Changes Big and Small

School, Updates, Work

There have been a number of changes to this website and in my life lately. Some of the smaller changes are here on the site. First, you’ll notice the domain name changed. I decided it was time to spend the $18 and buy ShanaWestlake.com. I’ve also added a few things to the site, mostly under the work samples tab. You can now listen to my final from my Research for Media Activism, which was an audio podcast based on ethnographic research of the first meeting of the Move to Amend NYC affiliate. In addition, I’ve added a few of my favorite segments from ABC News to the professional work tab and within that, I’m slowly working on adding more information, including write-ups of the segments and slideshows.

So, that’s the small changes. Mostly housekeeping, cleaning things up.

The big changes, though, are pretty big. First off, I am officially 100% done with graduate school. Last week I graduated from The New School for Public Engagement with a Master’s of the Arts in Media Studies and a certificate in Media Management. When I first applied to The New School, it was because I felt like I could get an education that I could control. My undergraduate studies at NYU were very broad and very narrow all at once. The journalism major was only eight courses and most focused on hands-on skills, like putting together a news package or writing up an interview article. The rest of my time at NYU was a combination of required courses and electives, many of which added up to my three minors. In retrospect, I wish I had double-majored instead.

At the New School. I was really able to design my own curriculum and, in the end, it wasn’t the curriculum I expected it to be. Recently, a friend was struggling with her graduate school application and I sent along my statement of purpose for her to check out. Re-reading  that I realized that what I thought I was going to do with my graduate experience and what I did with my graduate school experience were very different. I applied very interested in globalization and ended up focusing a lot on politics. As you can see from my academic work, I wrote a lot about the intersection between media and politics. Somehow, I ended up writing three separate papers that looked at the work of James O’Keefe III from various angles. I tried to gain a better understanding of why the news media could become so obsessed with scandal while ignoring the bigger picture.

I was also able to pursue a media management certificate in conjunction with my Master’s. While I enjoyed almost all of my classes immensely, I think the media management courses were some of the most helpful. It’s very easy to say a manager is bad, but it’s hard to really define why. Media Management and Leadership helped explain why and how I could be a more successful manager in the future. Another favorite class was Media, Corporate Responsibility and the Law. In the class we discussed the legal ramifications of invasion of privacy and libel. I learned laws that govern the news media and I learned how to read court decisions, a useful skill.

Another advantage to my education at The New School is that I was required to take a certain number of production courses. Many of my classmates chose to take as many production courses as they could, learning to shoot and produce documentaries and short films. While I was interested in learning more production skills, I wasn’t particularly interested in narrative film or documentaries. I had done an internship with a documentary film company in the past and primarily learned that I didn’t want to be a documentary filmmaker. At least not right now. So, I chose to use my production credits on sound and images. My first class was Radio Narratives, which made a very strong impact on me. I’ve always loved audio and the aural experience. Radio Narratives took that appreciation to the next level and showed me how to make sound. I also took Visual Storytelling, where I learned more about photography and the craft of telling stories through images.

And beyond that I met an overwhelming number of smart and interesting people who are looking to do amazing and important things in the world. Graduate school was a wonderful experience and anyone who says it’s a waste of time has clearly never been. Graduate school, for me, was about more than the piece of paper. It truly was about expanding my mind and understanding the world in new and different ways. Will I be paying off my student loans for the next 30 or so years? Yes. Will having an MA make a practical difference in my career? Who knows. But I am proud of my accomplishment and, for now, that’s enough.

The other big announcement is that I am no longer working with ABC News Now. Since I started with the department, News Now has gone through a number of changes. New programs have come and gone. I worked on health, finance, politics, entertainment and more. I was there for the inauguration of President Obama, the Miracle on the Hudson and the 2010 Midterm Elections. I had the opportunity to book guests, write news copy, produce interviews and meet a ton of interesting and amazing people. But recent changes in the department have made my role there largely superfluous. I am very grateful for the experience, but it’s time to move on.

And in moving on, I’ve made the decision that it’s time to start telling my own stories. That being said, I am venturing out into the world of being an independent producer and writer, pitching audio and video segments and articles to anyone who will have me. I’ve also joined PRX and I plan on putting together podcasts, packages and explorations of topics that might, hopefully, end up on public radio. I also want to continue writing and producing segments on health and personal finance. I’ve done a lot of work on those topics in the past and I surprised myself by enjoying it a lot. I have ideas that I was never able to pursue with ABC News and I think it’s time to jump off the cliff and go at it on my own.

I am apprehensive about the change, but I’m also excited. I don’t know if this is going to become my life going forward; I still have hopes of finding gainful employment with an organization and program that I can be proud of. But I do know that I am at a crossroads in my career and the only way to take the next step is by showing everyone that I can. But I also know that I’m going to need as much help as I can get, so if you’re reading this and willing to offer a hand (or a job!), I’d appreciate it.

Stay tuned. There are bigger things coming.

