The MEDIA EPIDEMIC
A WICKED DESIGN PROBLEM
THE BROKEN SYSTEM
The average United States Citizen is unable to find news sources that contain accurate, unbiased, and negatively charged news stories anywhere in available mainstream media sources. There an overall lack of trust that the messages sent by news/media sources produce a feeling of mistrust and manipulation for the viewers/consumers.
There is no question that the year 2020 has been a challenging and frightening time for most Americans. There has been much uncertainty and frustration in-light of the pandemic and accompanying economic crisis. In addition, our country is facing historical political tensions that has led to increased division and conflict within our cities and communities.
The problem of biased media sources and outright manipulative tactics conducted by news media sources has been an issue since the dawn of newspapers and extended with the advent of the television. The reason we need unbiased news sources that ethically deliver facts and figures is to encourage viewers to think critically for themselves and form their own judgments on social, health, and political issues.
Unfortunately, the media and the government employ numerous psychological techniques that can manipulate data and minds. There is also a highly dis-proportionate release of violent and rare crime information that does not represent what is happening to the collective American public on a daily basis. These focuses on negative and violent stories have been proven to have adverse mental health effects on viewers.
The intended audience for this the average American beginning at a 10th grade education level upwards. It is understood that a basic communication skills and comprehension skills are necessary for this design solution to be effective.
WHY SOLVE THIS PROBLEM?
1. Eliminating unethical tactics in news delivery for the sake of ‘hooking’ viewers will improve the viewer’s mental health while allowing them to be informed on local, national, and international issues.
2. There is a critical need to have a media outlet (news source) that allows the viewer to utilize individual critical thinking skills with regard to news such as politics.
3. The media has been using tactics to ‘dumb down’ the American population and shift biases in their particular direction for decades and the problem is significantly increasing with today’s volatile issues.
4. Solving this problem could enhance community relations and tell the accurate story of the actions of Americans. Shootings and violent crimes are not everything that happens within American cities. There are many good people doing good things. Reducing the shock drama tactics with an ethical news media source would encourage good behavior and well-being.
The following questions were given to 5 participant during oral interviews for our Wicked Design Problem. These questions were constructed to be open-ended and to promote an open dialogue with the interviewees. Out of the 5 participants, 3 possessed a college degree and the other 2 were in skilled trades. My research indicated that the media is presented to the public at a 10th grade education level.
What I found interesting as I accumulated feedback was how the participants answers echoed my findings as to why we consume news media. The most striking realization that was confirmed was our ‘fear of missing out’ and not knowing news that others may know. Additionally, it appears that in our American Culture it is viewed as being socially responsible to regularly consume news media.
The psychological, sociological, and anthropological factors that motivate people to keep consuming media even when they acknowledge that they feel worse afterwards are very predictable with homo sapiens.
Last, as I was researching this problem I was able to learn more about how the media targets these ‘factors’ to strengthen the feedback loop of media consumption.
- Why do you watch the news?
- Can you describe how you feel before, during, and after a typical news media viewing?
- Please describe your level of trust with the information you receive from media outlets.
- How often do you consume news media in a typical week?
- How do you think your local news channels perform in regards to accurately communicating both positive and negative current events?
- Please describe a time that you felt informed and uplifted after watching a news broadcast.
- Can you describe a recent experience where you felt anxious or uneasy after watching the news?
- How do you view the effects on your mental health from news media consumption.
- Do you feel like you are ‘missing out’ when you don’t catch up on current events through news media?
- What would you do to improve the trust level with your local and national media outlets?
Persona & Empathy Map
Sam was one of my key participants for this project. He is an intelligent man and is known by his peers as being open-minded and a person of integrity. He is a hard-working professional and and values people.
His viewpoints and feedback provided a well-rounded representation of what I found in my research and interviews. Sam’s responses to the questions presented an overview of consistent views to this design problem as I learned more about how people view their experience of consuming news.
Click below the image bellow for more details about Sam. w
as one of my key interviewees for this project. He is an intelligent
This Empathy Map provides a visual overview of Sam’s perspective on the issues presented thus far. The mapping exercise provides us with an opportunity to better comprehend both the interdependent impacts of the media epidemic on our American Society.
