July 25, 2014

EMU professor envisions a 'Newsphere' to engage, excite news consumers

Christine Tracy's book urges more consumer awareness in how we process today's media coverage

by Geoff Larcom, Published December 03, 2012

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YPSILANTI - News stories have lost their essence. Instead of bridging differences, building connections, and supporting a democratic way of life, reporting too often confirms and continues a profound disconnect. 

So says Christine Tracy, a journalism professor at Eastern Michigan University and one of the first scholars to bring an ecological perspective to the news.

Christine Tracy, a media ecologist and communications scholar at EMU, urges more consumer awareness and personal responsibility in how we consume news.

Tracy wrote "The Newsphere: Understanding the News and Information Environment," (Peter Lang 2012) to combat disillusionment with news, which is often so highly dramatized, commercialized and packaged that it is no longer news and certainly not journalism.

"When viewed as an ecology, news is not a product to be consumed, but a conscious act of engaging with information that has value in a community," writes Tracy. "While a story can be fair and accurate, real truth evolves over time. Thus it is the value we bring to journalistic fare - our individual and collective pleas for relevance and truth  - that will ultimately result in the quality we deserve."

Inspired by Teilhard's Noosphere

Celebrated Jesuit priest, mystic and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin inspired Tracy to coin the word "newsphere." Teilhard's noosphere is the collective thought energy that surrounds the planet. Tracy's newsphere describes the web of connections created by conscious and responsible sharing of news and information through emerging technology.

"News stories form the fabric of our lives," Tracy says. "What we determine to be news is important because we use news stories to think about ourselves, each other and the world."

"The Newsphere" conveys Tracy's sense of urgency in changing the way we choose to consume today's fragmented media and its 24-hour news cycle.  She urges more consumer awareness and personal responsibility.

Strategies for Consciously Consuming News

In "The Newsphere," Tracy offers strategies for conscious news consumption including:

  • Conduct a news "fast" to discover unconscious news consumption.
  • Ask, "Is this really important to me?" as you watch, read or listen.
  • Limit exposure to negative and one-sided news.
  • Monitor physical responses to news stories.
  • Observe instead of instantly judging.

Likewise, journalists are now responsible for supporting an open, networked, transparent news environment. In Tracy's Journalism classes, students learn a dialogue style of news, which replaces the more prevalent debate style. Her young reporters learn to see all sides of an issue and to search for strengths and value in others' positions.

"When it is freely accessible, news can connect, patterns can arise, and meaning is acquired," says Tracy.  "This is the new value and the new sustainability. When connections enhance a free flow of information, accuracy flows in a timely way. An open news environment is structured to produce the truth, something we can all claim as our collective intelligence."

Good Journalism is a Consciousness Raising Activity

An excellent recent example of demoralizing journalism is the reporting on the presidential election, which most often emphasized American differences, contentiousness and polarization, despite the highly validating national act of reelecting a president.

Tracy says that journalism at its best can be a consciousness raising practice, paving the way for significant social change that has historically been witnessed in areas such as the women's suffrage, environmental protection and civil rights movements.

Tracy is a media ecologist and communications scholar. She teaches Digital Journalism and Media Ecology classes at Eastern and holds a Ph.D. from Rensselaer, where she edited one of the Web's first ezines, Computer-Mediated Communication magazine. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For further discussion, visit Tracy's website and blog at www.ournewsphere.com. "The Newsphere: Understanding the News and Information Environment" is on sale at Amazon.com.

 

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Geoff Larcom

glarcom@emich.edu

734.487.4400

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