Could Wearable Computers be as Harmful As Cigarettes?

Tim Robinson/New York Times

Tim Robinson/New York Times

That’s the provocative question posed by Nick Bilton in yesterday’s New York Times.  So provocative that later in the day, the headline was changed to the more sober ‘The Health Concerns in Wearable Tech’.  Bilton writes:

We have long suspected that cellphones, which give off low levels of radiation, could lead to brain tumors, cancer, disturbed blood rhythms and other health problems if held too close to the body for extended periods.  Yet here we are in 2015, with companies like Apple and Samsung encouraging us to buy gadgets that we should attach to our bodies all day long.  While there is no definitive research on the health effects of wearable computers (the Apple Watch isn’t even on store shelves yet), we can hypothesize a bit from existing research on cellphone radiation.

So what was his conclusion?  As follows:

After researching this column, talking to experts and poring over dozens of scientific papers, I have realized the dangers of cellphones when used for extended periods, and as a result I have stopped holding my phone next to my head and instead use a headset.

That being said, when it comes to wearable computers, I’ll still buy the Apple Watch, but I won’t let it go anywhere near my head. And I definitely won’t let any children I know play with it for extended periods of time.

But Wired’s Nick Stockton has called this ‘An Attack on Science’,  arguing that any risk is still hypothetical rather than proven.  Popular Science also called the essay ‘naive’, ‘inaccurate and alarmist’.   Its advice?  Everybody just calm down.

To help you calm down, here are the blogposts of the week: Shelby Francis for writing about a true innovation and David Borghard for analysis.  And a good bonus read for sports fans here:  What the New York Times Learned from Pulling its Knicks Beat Writer this Season (Poynter).  If you’re too lazy to read it, one answer is that crowdsourcing basketball stories works.


1) The End of Big (Media): when News Organizations move from Brands to Platforms for Talent (Nieman)

2) World’s Best Blogger (Harvard Magazine) 

3) A Note to My Readers (Andrew Sullivan)

4) The Blog is Dead, Long Live the Blog (Two takes at Nieman and Guardian)

ASSIGNMENT:   Profile one person who is prominent in your field or covering your field – possibly a citizen journalist, but could be anyone – with extra credit if you actually interview them.   Feel free to experiment with format, so you could write a traditional blogpost, or use an email interview, twitter, storyful, an audio interview or a video interview. (For March 26)

News You Can Wear

Technological innovation is coming to news delivery… .and soon.   It’s only five weeks until the Apple Watch launches. And other innovations are changing the way news is delivered.  Like robots.  Here’s one vision of the future:

One day you might even have your own personal robot journalist, filing daily stories just for you on your fitness tracking data and your personal finances.

“We sort of flip the traditional content creation model on its head,” [Automated Insights CEO Robbie Allen] says. “Instead of one story with a million page view, we’ll have a million stories with one page view each.”

According to one man, Andrew Keen, The Internet Is Not The Answer.  That’s the name of his new book, and he gave a thought-provoking interview on NPR on Monday.  He sees the internet not so much as a disruptor than as a destroyer:

The more we use the contemporary digital network, the less economic value it is bringing to us. Rather than promoting economic fairness, it is a central reason for the growing gulf between rich and poor and the hollowing out of the middle class. Rather than making us wealthier, the distributed capitalism of the new networked economy is making most of us poorer. Rather than generating more jobs, this digital disruption is a principal cause of our structural unemployment crisis. Rather than creating more competition, it has created immensely powerful new monopolists like Google and Amazon.

Its cultural ramifications are equally chilling. Rather than creating transparency and openness, the Internet is creating a panopticon of information-gathering and surveillance services in which we, the users of big data networks like Facebook, have been packaged as their all-too-transparent product. Rather than creating more democracy, it is empowering the rule of the mob. Rather than encouraging tolerance, it has unleashed such a distasteful war on women that many no longer feel welcome on the network. Rather than fostering a renaissance, it has created a selfie-centered culture of voyeurism and narcissism. Rather than establishing more diversity, it is massively enriching a tiny group of young white men in black limousines. Rather than making us happy, it’s compounding our rage.

