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Who Matters

Posted July 23, 2014
By Chrysti Shain, '85, journalism


Veteran journalist and teacher Mark Tatge will be joining the School of Journalism and Mass Communications this fall as the first Baldwin Fellow, giving new depth to our program's business journalism and social media classes.

Tatge, 58, will be working on his Ph.D. while doing research and teaching classes, helping shape the next generation of business journalists.

He's just one of the dozens of smart, evocative journalists and professors you'll encounter in our halls  the ones you learn from and remember long after you graduate. It's because "who" matters.

What are you going to study?

"I'm really interested in the propaganda on social media and its impact on the American psyche. Lots of stories are uncovered by social media, and it's increased the volume of information greatly — everybody has a voice.

"But social media has a dark side as well. It's being used in many cases to obfuscate, distort — reporting things that just aren't true. It's deliberately being used as propaganda passed off as news."

Where have you seen that happen?

"After Hurricane Sandy, many photos that were distributed turned out not to be Hurricane Sandy photos. The damage occurred in other places. Yet it wasn't passed off as a joke, and people donated a lot of money."

Two other examples: the controversy about President Obama's birth certificate and the theories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In both cases, the misinformation spread on social media has caused public confusion about the facts.

"I think it's very corrosive."

How does that apply to business journalism?

"There's nothing wrong with a business wanting to or having the freedom to communicate with potential customers. What's come into question is the structure of how this is evolving. There is content that is being fashioned to look like news. And the difference between what is news and what is fact and what is advertising — which is fact but one set of facts — is blurring.

"The controversy comes when advertising is being passed off as news. There are many people trying to figure out where the boundaries are for things masquerading as news when they're in fact advertising.

"There's this blurring between fact and fiction. At its most innocent, it's pranksterism. At its most devious, it's people trying to mold perceptions in a particular direction."

As a self-described "pretty heavy news consumer," how do you get your news?

"I graze. I move from field to field to field. I still watch the evening news. I like to watch the news shows. Probably my favorite show is PBS' Frontline, in terms of the depth and sheer volume of reporting."

He also reads the New York Times and Wall Street Journal the old fashioned way. Then there's Gawker, Gizmodo and Mashable, all of which deliver news and interesting stories into the daily mix.

He uses HootSuite and Flipboard to set up social media feeds on different topics. "It's the only way I can really organize things."

How do you know it's legit?

"There's so much information out there, and so many great stories, and news consumption is actually up. People are consuming more news than ever before. The hardest thing is sorting it and getting through it.

"It influences and shapes you in different ways — it shapes your mind and shapes your views — but most people don't think much about where its coming from."

Studies show that most Americans still get their news from TV, even though we have social media, Twitter and feeds to mobile phones. The predominant source for that news and information, no matter how it's delivered, is traditional print and broadcast news organizations, he says.

Because of the many choices in platform, Tatge believes it's important for students to know and understand the different ways news is created and vetted, and for them to learn to recognize real news from propaganda or commentary.

"The main thing is that students get an opportunity or are exposed to views about where the information that they're sharing and that they're viewing is coming from, because I don't think a lot of them know."

What's your best advice to students?

"Keep an open mind and try new things. Push yourself. Push the outside barriers. Try to listen to things you might not necessarily agree with. Look for different views and how those views are formed."

For instance, Tatge often watches msnbc, then switches over to Fox News to see how the different points of view are used in framing the same news story.

"People are narrowcasting and segmenting themselves so much, both adults and students, that they're shutting down the other view of the story, both in what they write and consume."

Why is that important?

"Journalism in it's traditional sense is the first account of history. It's documenting that. It's checking and rechecking things. Then, after that, comes commentary.

"What's being lost or forgotten is there's a real need to do the homework and turn things upside down. Sometimes that's painful, like eating your vegetables. Sometimes we want to go straight to dessert. That's why I encourage students to do things that are uncomfortable. That allows you to learn, to grow."

What are you going to teach?

"I'm not sure yet. A financial basics and financial literacy course may fit very well — teaching how business works, how to size up companies, how the stock market influences corporate behavior to people who want to be business journalists and communications professionals."

Tatge, who has taught multimedia storytelling and business writing at DePauw University since 2011, believes students need to know how to tell stories in different ways using multiple tools.

"The important thing is to not get tied up on platform. People get a little too wedded to certain platforms because that's what they're comfortable with. Even if I were to teach a business journalism class, I would have them go pick up a camera and go shoot, even if it were a writing class."

How did you get here?

Tatge, who earned a master's degree at Ohio State and an MBA at Ohio University, has always wanted to earn his Ph.D. He heard about the Baldwin fellowship through a colleague.

"I think I'm going to learn a lot from the people at USC," noting in particular the strong public relations and advertising programs. "There's a lot I can learn from the faculty."


The Baldwin Fellowship

The Baldwin Business and Financial Graduate Fellowship for Business Journalists at the University of South Carolina is designed to bring a business journalist to the university's School of Journalism and Mass Communications to complete a doctoral degree, generate new knowledge on the topic of business journalism, and promote the education of business reporting within the school.

The fellowship is funded by a $500,000 gift from Kenneth W. Baldwin Jr., a Columbia native and 1949 University of South Carolina alumnus. This is Baldwin's second large gift to the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. In 2009, he gave a $500,000 gift to establish the Baldwin Business and Financial Journalism Endowment Fund to support teaching, research and other activities.