New article for the Center for Digital Ethics & Policy

I’ve got a new article posted at the Center for Digital Ethics & Policy: “Facebook is a media company, but what’s a media company?

When Facebook says that it’s a tech company and not a media company, a silent shudder echoes across the internet.

It’s like the reaction that, say, Morton Salt would get if the C-suite was to declare that it’s running a logistics company, not a salt company. The audience might nod and applause (as they often do whenever Facebook makes a public statement) but under their breath, they’d be laughing. How can we not be a salt company? That’s literally part of our name.

The same irony applies to Facebook, a company synonymous with social media. Key word: media. But this didn’t stop Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg from putting her foot in her mouth last fall when she went on record with Axios, confidently declaring that Facebook is not a media company. “At our heart we’re a tech company,” Sandberg said. “We don’t hire journalists.”

Read the rest here.

Cult Cinema Bibliography

When I completed grad school in 2015, I was awarded a Media Studies Award from Oxford Bibliographies (Oxford University Press) for my work in cult cinema.

After nearly three years (because academic publishing moves at a glacial pace), Oxford finally posted my bibliography for cult cinema. Here’s the intro:

Though relatively young in the world of film studies, the research and analysis of cult cinema and cult film culture continues to grow as a robust, interdisciplinary field of scholarship that crosses critical theory, media studies, sociology, psychology and even theology. While some scholars see this scholarly versatility as an advantage for studying cult film, others suggest that it is symptomatic of cult cinema itself, which has no universal definition.

Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik, two of the leading scholars of cult film, suggest that these films are unified by their shared transgression of “common notions of good and bad taste.” Other scholars and historians, such as Umberto Eco, suggest that that for a film to earn cult status, it must merely have “some archetypal appeal.” For even others, such as Bruce Kawin, cult films are best understood as generic subcategories, subdivided into broad “programmatic” and “inadvertent” categories. Under this rubric, cult films on one end of the spectrum are deeply exploitative or blasphemous, while others are experimental, reverent, or just plan “bad”—or, colloquially, “so bad it’s good.”

By fundamentally defying simple categorization or consensus, cult film studies are equally as diverse and often conflicted. Similar to how the appeal of cult cinema is the result of a sophisticated and well-read media diet, affective scholarship of the field must be similarly liberal, requiring a deep background ranging from classical film and media studies to philosophy and theology and, ultimately, industry and economics. This bibliography should serve as a broad entry point to the field, representing scholarship that either directly or tangentially complements an understanding of cult movements and countercultural media while remaining applicable to an even broader range of cultural research, criticism, and conversation.

Check out the rest here.

New Column for Quiet Lunch

I have a new column for Quiet Lunch, “Outside Art.”

My first entry is on Chicago’s Intuit Museum of Outsider Art.

Compared to the usual culture-media pipeline, I’m not writing this series from New York City or L.A., but from my home city of Chicago.

With this series on outside art, I’ll continue exploring the cacophonic sounds, conflicting visions and crude manifestations of occluded culture, past and present. This applies just as much to the identity politics of America’s flyover country (and its capital cities) as it does to the economic and intellectual ebbs and flows of pop-culture dialectics.

13 newsletters for upping your media IQ

Like any other industry, media is an amalgamation; a pulsating admixture of anxiety, ideology, cacophony and pure green envy.

The products churned out by the Media Machine—everything from Twitter posts and Instagram stories to long-form features and investigative reports—are often the end result of thousands of hours of labor and trillions of dollars of research, development, designers, and endless platoons of white- and blue-collar peons.

The Machine needs these armies, too. If there’s a screen in your life, you’re part of an audience of seven billion-and-counting. That’s a lot of minds to feed and, more importantly, a lot of behaviors to exploit. Those who do it well can convince you that Coke has health benefits, or that $100 is a good deal for a t-shirt, or to elect a fascist president.

This is why I’ve become an advocate of media IQ; or, the degree of your ability to understand that your opinion is manufactured – and to interpret how this actually happens.

In a media age dominated by fake news, conspiracy theories and nuclear dick fights, your media IQ can literally mean the difference between life and death. And whether you’re a journalist, writer, videographer, PR agent, publicist, or just an everyday user, a strong media IQ help you become both a competent communications professional and a conscientious consumer.

So to help build your media IQ, I’ve assembled this list of media, journalism and PR newsletters worth a few minutes of your daily time. Together they form an inside look at the trends, tactics and tricks the machine uses to make you think that you’re thinking for yourself. (Listed alphabetically and linked directly to the sign-up forms, so you don’t need to click around):

American Press Institute: Need to Know
If you only subscribe to one newsletter on this list, make it this. A daily newsletter with inside takes on trending news, and outside views of journalism’s inner workings.