No, the Internet is not the answer. Not yet, anyway.

Also in the news this week, Obama on Vice this time.   And the White House is having an Instameet.

Reading for Thursday:

1)  The Next Stage in the Battle for Attention is Our Wrists (Nieman)

2) The Future of News on Apple Watch is in Yahoo’s Hands (Buzzfeed)

3) How Vice’s Tim Pool used Google Glass to Cover the Riots in Turkey (The Guardian)

4) Why Google Glass Broke (NYT)

ASSIGNMENT 1): Write a blogpost on the innovative use of one type of technology that is transforming your beat.   It could be a new device for recording or broadcast (gopro, drones, optimus prime), or it could be a new type of wearable technology (smartclothes, fitbit etc). (for Mar 19)

2) Photo story for March 19th.

Data, snapchat, photo stories: it’s all here.

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For the sake of comparison, here are three different charts made by class members using the same data.  The third chart comes courtesy of Jenn Calfas, who had the advantage of using which is a slicker format than onlinecharttools.

Interesting piece in Nieman lab about how news organizations are using Snapchat Stories.   And since we are talking visuals, do check out this story about photographer Shehab Uddin who embedded himself in a poor community.   One searing body of work that is also worth looking at is Family Love by Darcy Padilla.

READING: 1) Does Satire News Influence Elections? (Huffpost)

2) Last Week Tonight Does Real Journalism no Matter What John Oliver says (The Daily Beast)

3) How Americans Get TV News At Home (Pew)

4) IN Digital Age, What Does Watching TV Even Mean? (WSJ)

Bonus extra: America is a Joke (New York Magazine)

ASSIGNMENT 1: Write a 300 word blogpost on a segment of a satirical news show, possibly on a topic related to your beat.   Analyze what makes it different from straight news in terms of tone and content. How much knowledge is expected on the part of the news consumer?  Did the segment lead to you going online and finding out more?  How much credence do you give to satirical news shows – do you trust them more or less than network news shows?  (Thursday Feb 26th)

ASSIGNMENT 2: Tell a story relating to your beat through photo gallery, a series of at least five photos that tell a story.   Make sure there’s a person in at least one of your pictures. There should be plot development, rather than a number of photos of the same thing from different angles.   Try to make the photos tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. (for Mar 17)

Behold the Emoji-Interview


Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop is the first politician ever to have conducted a political interview entirely in emojis.   Predictably, it was with Buzzfeed.   The limitations of the media are – ahem – quite clear, lending themselves to the squishy questions rather than anything with any geopolitical depth.

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But I enjoyed this satirical response from the Vine, who had their own version of an emoji-interview with Prime Minister Tony Abbott (not).



Meanwhile, blogpost of the week goes to Devin Schott for finding this fantastic visualization of CO2 emissions.  You’d need a supercomputer, however, to replicate it.  Also, a shout-out to Mallory Anderson for posting her thoughts on the role of social media in the Brian Williams scandal.

In other news, Sony has begun selling its rival to the now defunct Google Glass.  Behold the Smart Eyeglass, criticised by one user as a “chastity belt for your face”.  Anyone know how to say glasshole in Sony?


Next class is in the Shapiro Library room 4041.

Reading: Clay Christiansen Mastering the Art of Disruptive Innovation in Journalism (Nieman)

ASSIGNMENT: Watch a network TV newscast on ABC, NBC or CBS. In a blogpost analyse the choice of stories, the type of treatment given to them and your assessment of the role of network TV news in the digital era. (For Thursday Feb 26th)


Great stories – keep them coming!   Had no idea the class had such deep reserves of heroism, as well as such excruciating depths of embarrassment.   Here are a few of my favourites:  heroes’ wreathes to Lauren (recorded by Ally) and Austin (recorded by Gibson).

And props to Elizabeth (recorded by Anisha) and Jason (recorded by David) for going public with stories that make you squirm.   We salute you!

