How is the diminution of traditional, often hierarchal, “authoritative” intermediaries changing the role of publishing in social life?

“But what’s happening today – the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through a traditional intermediary – is truly transformative”

Alan Rushbridger, Editor of The Guardian Newspaper

How is the diminution of traditional, often hierarchal, “authoritative” intermediaries changing the role of publishing in social life?

Let’s face it; newspapers won’t be around for much longer. Soon, they will be more dead that Rasputin. But they aren’t on their deathbeds just yet. At the moment, newspapers are sitting quietly in their wheelchairs in nursing homes firmly attached to breathing apparatus’, waiting for somebody to come and visit. But nobody will. (Domeneghetti 2011). Newspapers have thoroughly enjoyed a 150 year reign as the predominant medium in society. They have cemented themselves as the ‘fourth estate’ and time and time again proved their influence over the public, often swaying public opinion at the drop of a hat. Large circulation attracted a myriad of advertisers, all willing to part with big dollars to reach huge audiences. Meanwhile, audiences had access to cheap news. The papers, advertisers and consumers were all happy little vegemite’s. But this perfect symbiotic three-way relationship has stumbled upon hard times in recent years. With the advent of online news and Web 2.0, people are more connected than ever, and it would seem that newspapers will soon be an obsolete medium, only to be viewed under glass casing at a museum, a soon to be ancient relic. The very fact that you are reading this blog post further reinforces this idea.

As Alan Rushbridger argues, what we are witnessing now is the “transformation from transmission to communication.” (Rushbridger 2010). Previously, the news industry relied on one way sending of information; there was no conversation or interaction with their audience. However, with the advent of online news and social media, all that is set to change. No one owns the digital space, and as Rushbridger says, it’s barely regulated. It also brings with it an entirely new idea of what journalism actually is. (Rushbridger 2010). People are now interacting with communicative online versions of media more than ever before, choosing to disregard their traditional and seemingly authoritative counterparts. This shift away from print journalism (and by print I mean the literal act of pressing ink to paper) has left the newspaper industry scrambling to ensure, or merely prolong its survival.

For too long, newspapers lived in a world where they believed that their only competition was other newspapers. They were completely oblivious to what was waiting around the corner, something was creeping up behind them, ready to seize and attract consumers like never before. Now, online media and social media have snatched newspaper readers away. Their ability to keep up with the 24 hour news cycle and provide a higher frequency media as well as their interactive abilities attracts new audiences every day. The proliferation of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter has been exceptionally destructive to the newspaper industry. Through these new mediums as well as search engines like Google, consumers are able to actively seek out what interests them rather than wait for the news to be presented to them on a silver platter. Now, when I find an article or a story that interests me, I am able to share it on my own Facebook wall, thereby making it accessible to my many thousands of followers. (I’m just kidding, I say many thousands, but I really mean a couple of hundred). More often than not, the most interesting part of an online

A stack of newspapers – could this be a rare sight one day?

article is the comments that a generated by users. A wide range of opinions on the matter emerges, often pitting one user against another in an intellectual battle of wits. Unfortunately, due to the anonymity of the internet, this ‘battle of wits’ will often plummet into a ridiculously stupid argument about who is ‘gayer’. But that’s they joy of the internet, once you are tired of one story, move onto the next one that interests you. Essentially, the line between a ‘producer’ and a ‘consumer’ is becoming increasingly blurred, as people are beginning to believe that anyone with access to an internet connection and fluid writing style can be a journalist.

For newspaper journalists, a decent portion of their pay check comes from classified advertorials. Hello Craigslist and eBay! Goodbye newspaper classifieds! Yes, display ads do still exist on online versions of newspapers and in print newspapers, but increasingly, companies are turning to Facebook and Googlefor their advertising needs as they are much more effective at matching ads to target audiences. Compound this with the fact that local shops and stores are shutting down daily as they cannot compete with huge chain companies who generally rely on national television ads to reach their viewers, and you have an economic model that once supported thousands of newspapers and independent reporters worldwide that has vanished.

