It’s a small world…

How small is the world after all? I creeped up on this guy wearing a Trib Total Media Pirates shirt near the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan outside of Mexico City.

MEXICO CITY – The strange car pulled up outside of our rental house at 4:30 a.m.

None of us in my family of four knew the driver, but we walked up to the Volkswagen in the early morning darkness, handed the man our luggage and climbed inside.

We felt comfortable riding with our Uber driver even in the middle of the night. He has a rating of 4.83 out of 5 possible stars, has been driving for the past year and has received 83 rider compliments for excellent service. Other customers had spoken up and validated him. Besides, we knew that Uber would track the path of our ride.

We often think in the United States about how technology makes simple tasks easier, but here smartphone apps and other innovations of the so-called sharing economy also have made life safer while creating new job opportunities. The sharing economy refers to businesses in which people loan out their homes, vehicles and other possessions to strangers who are willing to pay for their use. Read more…

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Young people showing way forward via social media

It’s an inspiring time to be the parent of teenagers. From my latest column…

Emma Gonzalez.

Emma Gonzalez barely knew how to use Twitter on the morning of Feb. 14, but six weeks later, she had tweeted more than 1,200 times and had 1.23 million followers.

Of course, her life changed that day, along with the lives of her Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School classmates in Parkland, Fla., when a former student with an assault rifle killed 17 people. After Gonzalez gave an impassioned speech about gun control in the days following the attack, her social-media prominence swelled. Now, she uses the platform to connect with, recognize and elevate other users — particularly young people.

Since the attack, high school students nationwide have used social media like never before, inspiring organic collective action such as school walkouts across the country and this weekend’s “March For Our Lives” in Washington.

As Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight data analyst, noted a week after Parkland , “Something is different this time.” Keep reading…

Trust in being challenged

I have struggled, like many, to understand the times in which we live. Certainly social media has changed the way we communicate but, more directly, it has allowed us to avoid challenging situations. That’s the wrong direction. We all need to be challenged on the assumptions we hold, and the best journalism does that by upholding the truth – even when it’s unpleasant.

I’ve been reading Timothy Snyder‘s short book, On Tyranny, with lessons for today from the rise of fascists and communist dictators in the 20th Century. “Post-truth is pre-fascism,” he writes. He goes on to exhort people to support a local newspaper or journalism outlet:

“The better print journalists allow us to consider the meaning, for ourselves and our country, of what might otherwise seem to be isolated bits of information. But while anyone can repost an article, researching and writing is hard work that requires time and money.”

Journalism is hard, but brings deep rewards for the strength of our democracy and our communities, while social media is easy and, when abused, it threatens the core values of our society. From my latest column in the Tribune-Review

“Americans must rethink their relationship with the news too. We have come to a point where many people put more faith in unverified information on social media — because it squares with their personal beliefs — than in trusting hard-working journalists who often challenge the opinions we hold. That has to change.”

You may read the full column here.

Trump’s enemies list

Sure, President Richard Nixon had his enemies list, but not even he thought of giving out awards in the 1970s to his least-favorite reporters. I only wish he had.

Even before graduating from college, I had the good fortune of landing a job with Jack Anderson’s “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column. With white hair, a round belly and braces holding up his pants, he joyfully touted his moniker as the “Mormon muckraker,” known equally for his devotions to religion and to rousting out government corruption. Staring as a World War II correspondent, he later joined investigative columnist Drew Pearson, taking over after Pearson died. Anderson never bowed to anyone nor shirked from exposing backroom dealing, righting a wrong or embarrassing a public official who abused taxpayer money.

The column reached 40 million Americans at its peak, appearing in hundreds of U.S. newspapers. The Washington Post ran it in the comics section, to which some disgruntled editor had banished it years earlier. Anderson loved that: More people read the funnies than the editorial page anyway.

My first summer with the column… Read more

Media Deserts Grant

I’m pleased to announce that I have won my first academic grant as part of my new life as a PhD student in Community Engagement. Point Park University awarded a Social Impact Grant for fellow student Keino Fitzpatrick and me to explore the role of media deserts in McKeesport, Pa. The city has a rich history of media coverage but it has not had a newspaper since the Daily News closed two years ago. We already have started some small work. This will allow us to continue and expand. We have been fortunate also to work with freelance journalist Jennifer Jordan, Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Martha Rial and the CMI’s grad assistant Ashley Murray.

Students from McKeesport visited the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University in December 2017.

A crazy night in Pittsburgh

Compassion. Compromise. A willingness to hear what others have to say. Even when you don’t agree.

We brought all of those elements together when Newsmax founder Christopher Ruddy recently visited Point Park University. My take on what happens when we create time to listen. I’d like to see more of this happening, particularly right here in river city, a blue dot surrounded by a sea of red. Let me know what you think: aconte@ pointpark.edu.

Me interviewing Christopher Ruddy at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Photo by Gracey Evans.

A strange thing happened in Pittsburgh recently: A right-of-center speaker appeared on a college campus, students organized a protest — and everyone left the event feeling they’d been heard.

Few Americans these days seem willing to share a room with anyone who does not also share their ideology and political outlook. But Pittsburgh serves as a key place for such dialogue: a blue dot of voters who supported Hillary Clinton, surrounded by a sea of red, representing President Donald Trump’s supporters. It’s a short drive to cover that gap, but few of us take the time to try understanding each other’s perspective.

That makes it all the more remarkable when those moments happen. Read more… 

The Newseum & me

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Cybersecurity experts and the journalists who report on them often struggle to understand each other. That was the point of a recent event jointly sponsored by the Newseum and the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University. We brought together experts, journalists and students to find points of commonality. The event highlighted some common concerns, which I address in my latest media column

 

WASHINGTON – They don’t even have the words.IMG_0879.jpg

Cybersecurity stories fill the headlines almost daily: The Equifax breach potentially compromised personal data of more than 140 million Americans — nearly half of us. Yahoo finally acknowledged losing email addresses and passwords for every single customer — about 3 billion accounts. We’re still waiting to find out just how much the Russians hacked into the 2016 general election .

We see such headlines so often that many of us have become numb to the potential risk. Worse, reporters covering these stories don’t always know how to describe the real danger — or how to separate legitimate threats from hyperbole. Too often, they lack the vocabulary, context and experience to converse with technical experts and convey meaningful alerts to the public. Instead, the public hears a wall of noise in which relatively minor events get similar billing to those that really threaten our lives. Read more…

This also turned out to be a great time for our students to take a look at the Newseum exhibits. After the event, we toured the museum’s FBI exhibit on cybersecurity, led by the Newseum Institute’s COO Gene Policinski.

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This also turned into an opportunity for David Hickton, the former U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, and me to revisit one of our favorite moments. The Newseum exhibit includes a photo of David and my frontpage story from the Tribune-Review on the day after federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh charged five Chinese military officers with stealing computer secrets.

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