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‘Eyes Wide Open: This is Media’ Makes its Ohio Debut at JMC

Posted Feb. 21, 2014

Whenever you go online, you must consider the source of information: can it be trusted? Whenever you communicate online, you are a source:  can you be trusted?

These questions were the provocative theme of “Eyes Wide Open: This is Media,” a documentary Panelistspremiering at JMC on February 20. Kent State was one of only 15 universities across the country – and the only school in Ohio – to premiere the film before its full release in March.

Produced by Pivot TV, the documentary is a call to awareness about the critical balance between being connected, being responsible and being private. The premiere event was made possible by a grant from the National Association of Medial Literacy Education (NAMLE) and through the advocacy of JMC professor Federico Subervi, a NAMLE member.

The film was screened to a large and lively crowd of students – the millennials for whom it is intended -- and was followed by a panel discussion featuring JMC director Thor Wasbotten, vice president for content at Northeast Ohio Media Group Chris Quinn, JMC professors Jan Leach and Karl Idsvoog, and JMC graduate student Katy Coduto.  The panel was moderated by Subervi.

“This is Media” details the tremendous power of the Internet and social media in providing a channel for the disenfranchised, a voice for the under-represented, a way to create conversation and community, and a means of sharing information and building a brand following. But it also focuses on the risks to individual privacy and the prevalence of bad information and bad sources. Among its critical messages:

•    Everyone is a creator of content now. We are no longer passive consumers.Event attendees
•    Information is no longer managed, concentrated or curated by a handful of major new sources, and    80 percent of young people say they don’t know which information source to trust.
•    One in four young people say they’ve misled others online by posting information they didn’t trust.
•    We are sharing more information than we know or intend.
•    If someone were to read our Google searches, it would be like reading our diaries.

The film and panelists underscored the necessity of understanding the privacy tradeoffs of digital media, and considering the source – who wrote an article, who paid for the site, and are they trying to sell you something?

“To use digital media effectively and responsibly, we need to understand more than the technical and creative aspects of the medium. We must understand our responsibilities and risks,” Wasbotten reminded the students, urging them to use commonsense. “Your brand is built every time you are on the Internet. The Internet and social media give you the opportunity to recreate the world. All we expect is for you to be a responsible contributor.”

Idsvoog underscored the importance of the fundamentals of journalistic thinking when using digital content. “Ask yourself, ‘What’s your evidence?’ Get back to the fundamentals when you read. You’ll be better informed.”

The 24/7 nature of all media has created a rush to publish, and accuracy can suffer. “BuzzFeed has become a reputable source for news. Their accuracy is better than CNN’s sometimes,” Coduto said. Wasbotten

But Quinn believes that accuracy is improving. “Fact-checking is better now because of crowdsourcing. People are quick to pounce on us when we get it wrong.”

Leach reminded the audience, “There’s a changing idea of privacy. Facebook owns your information forever. And you are giving it away.”

Coduto confirmed that point based on her current experience as an intern at a national communication firm. “With a handful of keywords, we can bring up 200 thousand Facebook posts to target key audiences. People are not even aware.” But Quinn did not see an inherent harm in this. “In the past, we were blanketed with ads for things of no interest to us. How does it do more harm to see ads we are interested in?”

Students were encouraged to imagine future bosses having access to all their Facebook and twitter content. “Your employer can find out if you have a health problem. They can find out what you’ve been searching,” Idsvoog cautioned. 

All panelists encouraged students to be mindful when building their personal brands online. “I now use social media only to build my brand. I make sure everything I put online is consistent with my brand and ties back to my blog,” Coduto said.

While caution is warranted, digital media have clear advantages. “Think how many entertainers have launched their careers on line, and how many brands have been built on line,” Wasbotten said.

“We want our reporters to build their brands online. We want our readers to turn to them, to identify with them,” Quinn added. “With digital media, communities are no longer based on geography, but on common interests.”

Subervi summed up the evening’s them when he told students, “The message is:  be mindful on line.”

More information on the film is available at 

The conversation about data privacy and security did not end when the movie did. Wasbotten and Leach announced the theme of this fall’s 10th annual Poynter Media Ethics Conference is “Data Minefields?” – a continued exploration of current risks to data security. The conference will be held on Thursday, September 18 in FirstEnergy. The conference is free for students. Registration information will be available later this spring.

Premiere panelists included, from left: Chris Quinn, vice president of content for Northeast Ohio Media Group; JMC graduate student Katy Coduto, JMC director Thor Wasbotten, professor Karl Idsvoog and Jan Leach. (Photos by David Foster)