Columbia Journalism Review: The Media Today
“A daily look at the biggest stories in journalism” from one of the top journalism schools in the country. Always well written and packed with original research.

A twice-weekly newsletter from the European press review, with content categorized into debates and dossiers, both about the state of European journalism and major news.

Institute for Public Relations: Research Letter
The IPR is a half-century old PR research organization, staking claim on “the science beneath the art of public relations™. A strong (and occasionally stuffy) trove of valuable research. Daily Newsletter
Though technically a UK jobs site lacking a clever name, also serves as a center for media tips, guides, events, training and other services. Not a must-read, but useful.

Journalist’s Resource (Harvard Kennedy School)
Similar to the CJR newsletter, but with more Ivy League pretense. Lots of original research, studies-of-studies, and “tip sheets” loaded with journalism advice and resources.

Muck Rack Daily
Muck Rack is one of the top PR and journalism platforms and this newsletter is a handsome bit of content marketing, but it has a lot of smart insights and pontifications on trending topics.

Nieman Lab: Daily Email Updates
Hands down the best way to understand the ever-evolving state of modern media media is continually evolving. A must read for anyone, regardless of profession.

Pew Research: Media & News Briefings
Data nerds already know about Pew Research, but their media and news briefings always give you a first-hand look into major news trends, usually before they hit the headlines.

Poynter Institute: Morning MediaWire
Another newsletter from another journalism school. API will often pick up Poynter stories and vice-versa, but it’s informative background a smart way to start the day.

PR News: The Skinny
PR News is the main trade rag for the PR industry, but The Skinny is weekly, so it doesn’t overburden. Covers the trends and conversations around social media, marketing PR.

PR Week: Weekly Online Edition
Similar to PR News, PR Week covers a lot of trade topics, but also offers a PR view of major news topics. Relevant for people working on the politics and public affairs side of PR.

Ragan’s PR Daily: News Feed
If you subscribe to any of Ragan’s newsletters, you might get ten emails per day. Lots of “thought leadership” from budding professionals, but sometimes the advice is useful.

Financial advice for MEL Magazine

Got another call from MEL Magazine based on some of the first-person narratives I provided last year regarding how my wife and I worked our way out of $100,000 in student debt. The writer, Adam Elder, asked for my contribution to “The Normal Person’s Guide to New Year’s Resolutions: Spending Less and Saving More.”

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My Top 13 Albums of 2017

If my top 13 albums of 2017 were donuts, they’d have everything from rainbow sprinkles to lab-grade PCP.

These were albums that played like my personal soundtrack for the past year. That’s it. We got a horseshit president. I had a death in the family. I started a new job. I roadtripped across New Mexico, twice. I camped in the north woods of Wisconsin and got sniffed by a bear. I drank whiskey gingers in the humid summer shade on the shores of Lake Michigan near my apartment. I rode the CTA to work, to home, and back again, and back again, and back again. I wrote, a lot. I walked in the rain. Each of these things had beat and a rhythm, or a mind-numbing drone. And sometimes, it all blended together.

The only criteria I’ve used for this list is that the album was released within the past calendar year. The rest is music. And why 13? Because it comes after 12 and before 14. Listen while you read.

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Full Nerd: 2017 in Books

I’ve almost always kept a running list of the books I read, but this year I decided to go Full Nerd.

I used Google Sheets to log each book I’ve read since October 2016—66 books in total, spread over 384 days.

I tracked titles, authors, author genders, copyright and publish dates, genres, page counts, format, dates started and ended, days between books. Starting at this new data year, I’ll also begin tracking author race, to hold myself accountable to hearing equal voice.

Accountability is one of the main reasons I began tracking this data. For example, based on the names on my bookshelf, it was clear I wasn’t reading enough books by women. And the data don’t lie. It was only through conscious intention this past year that I read the women I did; Rebecca Solnit, Jane Goodall, Janna Levin, Hannah Arendt, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In most cases, their work was also the most urgent and profound. My goal is to keep building up this percentage. Hearing, listening, and understanding more.

I also used a five-star ranking system for the books I read. I usually thinking rankings are bullshit, so I didn’t put much thought into the rationale. If the book affected me or prompted me to think differently, it got more stars. This helped me identify what were my “favorite” books from the past year, and which ones sucked.

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