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Money in Politics Survey Analysis

School

So, thanks again to everyone who took the survey! Your responses really helped and the data was really interesting. You can see the raw data in my previous post, but I wanted to parse a few of the questions further. Of my 52 respondents, only one describe their political leanings as right. So, for the purposes of my analysis, I chose to ignore that one respondent. Sorry to whoever that was! I did appreciate your contribution! Unfortunately, without more responses from that side of the aisle, it was impossible to draw any conclusions with a sample size of one.

That said, there were a few responses in my money in politics survey that really took me by surprise. This is the breakdown of how the (now) 51 respondents reported their political leanings:

And when it came to campaign finance reform, most answered that it was a very important issue to them:

Respondents generally agreed that there is too much money being spent on political campaigns,

that there should be limits on the amount of money spent on political campaigns,

and that money can corrupt political campaigns.

And yet, the majority of respondents were pretty wishy-washy about the idea of publicly financed elections:

This was probably the most interesting piece of data in the entire survey. Purely publicly financed elections are a frequently floated idea to limit the amount of money spent on political campaigns. Proponents of public financing say it will even the playing field and limit the influence of private corporations and individuals on candidates. But even though a majority did respond that they agreed with the statement to a degree, nearly half were on the fence.

A few more interesting bits of data. When asked how familiar they were with the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the majority of respondents said they knew about the decision:

And a vast majority were not fans of the Super PAC:

Incidentally, the one respondent that identified as right said that Super PACs have had a positive effect on our electoral process. Again, that respondent is not included in the data above.

So, what does it all mean?

All semester long I’ve been focusing on the movement to respond to Citizens United by abolishing corporate personhood through a constitutional amendment. In conducting this survey, my goal was to gain insight on how people felt about money in politics in general. With this data, I hoped to gain a better idea of how to prepare targeted arguments in this debate.

One of the main problems with political activism is that there are so many issues to get fired up about; women’s reproductive rights, taxes, entitlements, corporate subsidies, environmental issues, etc. Along with Social Security, campaign finance reform has long been a third rail of electoral process. After all, it’s hard to get political candidates on board with changing the way campaigns are financed as they are trying to finance a campaign. In order to move forward on this issue, it will take a groundswell of support from the general population. And this data, though limited, could help activists understand how to steer the debate in order to gain support.

People do care about campaign finance reform, but as I mentioned before, public financing is probably not the road to take in order to gain support for this movement. I recently observed an Occupy Wall Street working group about getting money out of politics. While the group formed around the idea of responding to Citizens United, there was no real agreement on how that should be done. One member of the group insisted that the only way to solve the problem was to have purely publicly financed elections. Based on my data, I don’t think he will get the support he’s hoping if that’s where he’s focusing his argument.

I think the main takeaways from the data is that people are angry and frustrated about the amount of money in politics. And that’s where to start in order to gain support. If you draw people into the debate by talking about the negative effects of money in politics and the influence of Super PACs, then people will be more likely to get fired up about the rest of the movement’s goals.

In retrospect, I do wish I had included a few more questions about the corporate personhood movement and specifically, parsing the specifics of the Citizens United decision. While a majority of people said they were familiar with the decision, I wonder if they really understand what the ruling actually meant. From my other questions, I got the sense that people understood that the decision has lead to an influx of money in our campaigns from corporations, however, I don’t know if people really understand that the decision definitively afforded corporations personhood under the Fourteenth Amendment, said corporations had the First Amendment right to free speech and determined that the spending of money is a protected form of speech. Part of the reason I chose not to include specific questions about the Citizens United decision was that I couldn’t figure out a way to ask those questions without specifically biasing the answer. I did ask one specific question about the decision, whether spending money should be treated as a protected expression of speech:

Clearly, respondents disagreed with the statement, but this data gives me no indication as to whether people know that the Supreme Court has already made a decision on this issue. Which is the primary reasons there is a movement to overturn the decision through a constitutional amendment to begin with.

And the other regret is that I didn’t get more responses from the right. I posted my survey on Facebook and Twitter and my husband, who is involved in the movement, posted the survey on a couple websites he frequents about the issue. Based on the locations of my respondents, though, it’s a pretty clear that most  responses were from my friends, my family and my family friends living in New York and Connecticut. I only received one response from a red state, Texas. And, incidentally, the only respondent who identified as right was from Massachusetts. I did tweet the survey with the hashtags #GOP and #tcot a few times to see if I could get any responses, but none of those efforts lead to any survey takers.

Overall, I found process designing and implementing a survey to be challenging and surprisingly enjoyable. I found myself checking the responses every few minutes to see if anyone new had taken the survey. I especially enjoyed the open-ended questions. The data was nearly impossible to quantify, but some of the responses were a hoot. I do not envy organizations like Gallup or PPP who do this on a daily basis, but it did make me wonder whether the national pollsters that make headlines regularly put as much thought into the wording of their questions as I did.

Money in Politics Survey

School

My last semester of graduate school is coming swiftly to an end. It’s amazing how quickly this semester has gone by. Three years of graduate school have crawled at times and I’m glad to be finishing up. I think I’ve gained a lot of great knowledge and skills from the New School and I’m definitely glad I decided to get my MA. I think I am a better journalist, a better producer and better researcher because of the media studies program.

