The Changing Role of Publishing In Social Life: Journalism. ARTS2090 Essay

Question 2.

Today, the mass’ ability to communicate with each other without having to go through a traditional intermediary – is truly transformative.  How is the diminution of traditional and often hierarchical, ‘authoritative’ intermediaries changing the role of publishing in social life?

 In Journalism, print and broadcast media have traditionally been the main avenues for distribution throughout the twentieth century. These forms of distribution were and still are primarily geared toward established media outlets that have the resources and funds to publish and broadcast content to a public of consumers.  What has changed dramatically in the last ten years is the availability of platforms, which consequently restructure the distribution of power in the media.  Whilst it is arguable that a hierarchical structure of the media still exists in some form, there is no doubting that power is being yielded to the ordinary citizen.  Alan Rusbridger claims that the consumers’ ability to sidestep the intermediaries is truly transformative. Throughout this essay, I intend to provide evidence as to why this statement holds relevance to a changing media landscape and how this is being made evident in the world of publishing.

 In order to fully understand the transformation that is taking place in online journalism, it is necessary to disclose exactly what is meant by the term ‘intermediary’.  In the context of Rusbridger’s article, an intermediary is the traditional print and broadcast media, which historically have been responsible for the facilitation of public discourse.  Newspapers, Radio and Television according to Habermas (2006), are the media of the public sphere.  Newspapers themselves were instrumental in the creation of nation states as they were the sole distributer of public information, and therefore worked to equally inform individuals, thus creating informed citizens.    Traditionally, with distribution centred on established media, information flowed from sender to receiver.   Within his article, Rusbridger describes this as transmission.  Since the rise of the internet, particularly web 2.0, transmission is gradually transforming into communication as consumers are afforded the ability to not only respond to content, but to voice their opinions via blogging platforms and social networking websites.  In an example of convergence, this trend is evidently being adopted by traditional print and broadcast media, exemplified through newspapers going online.  But whilst the traditional intermediaries are embracing new platforms they are no longer the sole publishers of news.    

 It’s not just the internet that’s driving this transformation in publishing of journalism.  Access to the internet is one thing, but accessing it anywhere is another.  The rise of the smart phone is itself, truly transformative and empowering when you consider that suddenly, the average person has access to the network wherever they go, and the capabilities of such devices, such as video recording, enable anyone to create content and publish it online, whilst on the go.  Essentially this is what can be termed citizen journalism, and it’s happening right now.  Since the rise of the smart phone it seems that breaking news is usually accompanied by shaky video footage or pictures with little clarity, created by amateurs using smart phone technology.  And it’s making its way into established media outlets.  Think back to the tsunami that hit Japan, or the Earthquake in Christchurch, many, if not all of the pictures initially making the news bulletins, were images captured by citizens.

 The effect of this trend on publishing is eliminating the need for an intermediary because access to the network enables the individual who recorded such content, to distribute it online via social media platforms.  Users can upload content to many social networking platforms, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube being the most prominent.  YouTube in particular is a very interesting publishing platform, completely eliminating the need for intermediaries, to allow anyone to broadcast content of interest to a potentially wider audience.  Let’s not forget that this is creating a transformation, where established media outlets are becoming increasingly dependent on citizens to supply news content in the form of pictures and videos.  This gives first hand accounts of news events as they are taking place.  But what does this mean for the quality of content?  It is arguable that quality is diminished because it’s all produced by amateurs, but really, does this matter?  Such content would not have existed anyway if it were not for such technology.  Essentially what results is more information and more recounts of events.  The actual quality of material and the provenance of it are becoming less important.  

 From this, we see an increase in diversity online, brought about via the plethora of accounts of events from individuals across the globe, who are not necessarily professional journalists.  The main side effect from this is what Goldhaber (1997) calls the economy of attention.  As more information makes its way onto the internet, audiences of content become outnumbered by the seemingly infinite archives of information that exist, and therefore, audience attention, which is the scarce element in the mix, becomes sought after.  As a result, it can be said that our attention spans are shortened due to an increase in distribution and therefore, we as consumers of content are aggregating in new ways.  One of the social side effects of this is raised by Barron (2011) who suggests that we now ‘snack’ on news, reading articles in isolation from various sources.  On the whole, it can be argued that we no longer immerse ourselves in news content but sift through the large amounts of information.  The evolution of the news cycle brought about through the internet is contributing to the increased output of news content as well.  No longer is the cycle a daily affair as it once was when newspapers reigned.  The internet has allowed for the established media to update content frequently, however more significant is the role of social media, particularly Twitter, where updates are a constant occurrence.  The news cycle now runs by the minute, whilst the best of the day’s news make it to the established press and broadcast distributors.  