For a 7 minute primer on the art of interviewing, have a look at the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman in action. Paxo, as he’s known in the UK, is also known as an attack dog. He once asked Michael Howard, the then home secretary the same question twelve times in a row to try to get a straight answer.   US interviewers tend to be far more deferential, which rarely elicits such fiery exchanges.  (I’m still waiting to hear a US interviewer ask a politician, “You ever think you’re incompentent?”)

Over the next week, don’t forget to listen to Michigan Radio.  And just because we practised mixing with music, it doesn’t mean you necessarily need to use music on your audio project.  Just saying.

New York Times Failure…. In One Chart


From gigaom

From gigaom

Interesting chart from Gigaom showing that the average Buzzfeed piece is shared almost 8000 times, compared to the New York Times, which garners ten times fewer shares.    The piece points out that it’s more instructive to look at the median; the figure for the NYT is just 11 shares.   Check out the second chart too, showing that 14% of Buzzfeed articles go viral (ie more than 10,000 shares.)


Shout-out for Blog of the Week to Maddie Kimble.

READING for Jan 22

The Revenue Picture for American Journalism and How it’s Changing (Pew)

The End of the Printed Newspaper (Clay Shirky)

False Idol (CJR)

ASSIGNMENT: Live-tweet an event, whether it be a speech, a sports match, a TV show or a demonstration.   Make sure you tweet at least 10 times. Then post the series of tweets to your wordpress site.  USE the #c439 hashtag!

Separately post the most retweeted or favourited tweet (for Jan 27 8am)

Selfie sticks and snapchat

Pic Bianca Bosker/Huffington Post

On Thursday, we’ll have a class guest, Gerry Mullany, the Asia editor for, where he runs the site’s coverage of Asia, assigning reporters, determining website play of stories and working to turn The Times’s Hong Kong-based Asia operation into a more digitally-focused enterprise. Previously, he served as The Times’s deputy politics editor for the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, running its daily coverage of the two races. A native New Yorker, he started on The Times’s metropolitan desk where he worked for more than a decade in various roles. He graduated from SUNY Binghamton with a history degree and studied political economy at the graduate level at Brooklyn College.

Before class, please look at his work, as well as read David Carr’s piece on the social media challenge for companies, where he explains how, “Many younger consumers have become mini-media companies themselves, madly distributing their own content on Vine, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat”.    For the sake of comparison, here’s a very enthusiastic New York Times story on Snapchat with a helpful video tutorial.

Approaching deadlines for:

Google journalism fellowship via the Nieman Lab (Jan 31st)

RTNDA Student Edward R Murrow awards (Feb 3rd)

University of Michigan-Pulitzer Center Student fellowship (Feb 9 2015)

On the application form found via the link, please pay special attention to the 250-word summary of the reporting project proposed and the budget.  Submit a hard copy to the Department of Communication Studies, 5370 North Quad, and an electronic copy to the Pulitzer Center at:




The New York Times Wants to Know if You’ve had Dinner with Your Neighbours

The 'Race' Race mural, inspired by New York Times columns

The ‘Race’ Race mural, inspired by New York Times columns

On the subject of reader engagement, the above is a classroom mural inspired by Nick Kristof’s post-Ferguson columns, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It.”   Another example of reader engagement will be in the New York Times magazine, which is using the Times Reader Insight panel as guinea pigs for journalism.  It’s asking them questions such as whether you’ve had dinner with your neighbours, and “Let’s say you are at a party and people are talking about a particular book that everyone has read except for you. Do you admit you haven’t read it, or do you fake it?”  I’m curious to find out if NYT readers are dinner party frauds.

For Tuesday’s class, please spend some time looking at Snowfall, which we will discuss in class.   Also, read the leaked Innovation Report. In case you want to see them again, class slides are in the Ctools site, under yesterday’s date.

ASSIGNMENT: Write a 400-word post comparing the treatment of one story in the paper version of the NYT with its online counterpart.  You should make reference to the aims contained within the Innovation report, and assess to what extent the online presentation meets those criteria.  You should pick a story related to your beat.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of each presentation?  How long did you spend on each?  (for 8am, 20th Jan)

Notes: Please also ensure that you have a working twitter account before next class.  The updated syllabus is in Ctools.