National News

The 'Shifting' TV News Landscape: Will It Be Good For Diversity?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 09:41

Diane Sawyer announced she's stepping down as anchor of ABC's World News Tonight. Host Michel Martin finds out what this mean for diversity in television.

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Ramadan In A Warzone: Is This Time Of Reflection Enough To Stop Conflict?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 09:41

Ramadan is a time of quiet reflection for Muslims around the world. But what is it like for those who find themselves trapped in the middle of violent conflicts? Host Michel Martin finds out.

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Facebook is not the only one studying your behavior

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-30 09:35

As the furor over Facebook's experimentation with users' emotions spreads across the web, the most common defense of the social media company's actions is that every other web company is doing the same thing, or something close to it. Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Twitter -- they're all gathering data on how people use their services and how small changes can change people's behavior.

“Name a company that involves a large user base and you will find a research division looking to see how people use their site – Google does it, Twitter, MySpace always did it.  Think about Nielsen; we’ve lived our  lives knowing that Nielsen looks at how people interact with television shows and what they like or don’t like,” says Karen North, professor of digital and social media at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication.

With this pervasiveness of data and behavior studies at different companies, we decided to take a look at the research divisions at some of the biggest web services - and what kinds of work they're actually doing.

Google

Not suprisingly, Google's research division is expansive and varied, with areas of concentration ranging from its all-important search and ad algorithms, to speech and language processing to cyber-security and privacy. Google shares some similiarities with Facebook, in that they are known for keeping close tabs on their users' data for the purposes of advertising. Their research into web behavior seems to support this comparison. But in terms of manipulating user's content, Google seems to stick to small experiments or changes based on user preferences.

“Google is famous for doing widespread social research on how their website is doing," says Carl D. Howe, vice president of research and data sciences at the Yankee Group. "Now this is not emotional research, it’s ‘Do users prefer a one pixel wide blue bar or two pixel blue bar?’ These are called a/b tests and they run hundreds of them every day and they measure the click throughs as a result.”

One interesting aspect of Google's research is that they keep tabs on their advertisers' actions as well as those of their users, with a research division dedicated to measuring the behavior of search-ad customers and online economics.

Yahoo

Similar to Google, Yahoo runs a number of research divisions focused on data management and advertising. Like Facebook, Yahoo has studied how different types of content can provoke different behaviors from users, like one study that found that people engage more with photos that have faces in them on social media. Yahoo also researches how different personalization options can drive user behavior, and how they can serve up content to take advantage of it.

Twitter

Twitter is still figuring out how to sell advertising on its service, so it's no surprise its research division is fairly small compared to other web giants. Most of its research is published in the form of blog posts, and focuses on strategies for advertisers to reach users with targeted content or tweeting around large events. Trying to manipulate Twitter is still a risky proposition, so much of the research remains somewhat vague in comparison to the sophisticated findings coming from companies like Google.

Supreme Court Ruling Affirms Hobby Lobby Victory

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 09:31

The court ruled Monday in a case asking whether family-owned businesses that offer employees health insurance must include contraception in their plans if they object to some forms of it.

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Your Wallet: Reading the fine print

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-30 09:06
Fine print is everywhere these days: You can find some sort of clause when it comes to educationelectronics, vacations, loans, and hospital stays.

We're looking for stories, big and small, of when the fine print tripped you up. Let us know in the comments or email us:

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In 2010, CreditCards.com held a survey of over 1,200 credit card agreements and found that they are unreadable to 4 out of 5 Americans. According to credit expert John Ulzheimer, “the big print giveth and the fine print taketh away.”

What's A Caliphate?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 09:01

A supreme religious leader led Sunni Muslims for centuries, but the last caliphate ended nearly 100 years ago. Now Islamic radicals in Syria and Iraq claim they have re-created it.

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Details Of GM Recall Compensation Plan Released

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 08:36

GM's compensation program for claims related to defective ignition switches won't limit claim amounts and will include people who have already settled a case with the automaker.

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The Past Is Where It's At For The Future Of Barbecue

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 08:14

The future of good barbecue isn't in new technology, but in the old way of cooking with wood and smoke, says one expert. The science of slow-cooked meat seems to support his argument.

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America's Search For Meming

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 07:11

Images of the past remind us of memes of the present. And vice versa.

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Supreme Court Rules Against Union Fees For Some Home Care Workers

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 06:21

In a 5-4 ruling, the court recognized a category of "partial public employees" who cannot be required to contribute union bargaining fees.

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Some Companies Can Refuse To Cover Contraception, Supreme Court Says

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 06:19

The case, Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, is perhaps the most important decision of the term. It centers on the Affordable Care Act's guarantee of no-cost prescription contraception.

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BNP Paribas has to pay $8.9 billion in violations

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-30 05:37

BNP Paribas, the big french bank, came up the biggest loser today.

Late this afternoon we learned that BNP will pay a "Global money penalty" of $8.9 billion in a guilty plea to settle charges by U.S. authorities for violating American sanctions on Sudan and Iran, among others.

Emergency Slide Deploys Inside U.S. Jetliner, Forcing A Landing

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 05:34

The plane had been heading from Chicago to Southern California; instead, the scary incident forced startled passengers to spend Sunday night in Wichita.

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Two American Men Will Likely Face Trial In North Korea

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 04:03

A trial date for the two, who were traveling separately when they were arrested this spring, hasn't yet been announced.