A visualisation exploring the decline of newspapers in the United States

But can anyone be a journalist? Is it really as simple as writing a story or a rant and publishing it on a blog? As journalist Michael Bourne argues: “Without a way to make a living from their work, most bloggers are hobbyists, and most hobbyists come at their hobby with an angle… What you don’t have is a lot of guys like I used to be, who couldn’t care less about the outcome of the events they’re covering, but are being paid a living wage to present them accurately to readers.” (Bourne 2012). I think that the blurring of the boundary between consumers and producers is a good thing, but clearly, professional journalists will be a casualty of this change – and that is a frightening prospect in my opinion.  Some will argue that journalism is thriving. “There are more journalists than ever!” they cry. But where is the quality? How do we know that this story or that story has been thoroughly researched and is presented in a balanced, non-bias manner? Bottom line, we don’t know.

But then again, have newspapers fulfilled their ethical service to society? In Australia, newspaper ownership lies with two major companies, hardly a diverse range of opinions. News Limited and Fairfax have flooded the Australian market with their papers, each with their own agenda and purpose. It’s no wonder people have become disillusioned with mainstream media, especially given the recent News International phone hacking scandal in England. There’s just no diversity! So it seems natural that people will be drawn to the web get their daily dose of news. Newspapers have tried with varying success to migrate to the web in order to hold onto their readers, but it just might not be enough to save their industry as advertising revenue is dramatically less than it was for print versions.  Instead people turn to independent news sites such as Crikey and The Daily Beast as they provide up to date information from around the world and generally provide a more pleasant and interactive experience for consumers. Given the choice, would you rather a static and awkward to read paper, or a dynamic service that conveys information instantly? Is it even a question which one will dominate the market? (McFarlane 2012).

There is still one field that is greatly underappreciated for its ability to provide news to consumers. I spoke a little earlier about Social Media, but now I really want to have a proper look at how effective services like Twitter and Facebook are and whether they do pose a real threat to traditional mediums like newspapers.  Rushbridger provides an excellent account of the effectiveness of social media and what its rise means for the news business. Now, I myself am only currently on Facebook. I haven’t joined the Twitter revolution just yet. I tried, but I found the whole format too alien to handle, so I’ve sort of ignored it. But even in my limited time in the “Twittersphere” I learned a valuable lesson.  Twitter isn’t all about Kim Kardashian’s breakfast or Justin Bieber’s favourite movie. It’s a lot deeper than that, and as a medium, it is extremely valuable.

Essentially, Twitter is the most amazing form of distribution I’ve ever seen or heard of. Back to the Kardashian example for a second. Just a second, I promise! Can you believe she has almost 15 million followers? But she really does ask the tough important questions, like this beauty: “What do you like better, steak or cake?” [sarcasm alert!] Getting back on track now, despite Twitter’s 140 character limit (which doesn’t really matter as a lot of the best tweets are link to other websites) it has entrenched itself as the fastest form of distribution we have today. Newspapers are those poor monks that were suddenly unemployed when the Gutenberg Printing Press was unveiled. Newspapers, like the scribes and monks, have now realised they are obsolete.  Further, when something happens, anything for that matter, you’ll find it first on Twitter. For example, in 2011 Sohaib Athar, A Pakistani, live tweeted the American raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound. He complained about the noise of the helicopters, and gave numerous updates as to what was happening. “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)” he tweeted. Athar had unwittingly been the first person to report about a top-secret attempt to kill an internationally wanted terrorist. (O’Dell 2011).

Also, Twitter is possibly the most diverse medium available, especially in comparison to traditional media. Twitter follows the voices of everyone signed up. It creates communities and makes everyone, in a certain regard, a journalist. Each reporting on events that some may find interesting, and others may fin inane. Twitter, as well as other social media changes notions of authority and serves as an agent of change. Twitteris changing the

Twitter, blurring the line between consumer and producer

very idea of what a news story is. Live-blogging of events allows anyone, wherever they are to access information update continuously through their computers or mobile devices.  It allows people to interact with news, to answer questions or provide their opinions, something that a newspaper cannot do.  But we must remember that this new media isn’t trying to destroy old traditional media. As Rushbridger says, “the social web is not about the end of what came before, but the starting point for what comes next: richer and more complex societies.” (Rushbridger 2010). I don’t think there has ever been a greater communication technology than the internet, and its ability to transform an individual’s publishing power and interaction with what is published, and what it means to be a consumer of news is un-paralleled.

References & Related Articles

If you haven’t seen this movie, go watch it!