This visual serves as an evaluative tool that helps us better understand how Sam is interpreting what he sees, hears, and ultimately experiences when ingesting news media.
Click the map below to view the empathy map in full-screen mode. (3000px wide)
teaching people to fish
A key take-way from our research was that Americans want to protect their right to think critically about what the news media tells them. They don’t want to feel baited or tricked into certain biases.
We realize this is a complicated issue that does not contain black and white solutions. Interpretations of what we see, hear, and feel can be very different from one individual to the next.
However, we do see opportunities to make a positive impact in this arena and make strides towards helping people to feel informed and not frightened – to be able to decide for themselves how they feel about news worthy issues.
- Cost of Producing our ideal News Media Delivery Source.
- Establishing a grading system for data sources and defining ethical standards for these ranking parties.
- Establishing an external data system where viewers can view all sides of the issues being presented by the media.
- Defining neutral and unbiased as it relates to complex political stories in a polarized American Government.
- The ‘teachability’ factor: How to educate the public in means of interpreting data and understanding bias tactics.
The Bulls-eye Exercise was utilized to lead us towards design solutions. Following the interviews, key pain-points were established and led us into listing desired traits of a news delivery product that could solve the media epidemic.
The most critical and desirable features and components are listed in the central circle and span outwards in ranking of value and importance to the user.
Click the empathy map below to view the full size image. (4000px wide)
TOOLS THAT PROMOTE CRITICAL THINKING
We realize there are many news apps out there to choose from. This prototype for a news app is focused more on analyzation tools rather than trying to govern individual biases. A multitude of professional studies have revealed that bias in the news-giving environment is likely to always have biases. Whoever is funding the media company (along with government pressures) generally sway both the content and delivery of that content.
Our proposed solution includes a selectable news topic feed source that can be customized by the user. However, the solution lies within our news tools features. This third-party APP would be an NGO and Non-profit product. This must only be funded by a user subscription fee and not include any outside advertising dollars. History has shown that greed and advertising dollars create bias and discourage critical thinking.
The first specific feature is a SIDE BY SIDE COMPARABLE. This feature allows the viewer to view both sides of a political issue, or to be able to see violent crime statistics next to a news story featuring something horrific that may have occurred in their city that day.
The next is a BIAS ANALYSIS TOOL that consists of an engine that picks up on unethical tactics in the form of words, phrasing, etc that would potentially sway a viewer in a certain direction based on particular commentary. This engine could be expanded and utilized to be used for other main stream Left and Right Leaning news sources as well.
The last feature is the CREDIBILITY CHECKER Tool. This feature would offer additional outside links and a credibility rating score that is established based off of a number of ethical criterium.
Click the image below to view full screen.
Looking towards the future
working towards solutions
Awareness as the first step
There is no doubt that this is a complex and wicked design problem. That said, we have realized that ignoring and accepting the Media Epidemic is not the answer. The single most important element leading towards a solution is to increase public awareness of what has been happening in our present media delivery systems. Just as with correcting any behavior or problem awareness is the first step. This is the first step towards empowering media consumers with critical thinking skills.
We also have an obligation to inform our audiences of the effects of constant violence on the human psyche. While the media portrays and highlights violence at the beginning of most broadcasts, the public has the right to be told the whole story without unethical tactics that hook our instinctual attractions to fear and violence. We recognize that there must be a balance between being informed and being coerced to focus on negativity.
indentifying parameters that define 'bias'
This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges in this design problem. We are wired as humans and as institutions to define and classify information into packages. These actions create bias. A key actionable design component will measure the bias factor with that of our needs to be informed. One important item to understand is that biases are not inherently harmful – they are part of the decision making process. However, bias should be formed when all parts of the problem have ethically and plainly presented to the consumer. We identify an incredible opportunity to allow news media consumers to challenge biases through a news media platform that offers ethically designed charts, graphs, and copy in an online platform that allows them to each side of an issue side-by-side.
Just a beginning
We have discovered that continued ethnography work that identify motivating factors of why we consume news media is essential. At the core we have discovered that one of the most documented reasons we consume media is so that we do not feel like we are the last to know (social motivators). If we can develop design solutions that help satisfy this key behavioral motivator we will have begun to make a difference. We must also continue to design tools that support the efforts of understanding what are often complex issues in our modern societies based off continued field research.