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ISIS Declares Caliphate As Iraq Fights To Retake Tikrit

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-30 03:24

The plan was unveiled one day before the Iraqi parliament will hold its first meeting since the April 30 national elections.

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We hate Facebook for reminding us it's so powerful

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-30 03:00

Over the weekend, your Facebook feed may have exploded with anger— at Facebook. Researchers from the company, in collaboration with academic social scientists, published the results from a study in which the company manipulated the news feeds of hundreds of thousands of users. Some users saw news feeds full of negative material, others saw material that was positive. The idea was to see how those two conditions made people feel.

Well, the answer was that people felt really, really mad.  

“This study has been characterized as Facebook deliberately trying to depress people,” says Michelle N. Meyer, a bioethicist at the Icahn School of Medicine. “Which, put that way, strikes people as potentially dangerous— and rude. People don’t like to feel like they’re being jerked around.”

Getting manipulated isn’t especially new, she says.  “We’re manipulated all the time. Every day. You know, your mother wants you to eat brussels sprouts.”

However, it may be rude of Facebook to rub users’ faces in its ability to manipulate what they see.

That highlights an uncomfortable reality, says Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain, who studies the internet and society.

“We are relying more and more on just a handful of intermediaries to offer us a view of the world,” he says. “And the view that they offer is produced by a secret sauce that nobody reviews.”   

PODCAST: The house doesn't win

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-30 03:00

First up, more on the expected nomination of Robert McDonald to head the VA, and his troubled history as the former head of Procter & Gamble. Plus, as another casino closes in Atlantic City, a look at the larger negative effects of the boom in the casino business in the Northeast. Also, with political giving getting bigger all the time, a new kind of financial planner has popped up -- Wealthy, politically-minded families are hiring people to manage their financial gifts to campaigning politicians.

Financial planning for political donors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-30 02:00

The boom in political giving has given rise not only to countless television advertisements and myriad political action committees, but also to something of a new type of job: financial planner for wealthy political donors.

“They [wealthy donors] have other activities in their lives," says Bob Biersack, a fellow with the Center for Responsive Politics. "So they don’t follow the ins and outs of politics – who’s up, who’s down."

Enter what’s known as a donor-side consultant, like Ella Arnold, who works with five Bay-Area families. These are very wealthy families whom she declined to identify.

Arnold and her company, Buell Private Political Management, are in touch with clients every day, “managing their political giving and making sure they stay within federal and state limits – contribution limits,” she says.

Some of those limits disappeared recently, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in a case called McCutcheon versus FEC. Arnold says that actually made her kind of consulting more attractive to big donors. That class of political activist recognizes that candidates can now hit them up for more cash.

They’re thinking, “now that I can give all this extra money,” Arnold says, “I want to make sure that I’m sticking to a budget.”

Arnold meets with politicians. If she thinks one has a platform one of her clients might support, she’ll set up a meeting. And if everything goes well, maybe a fundraiser. She calls the role something akin to being a “wedding planner.”

“Donors, particularly businessmen, are typically risk averse, and the rule of do no harm to either their own good name or their business is their first and primary consideration,” says Dora Kingsley Vertenten, a professor at USC, who used to do this kind of work.

Arnold calls it a growth industry, especially in San Francisco and Silicon Valley; home to a lot of very rich people, many of whom are young, and are new to politics.

“I don’t think that there is a place where it is happening as fast as it is in the Bay Area, given the tech industry and all for that,” she says.

Financial companies play venture capitalist

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-30 02:00

A recent demo gathering in New York featured several startups showing off their software projects. It was from the FinTech Innovations lab, which looks at innovations in the financial tech industry. The audience was comprised of some of the biggest banks and their affiliated financial companies in the world. 

For more on the FinTech Innovations lab, click the media player above to hear Marketplace reporter Tracy Samuelson in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

Financial technology is a category defined as any kind of technology meant to serve banks, insurance companies, and other financial services industries. It's a growing market -- Investment in the sector has tripled since 2008.

Companies at the gathering show off products like Kasisto, which uses the technology underlying the iPhone’s Siri to allow a user to ask mobile banking apps specific questions about their banking information.

The banks, as the future customers of these companies, have an incentive to help improve these products, and create their own venture funds to invest in these companies. 

Casino saturation hits Atlantic City

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-30 02:00

The Showboat casino in Atlantic City is closing. It’s the second casino to close there this year. It turns out, a recent boom in Northeast casinos means the house doesn’t always win.

Since 2001, gaming revenue in the Northeast has increased 71 percent, the most of any region says David Schwartz, who directs the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

But regional growth isn’t good for old gambling hubs like New Jersey.

“You’ve had casinos open up in Pennsylvania in particular, which is where a lot of the customers for Atlantic City were coming from,” Schwartz says. “And now they have the same games they can play, it’s a shorter drive, it’s less gas money. So many of them are just playing there.”

Schwartz says gaming revenue in New Jersey has fallen 42 percent since 2007.

It’s not just the casinos that effects. Dave Fitzgerald, who directs the Ocean County, N.J., transportation department, says taxes on casino revenue help fund a program that gives people rides to dialysis appointments. But the decline in casino revenue means the program can’t take new clients.

“Back in ’08 we were transporting approximately 280 dialysis clients,” Fitzgerald says. “We’re now down to less than 30 dialysis clients. So it has severely impacted the level of services that we’ve been able to provide.”

The problem isn’t going away anytime soon. A third Jersey casino has filed for bankruptcy and is looking for a buyer.

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