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A picture says a thousand words

Everyone knows the saying that a picture says a thousand words. But, i think that a picture is much more effective than one thousand, two thousand, one hundred thousand words. A single, perfectly timed image can change the world. The image of a polar bear clinging to a tiny floating piece of ice evokes a lot more emotion than any amount of statistics or professional analysis of the issue. It’s due to images like this, and numerous visualisation techniques that have ensured the issue of climate change is at the fore-front of everyone’s minds. And it’s not easy to do this. Who wants to be out-of-pocket in order to solve a problem that won’t even affect the majority of people, not at least for many many years? Yet somehow, the issue has gained a huge following.

When we are talking about climate change and global warming, you can’t overlook one of the most controversial documentaries fo all time, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Presented by Al Gore, an ex Vice President of the United States, the movie, through its seemingly endless visualisations of the increase of CO2 where Gore uses a scissor lift to illustrate on a large projector screen, problems such as rising sea levels and melting ice caps. Basically, these sort of visualisations are much much much more effective than any amount of words.

A polar bear desperately clings to a piece of floating ice

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Visualisation and Information Graphics

This stuff is cool. At the core of visualisation is the need to condense a lot of information and make is accessible to people who would otherwise lose interest. I certainly know that given the option of analysing charts or data/reading a long drawn out spiel about a particular topic OR accessing the information through a visualisation, I would certainly choose the latter. During the whole lecture this week, all I could think about was a television show that was once on the ABC. The Hungry Beast. I don’t know why it isn’t on anymore, because it was awesome. Each week they aired a section called the “Hungry Beast File” which would explore some sort of topical event. They were amazing examples of visualisation. Here’s a few clips from YouTube, I’ll let the explain (because they certainly do a much better job than myself!)




If you just search “The Beast File” you’ll find heaps more examples. Trust me, they are definitely worth a look.

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Piracy

OK.. so I’m going to try and get across my opinion on piracy with a set of images i have found on the internet. You should be able to work out my views on online ‘piracy’ after these.

Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters) makes a few interesting points here. Why is downloading a song or movie different to lending someone a cd, dvd or taping a television show?

Lil Wayne - Douchebag of the century? Yeah, I think so

 

I think that Dave Grohl raises a very valid point here. Downloading a song or movie is essentially no different to recording it off the television or the radio, yet people who participate in the former are viewed as pirates. Not fair if you ask me. People who download information are for the most part moral citizens. They don’t do so to give an ‘up yours’ to society. It’s because they feel they have a right to hear the song, or watch the movie. We now live in a society based upon archives. Why can’t we archive data? Why should we be restricted solely to the program set by television or the radio. In short, we shouldn’t. I think that in the next few decades there won’t be television as we know it, rather it will shift to an even more digital form much like we see in things like ABC i View. Television will be on demand. Heck, music is already on demand, just go on Youtube. You know, i could just download a song, or i could listen to it on youtube everytime i had the urge to listen to it. However, downloading information is seen as ‘bad’ while accessing it whenever is ‘ok’. Can someone please explain to me the difference?

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I definately have a short attention span

Social media has completely drained me of any attention span I once had. This semester I had the brilliant idea of purchasing a new laptop for uni – not a good move on my part. Now I spend valuable time that I could be using to study cursing the university’s wireless internet in a frustrating panic. I need Facebook. I need my e-mail.   I need everything else my computer has to offer that will assist me in my compulsive need to procrastinate.

So given all this, it was a little concerning to find out that “indulging in these ceaseless disruptions” is actually very bad for my brain, possibly as bad as excessive sugar or fat could be for our health. Do I need to start a technology diet? Really, there could be  business opportunity here. Take a look at Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. They help people lose weight and correct their diet. Maybe I could start a business that helps ween addicted teenagers from Facebook. God knows there a market here. If you sit at the back of a lecture once, you’ll notice hundreds of people on laptops and tablets signing onto Facebook and Twitter in a simultaneous  paranoid frenzy causing the university’s wireless to crumble under the weight of hundreds of  technology addicts.

One idea that interested me was the notion of an ‘attention economy.’ Kevin McCurley argues that; “Attention is a fundamental currency of advertising. It has value because attention is convertible into sales. In the language of a mathematician, attention is a necessary condition for sales, but not a sufficient condition for sales. Without attention there can be no sales.” So, will future generations be as technologically absorbed as we are? An even scarier thought would be to imagine if they are even more absorbed in their daily distractions than we are (if that’s even possible)!

