy for genocide victims and awareness of Armenian culture in exile. Who knew?

Also, the average CW viewer watches eight hours of TV a day. When do they work or sleep? 

My colleague Rahul Menon did the Indian film study, and found an increasing number of positive portrayals of Asian Indians as hardworking, funny and helpful, though still fewer than half are actually portrayed by Indian actors. 

Finally, there was a study on the impact that popular culture can have on people’s perceptions of mental illness. Specifically, they studied Batman and Beyonce, focusing on an article about Beyonce’s struggle with depression and Batman knocking the hell out of someone who said bad things about someone with mental illness. I’m paraphrasing, because this is already a long blog post, but it was an interesting study from the University of Missouri. 

The answer is: yes, it makes a difference – but the study itself didn’t quite bear that out. Popular culture changes opinions, which sounds like a DUH, but in academia you need research and statistics to back up the things that should seem obvious, because sometimes it’s not. The “parasocial relationship,” which is academic-speak for our ability to identify with a fictional character, is key to whether the popular culture icon can shift personal opinion in real life. In short, mental health stigma can be reduced if it is responsibly discussed in media, but the message and the media matter.

Also: More than 80 percent of the audience was familiar with Beyonce. Only 69 percent were familiar with Batman. What?

This is a quick-and-dirty rundown on two days of research discussion, and apologies if I have mangled anyone’s research. I was honored to be there with my little study on journalists’ portrayal in film, and gained some ideas and feedback for my continuing research as I proceed into … wait for it … my thesis. But more on that next year!

We did find time to hit the local bar. We’re college students, after all.

Note: I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial while I was in town. A narration and photo array will be pending on the Patreon.

Fall Deathmarch and Stalking Guide

I do this to myself every year. Every year I say I am not going to schedule myself like a chicken sans head in the fall, and every year I do it anyway.

Really, there’s no other way. If you’re a horror writer and you’re not working in the fall, you’re not working. With our current circumstances, we’re going to have to start declining cons in the new year, so this is our last chance for a long time to do the cons, see our friends and readers and readers-who-are-friends, and P.S. make a little cash.

Just a little. Sadly, the cons simply do not pay off for authors as they once did. So. Hint. Buy some books from those poor starving authors if you want to see them the following year. Yes, AT the show. We love ebooks as much as you do, but that 17 cents per copy six months from now won’t pay the hotel bill.

Anyway, here’s where you can find me and mine this fall, and I hope you’ll come by and say hello! If you bought a book or a print, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings any, but seriously, it’s always good to see humans.

Just be aware, I’ll also be disappearing into the hotel room to study and write up endless essays and other grad-school-type-stuff and I might or might not burst into a random string of polysyllabic metaphors if you get a few drinks into me.

Sept. 15 – St. Louis SPJ Boot Camp (journalism). I’ll be speaking about ethics and serving pizza, no sales. If you’re a journo student, you still have a day or two to sign up! It’s FREE.

Sept. 26-Oct. 1 – Excellence in Journalism, Baltimore. Just attending this time, as well as serving as delegate for St. Louis SPJ. I’ll be tweeting journo stuff at @edonaldmedia and personal observations at @edonald, as usual. I used to live in Baltimore as a teenager, and am looking forward to finding myself some Berger cookies! I’m not vending, but if anyone is interested in picking up a book from me, please contact me before Sept. 24 and I’ll stash a few in the suitcase. Also looking forward to seeing family and old friends, so let me know if we can grab drinks at the Harbor!

Oct. 5-7 – Imaginarium, Louisville, Ky. Attending, giving a seminar in “The Business of Writing,” vending as Literary Underworld and hosting the Literary Underworld Traveling Bar both nights. I’ll be accompanied by the Menfolk (read: husband Jim, son Ian) and my good friend Sela Carsen, who is definitely an author you should consider if you like romance. Or even if you don’t – she is queen of the fairytales! Imaginarium is one of my top-recommended cons for writers, beginning or established, and you should definitely consider it.

Oct. 12-14 – Archon, Collinsville, Ill. Attending, speaking, vending as Literary Underworld, and as of now we plan to open the Traveling Bar both nights. Sela is joining us again, and I’m not sure how many of the Lit Underlords will also be in attendance, but we’ll be looking for you!

Oct. 20 – Dupo Art Festival, Dupo, Ill. Vending as myself, both books and art. This is part of a chili cookoff that should not be missed!

Oct. 21 – Leclaire Parkfest, Edwardsville, Ill. Just selling this time, and not my own books – I run the charity used book sale for Parkfest that raises money for the American Cancer Society. (Psst. Volunteers welcome.)

Nov. 3 – St. Louis Indie Book Fair, St. Louis, Mo. Selling only and as myself, books only (no art permitted).

Nov. 9-11 – ContraKC, Kansas City, Mo. A 21-and-up “relaxacon,” selling as Literary Underworld with books and art, and the Traveling Bar will be open both nights.

At last I stay home, and celebrate a rescheduled anniversary with my long-suffering husband. Then begins the holiday fairs…

Signing in Kansas City

Just a quick update that I’ll be signing and selling in Kansas City on Saturday, June 30. Many thanks to Contra Mini-Con 29.5 for hosting me as part of their event! I’ll have books in stock to sign and will be bringing art prints; if there’s something specific you’d like to have, please message me in advance and I’ll see what I can do.

Keep in mind that several of my novels have gone out of print due to publisher bankruptcies, so at the moment all I have in stock are the three in-print books: Setting Suns, Nocturne Infernum and Moonlight Sonata. I’m a little low on SS, so if you want one, reserve it fast.

As a side note, if you’re looking for my out-of-print books like Dreadmire, The Cold Ones or Blackfire, the only store I’m aware of that still has stock is Afterwords Books in Edwardsville, Ill. They do mail-order, hint hint.

I haven’t been to Kansas City for at least a year, and haven’t done a signing there since I was GoH at Contraception several years ago. I’m hoping to scope out some photo shoots while I’m there or en route, so if you have suggestions of good locations, please let me know!

Full details on the signing are available on the Facebook event. Hope to see you there!