PROJECT TITLE :

Portraits of Obama:
Media, Fidelity, and
the 44th President

Portraits Of Obama: Media, Fidelity, and the 44th President

Using Obama as a prism, this essay examines the culture of American mass media, examining the fidelity of news content amongst the ever-growing, ever-fragmenting, modern media landscape. It investigates the audience’s active engagement in the construction of their relationship to reality, the flawed nature of newsmakers and their perceptions of the world, and offers an alternative narrative approach to the construction of the self.

Portraits of Obama:
Media, Fidelity, and
the 44th President

PROJECT SUMMARY :

This essay looks at the culture of American mass media, examining the fidelity of news content amongst the ever-growing, ever-fragmenting, modern media landscape. I use President Obama as a means of investigating the audience’s active engagement in the construction of their relationship to a collective reality, the flawed nature of newsmakers and their perceptions of the world, while offering an alternative narrative approach to the construction of the self.

PROJECT TYPE :

Orientation: Design researcher +
Visual Designer
Project type: Visual Essay
Publisher: Dialectic
Award: Design Incubation

“In a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter...information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.” (Obama)

President Obama made this statement in May of 2010, during one of his most tumultuous years in office when financial reform, a healthcare overhaul, and the BP oil spill were few among many of his administration's concerns. The notion of being bombarded by media is not a new one; this idea was often discussed during the last half of the 20th century when watching television became a ubiquitous pastime in America.

However, as media outlets and their potential audience continues to grow, especially in relation to news offerings, the discourse on their societal impact calls for greater scrutiny. As Obama pointed out, media tools and channels of the 21st century place “new pressures on our country and on our democracy.”

“a jumbled mesh of pictures, peoples, problems, debates, delights, devastations, redactions, distractions, reds, greens, blues, blacks and whites, pixels and bytes, gyrating around the sound bites of a world too complex for the simple narrative tropes espoused in 72-point type on the front page of our daily newspapers… click here.”

CASE STUDY + TEXTUAL ANALYSIS

Information Quality

In this series, I use a speech given by President Obama in 2010 as a case study in the analysis of information quality to propose that we use (1) Completeness, (2) Accuracy, and (3) Perception as a means of analyzing the fidelity of information.

The first page questions the notion of completeness while the second looks at the accuracy of reporting via six news organizations and the third illustrates the instability of perception.

I translated Completeness, Accuracy, and Perception into graphic icons to aid in visually referencing the attributes of each idea.

Hampton University
Case Study

In 2010 on Monther's Day in Hampton, Virginia, blue skies received the 44th President of the United States of America while he visited Hampton University, one of the country’s leading historically black colleges and universities. While attempting to stymie the full embrace of a knowing grin, President Obama stood at the commencement podium looking out over a sea of black and brown faces. The students sat victorious, having conquered the hurdles that imperiled their long pilgrimage towards the cap and gown.

Obama’s commencement address acknowledged their arduous journey, their potential, and of course, the field of obstacles—cultural, social, global, economic, political, and/or self-imposed—that will continue to lay before them as their lives progress.

Overall, the speech was pointed yet congratulatory—imbued with the message that, “education can fortify you”15 against the challenges of today. Obama fumbled a couple of words, seemingly overcome with passion, and, here and there, that grin seemed to extend to its extremities.

It was a good day. Unfortunately, for those of us who were not present on that day under that pristine blue sky, our only means of experiencing this event is through fragments of media images, sound bites, and headlines. Given this context, an essential question arises: Who creates the frame through which we perceive the speech? Were the individuals and organizations reporting the event even there? If so, what masks were they wearing? What is the nature and quality of the frame through which they perceive the world? Is it complete, accurate, and relevant, and who gets to decide if it is?

Completeness

Selection is a process of elimination—the constant choices we each must make between “this” or “that.” It is the bracketing of a datum gleaned from the data. It is where we rest our eyes, and it gives focus and shape to a piece of the world. How defined this shape and focus are is a question of completeness.

Fidelity-Complete
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Accuracy

For the most part, the brilliant blue skies, radiant faces, and pointed message about challenge and triumph were left out of reports and summaries of Obama’s speech in the news media. Several media outlets seemed to miss the point of his speech altogether, choosing instead to fixate on a comment Obama made about using his iPad in a segment of the speech which offered little insight regarding the speech’s overall content and intended message.

Fidelity-Accur
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Perception

Meaning is constructed at the point that a message is perceived. The random "irradiations and resettlements" of our ideas participate in the construction of this meaning.

Our physical proximity to a message, as well as our general knowledge and experience, all contribute to the obtuse nature of our reception of the world around us. The way we perceive things commands the way we make meaning out of what is being received.

Fidelity-Percep
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