“A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation released in January 2010 concluded that 8to 18-year-olds devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to entertainment media per

Another internet addict

day. But because they dedicate so much of that time using more than one medium at once – say, scanning Facebook as they listen to music and chat with friends – they actually pack in about 10 hours and 45 minutes of content in that period.”(James Temple 2011) After reading this, I wish I could apply myself in the same way to meaningful tasks, not just surfing the web. If I could devote 8 hours a day to anything, I’d be an expert in that field in no time…but unfortunately for me, I’m only an expert in the field of Facebook, like 845 million other people.

Because of this infatuation with have with technology and multi-tasking on the web, Howard Rheingold coined the term ‘infotention’, “to describe the psycho-social-techno skill/tools we all need to find our way online today, a mind-machine combination of brain-powered attention skills with computer-powered information filters.”

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Archive Fever!

Archives are everywhere! I didn’t realise how essential they are in my daily life until today. According to Derrida, an Archive is “made from selected and consciously chosen documentation from the past and also from the mad fragmentations that no-one intended to preserve and just ended up there”

So we can see that some archives are constructed purposely. For example my iTunes library (which is missing many album artworks arghhh, first world problems I know!), photo albums (both digital and physical) and even Facebook, the ultimate archive – storing vast amounts of data directly related to people.

First World Problems

Yet, there are also archives which we create unknowingly. Derrida refers to them as “mad fragmentations that no-one intended to preserve.” A good example of this would be my bedroom. At first glance it’s just my bedroom with a collection of my things I hold dear to me. My surfboard, my computer, skateboards, movie posters, dvd’s, books and a lot of junk. But if we look deeper into this, my bedroom is in fact a type of archive. Information about me is stored there and can be accessed at any time. If a total stranger was to look at my bedroom they could probably take a pretty good guess and what type of person I am. My bedroom reflects who I am, my history and my sense of self.

Humans have a constant desire to play with these archives, yet as Derrida suggests, media constructs, yet also destroys archives. An example of this would be the archive system of CD’s. Not long ago, CD’s were used to store all sorts of data – music, computer programs, photographs etc. But now, the CD’s has been systematically destroyed by a number of new archive systems. The internet makes it easier than ever to access music and deliver it straight to your portable archive system – the iPod.

It is really no surprise that Apple and Facebook are now two of the largest companies in the world. The spheres of influence are unmatched. I’m sure that if Jacques Derrida was alive today, he’d be smiling and gently shaking his head saying, “I told you so.”

Jacques Derrida

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Assemblage

OK, one quick read of the course outline section relating to Assemblage and I can already tell the readings are going to be a whole lot of abstract mumbo jumbo that I will not understand and will seemingly have no use to the progression of human society. But I guess that’s just the skeptic in me. However, having said that, I’m willing to give it a go.

From the course outline I found that an assemblage is really exactly what it sounds like: “an assembling of elements or relations”. A Frenchman named Bruno Latour attempts to give us a method to think about these assemblages, a theory know as ANT or Actor-Network Theory, which involves a “flat ontology”. Essentially, this means that all the elements within an assemblage should be treated equally.

A simple example from Wikipedia really helped me understand this far-out concept. “The interactions in a school involve children, teachers, their ideas, and technologies (such as tables, chairs, computers and stationery). Together these form a single network“. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor%E2%80%93network_theory] It is here that ANT becomes controversial. Both human (the teachers, students etc.) and non-human (stationery, computers etc.) “actants” should have equal “agency” as they are part of the same network.

So we can see that ANT in a way seeks to explain ‘ecosystems’. In the school for example, all the actants ensure the smooth running of the network. But how can we use ANT to explain publishing? Well, we can always look at e-readers again can’t we? Electronic readers require a number of different actantsin making up their network and fulfilling their purpose. Firstly, you need the audience (the reader). Other than that, you really only need a published book and power source to charge the e-reader. Compare this to a

Bruno Latour - striking a pose

traditional book. You have the same audience and you also need the book to be published, buy you do not need any power source. A traditional book is eternal (theoretically, not literally). It will always be there. It will never run out of power, never have a technical melt-down. So, I think that the traditional book wins this battle. But I very much doubt it will win the war.

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