Sunday, March 10, 2013

Journalists, Attention and Other Random Stuff

Since this week’s readings were about attention and focus, I’m going to use my “top down” focusing ability and choose to focus my attention on last week’s discussion of citizen journalism with a few more random thoughts.

The crisis facing tradition media is not a problem with journalism but rather, a financial problem. Yes, journalists make mistakes. Yes, traditional media to some extent sets the agenda for us. But we still need journalists.

With all due respect to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, no one is going to go in and read 100,000 pages of documents. Except for trained journalists. Trained journalists are needed for their ability to provide context, insight, perspective and understanding.

Journalism by twitter or blog isn’t going to provide rigorous factchecking. The internet rarely provides consequences for mistakes. It doesn’t come with a code of ethics and speed doesn’t always give us good journalism.

I also don’t consider journalists lazy because they sometimes go to experts recommended by, say, a national media placement person at UNL. When Chuck Hagel’s name was first put forward for defense secretary, Steve Smith recommended a UNL professor as a Hagel expert. UNL journalism professor Charlyne Berens wrote a book about Hagel and that makes her an expert. It made sense for reporters to talk to her, regardless of the fact that she is on a list of folks pitched as experts.

That’s my rant and I’m stickin’ to it. Or maybe I’m just bitter and clinging to my newspaper.

Moving  on.

I was fascinated by this week’s readings, Choosing the Focused Life and {Stuff and Fluff}. Years ago, plagued by insomnia and stress, I tried meditation. And failed miserably. Trying to focus for even 10 minutes felt like an eternity; I couldn’t stop thinking about the grocery list or my current project at work or where the kids needed to be after school.  I tried yoga instead and have found a measure of success by simply focusing on poses and movement instead of trying to quiet my brain.

This weekend, I came across an interview with Sandra BondChapman, a neuroscientist who is founder and director of the Center for Brain Health in Dallas, Texas. In the interview, Chapman talked about the role of the frontal lobes of the brain in processing information. According to Chapman, the frontal lobes pull together information and then help us deal with it.

The frontal lobes are important in weighing information, not just rote learning. Chapman says, while we can’t blame technology for being distracted, we can let technology run our lives instead taking charge and managing the technology.

“The more we keep ourselves in shallow, busy levels, the more our thinking gets fragmented, the more we are building a distracted brain that can’t focus; we’re building an ADD (attention-deficit disorder) brain,” says Chapman. “The frontal lobes require deeper-level thinking.”

Chapman also warns against multitasking. In The Focused Life, Winifred Gallagher, believes multitasking is a myth. I think any working mother can tell you that’s not true. Multitasking is a very real, although very inefficient, practice. Chapman recognizes the tendency toward multitasking and recommends focusing on one task at a time.

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