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Woman burned by McDonald's hot coffee, then the news media


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In 1992, Stella Liebeck spilled scalding McDonald's coffee in her lap and later sued the company, attracting a flood of negative attention. It turns out there was more to the story.

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This advert for the Guardian's open journalism, screened for the first time on 29 February 2012, imagines how we might cover the story of the Three Little Pigs in print and online. Follow the story from the paper's front page headline, through a social media discussion and finally to an unexpected conclusion. A question to ponder: How do you think the media's influence helped shape public opinion of the pigs?

We're all a little more connected now than we ever have been before. It begs us to wonder if our connectedness informs our perceptions of things happening in the world. A Pew Research paper investigated this topic: Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives. Do you think being connected affects the way we think about current events? Here are the findings: Main findings: Teens, technology, and human potential in 2020

Nearly 20 million of the 225 million Twitter users follow 60 or more Twitter accounts and nearly 2 million follow more than 500 accounts.There are more than 800 million people now signed up for the social network Facebook; they spend 700 billion minutes using Facebook each month, and they install more than 20 million apps every day. Facebook users had uploaded more than 100 billion photos by mid-2011.

YouTube users upload 60 hours of video per minute and they triggered more than 1 trillion playbacks in 2011 – roughly 140 video views per person on earth.

John Mayer's song, Waiting on the World to Change, says: "And when you trust your television / What you get is what you got / Cause when they own the information / Oh, they can bend it all they want." Mayer's words may reflect the opinion of his peers (including the vast majority of 20-somethings around the world today) -- an opinion that blames news media organizations for twisting the truth and making stories into whatever they want them to be. What do you think? Is it interesting that 23 years earlier, a pop icon of the early 1980's wrote a song called A Little Good News that blamed the news itself for being bad -- not the people and organizations reporting it.

Over the last 500 years, the influence of mass media has grown exponentially with the advance of technology. Why does that matter to me? Is that a bad thing? For more information, check out this outline from Dr. Anthony Curtis from the Mass Communication Department at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.More than 20 years ago, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck ordered coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through in Albuquerque, N.M. She spilled the coffee, was burned, and one year later, sued McDonald’s. The jury awarded her $2.9 million. Her story became a media sensation and fodder for talk-show hosts, late-night comedians, sitcom writers and even political pundits. But cleverness may have come at the expense of context. A reporter for The Times reflects on how the world has changed since the lawsuit.

Journalism can be much more than reporting. An authentic, human narrative touches audiences and keeps them reading. Learn how to shape a human-centered news story, and the importance of facts, context and heart.

Colors, camera angles and logos in the media can all prompt immediate associations with emotions, activities and memories. Learn to decode the intricate system of symbols that are a part of everyday life -- from advertising messages to traffic signs.

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