A Different Perspective on News and Media

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Connor Chong, WH ’20

I find it fascinating on how information disseminates itself throughout society, throughout various social, economic, political, and cultural vectors. One primary vector that captures a majority share in this information transfer is the news and media. Over the summer, I was able to work at Speakable PBC, a media/tech/social-impact hybrid startup that sought to understand how people interpret the plethora of media around them, and hopefully alter the surrounding apathy around the typical news reader and call them to take action. Their unique vision of empowering readers of news captivated my interest, and a grant from the Career Services Summer Grant was able to allow working for this company and living in the albeit expensive city of New York to become a reality.

As the company was rather small and growing, I was able to wear a variety of different hats on the job. Coming from a more technical background, I was able to contribute a significant deal to their engineering team, completely re-engineering their website to use more modern JavaScript frameworks to allow greater scalability and efficiency (stress tested to over 200k server requests per minute). I also wore the hat of a data scientist, utilizing their SQL database of billions of records to inspect variations in performance and answer more complex questions about their products. As a capstone project, I built a data analyzer engine, which would query their database, parse the data, perform statistical analysis on the data, and spit out the data in an easy-to-read format.

However, the lessons I learned in the unique sector of media were powerful. Learning the specifics of the industry as well as the digital advertising space has been key to understanding both the monetization as well as purpose of news. News can be primarily seen as necessary to “educate the masses”, but lately has become more of a form of entertainment. As entertainment promotes lackadaisical-ness, readers of news frequently begin to create emotionally visceral reactions to news compared to intellectual understandings of the problems at hand. As consumers of the media today, we must be wary of how much we let our emotions govern our response to news; we must be motivated to act on our emotional response in an intellectual way, seeking out pathways to societal change through political, economic, and social responses.

This summer, I definitely learned a lot, such as on the technical side gaining familiarity with tools such as ReactJS, PostgreSQL, NodeJS, TypeScript, and more, but also with statistical foundations that I had to learn to build my data engine. In addition, I learned more about the news industry, understood more clearly our role of consumers of media, and saw the ways that we can mobilize to take action on the news that we read. From an amazing team, to passionate coworkers, to unity around a common theme, I was able to grow as an individual from my experience this summer.

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