And speaking of research.. My last assignment before my final in my research for media activism class is to conduct a survey on my topic. I was surprised by how difficult writing a survey is. Finding nuanced questions that don’t emphasize one answer or another was trickier than expected. I think it’s easy to look at a bad survey and pinpoint why it’s bad, but writing an even-keeled survey does take some skill. Hopefully, what I ended up with will help gather information without pushing people towards one viewpoint or another. The real goal is to get a sense of how people feel about money in politics, not to change minds. With the answers to these questions, I could develop a more targeted media strategy, if I want to pursue this topic in the future as a media activism project. That’s definitely still up in the air, but in the meantime, I would appreciate if everyone answered a few questions. I’ve, supposedly, embedded the survey below, but it seems some browsers have trouble with embedded Google forms. If you can’t see the survey below, click over to the Google documents page here. Thank you for your help!

Website Updates

School

I’ve added some of my academic work to the work samples page. In my graduate school studies, I’ve focused a lot on the connection between the media and politics. Somehow, this led to a number of papers about ACORN, the difference between voter fraud and voter registration fraud, and the problems with hidden camera “journalism” and deceptive editing. I’ve been pretty proud of my work, so please check it out and let me know what you think.

I’m also trying to work up the nerve to post my video midterm for my gender, culture and the media class. I decided to answer the question of what feminism means to me. I submitted the video yesterday and will probably wait to post it, at least until I get a grade back! I also interviewed my husband, Paul, about his involvement with the campaign to abolish corporate personhood. I ended up with a lot of great soundbytes and will probably post some of that interview later on this week.

The Final Semester…

School

Unless I decide sometime in the future that I want another master degree (unlikely, but possible) or I want to pursue my PhD. (very unlikely, since I’m not writing a thesis), I am in my final semester of academic life. Well, academic as a student.

Somehow, my final semesters have always been surprisingly difficult. In college, my last semester included an eight-hour class producing a 30-minute newscast from start to finish with my fellow classmates. Plus, my only Friday class in my entire college career was my final semester. This time around, I’m taking my last two classes of graduate school online. The online aspect makes them challenging, because it’s on me to log on and post in the discussion forums. Having a brick-and-mortar classroom to go to helps define deadlines and all the discussion happens in that two-hour time period allocated for class. But it’s hard to beat the flexibility online classes provide. I can post my response in the wee hours of the morning and I can work right up to the due date and time, because there’s no commuting required.

But more than the online aspect, both classes have proven challenging for different reasons. First, my research for media activism has been pretty work intensive, but so far, interesting. My other class, gender, culture and the media has been incredibly interesting especially as women’s issues have taken center stage in the news these days.

In my research class, I’ve been looking into the Citizens United decision and how it has been effecting campaign financing. Specifically, I’m looking into the campaign to amend the Constitution to strip corporations of personhood, as the Supreme Court defined it in the Citizens United decision. What’s been interesting in my research so far is the rights corporations do and do not have. From my situational analysis:

Though corporations have been legally defined as persons and thereby entitled to certain rights, they are not entitled to all rights in the Constitution. Corporations are entitled to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and equal protection. The have Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure, but they do not have Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. They are entitled to free speech and the right to a trial in civil cases. Like persons, corporations are required to pay taxes, but due to a number of loopholes, write-offs and favorable policies they lobbied for, rarely do corporations pay as much as they should, though they benefit from the services those taxes pay for, such as national security and infrastructure. Corporations cannot vote, but they also enjoy limited liability for criminal misdeeds and corporations themselves cannot serve jail time.

That’s why I find this debate so interesting. Shouldn’t a person be entitled to all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution? If so, how can a corporation be a person?

In the coming weeks, I have to conduct an interview on my research topic. I’m looking into sitting down with constitutional or corporate law scholars, so hopefully, I’ll be able to get answers to a lot of the questions I have about this. The Citizens United decision was pretty unpopular, so I’m interested in learning more about the jurisprudence behind it.

My gender, culture and media class has also been really interesting as we look at representations of women in the media. I’m hesitant to post about this, for fear of an influx of spammers, but we’ve spent a lot of time talking about pornography. While there is feminist pornography out there, a lot of pornography objectifies women and eroticizes power and violence against women. New York magazine had some excellent reporting on the porn industry last year. One of the best articles of the bunch was about the effect porn has on young girls. Girls and women are expected to live up to the expectations men see in porn and there’s no way to meet that impossible standard. But porn is really just performance art rather than an accurate representation of sex. And ultimately, it comes down to teaching that to our children.

Now, I’m not suggesting we should teach children about porn, necessarily, but rather that we need to do a better job of promoting media literacy in our society. This week’s readings focused on portrayals of women in advertising. Beauty sells, but girls wouldn’t be so quick to desire to be thin and beautiful to the standards set by advertisers if they were taught to have a healthy skepticism about the portrayals they see in the media.

It’s the same conclusion I’ve had throughout my time at the New School looking at the relationship between politics and the media. While I would like the media to move away from the horserace, he said, she said, dynamic, I think overall we’ll have more success changing the landscape by introducing a healthy amount of skepticism into the audience. People need to understand that they shouldn’t believe everything they see on TV or read on the internet.