 How can traditional forms compete when the news cycle of a paper is daily, not to the minute?  It is obvious that the press cannot, and broadcast news is much the same given restraints on time.  News feeds aggregate continuous updates of information for users online, and it would appear that the traditional intermediaries are continually trying to keep up.

 Online, one of the biggest changes to news journalism is blogging, which has none of these restraints.  Anderson and Dresselhaus (2011, p.31) argue that blogs showcase hidden experts and provide deeper analysis than any mainstream media can provide.  They can essentially cater for any area as experts in different fields can publish them in order to reach target publics without having to rely on the traditional intermediaries for exposure.  Furthermore, blogging enables for a far more in depth analysis, because firstly the author is usually an expert on the topic, not a journalist, and second, the audiences who consume it are most likely genuinely interested in the subject to remain engaged.  To sum up this point, I would argue that traditional publishing of news has involved a compromise between available space and time in either the publication or broadcast of the content, and the need to recognise the diversity of consumers.  New platforms, which allow for diversity, eliminate this problem.

 This leads us to the transformation of content, which is taking place, from largely impersonal to personal (Rusbridger 2010).  There are many tools for aggregating news content that is relevant to users, and traditional media aren’t the most convenient.  I often find myself flicking through newspapers disinterested in the content within, which is probably a sign that the internet has made me used to personalised forms of consumption.  One very useful aggregation tool which is allowing more personalised news consumption is Flipboard, an application for Apple’s iPad.   The Flipboard app connects to social media, aggregating content from others in the network, to provide the user with content that is relevant to their interests.  This effectively eliminates the need for users to actively go pursuing news content, because it comes to them instead.  But what is particularly special about this aggregation tool is the way it displays content in the format of a magazine.  Suddenly, the consumption of news content online is as easy as reading the traditional newspaper, yet far more convenient and potentially more enjoyable given the content has relevance to the consumer.  Here we also see evidence of communication as opposed to transmission, because being linked to the social network means that content that is consumed by the user is recommended to other users of the app who are also in the network.

 It would appear as though the publishing of online news journalism is evolving to become as polished as traditional forms in order to eventually supersede it indefinitely.  But the deeper social ramifications of personalisation through such platforms are also relevant and could prove to change the media landscape also.  Scott, 2005, (p.92) claims that the surplus of content that caters for almost anything, could lead citizens into becoming ‘self employed gatekeepers’.  As this occurs, the power is transferred from the media conglomerates to individuals who will more likely consume content that is outside of the mainstream media.  I am inclined to argue that this is potentially a positive transformation, because it creates citizens who are informed not by large established media corporations who may have hidden agendas, but rather through diverse and alternative sources, which provide a range of different views and perspectives on news and current affairs.  There is however an alternative argument that suggests that the internet may be working to ‘break down’ the public sphere because citizens are consuming content that is too different (Pariser, 2011).  It has been said that this is potentially damaging to democracy as citizens are not informed equally.  But if we consider how platforms such as Flipboard are using social media to create communities of shared content, perhaps these concerns are unnecessary.  Ultimately these are not only tools for aggregation, but also distribution.  That’s more than could be said for any newspaper.

 With platforms available to the public that collect and share content, aggregation becomes a form of expression and allows users to distribute to others in their social network.  The everyday consumer of news whether they realise it or not, is portraying their tastes and interests on others, which is essentially a form of publication in itself. 

 To conclude I think that whilst the intermediaries still hold control, it is ever evolving.  As consumers become savvier on the internet, publishing will continue to evolve, and consumers will increasingly become publishers.  As I hope this essay has shown, the publishing of news journalism has become increasingly diverse as new platforms have led to a more effective aggregation and distribution of content, which most importantly have enabled individuals to consume news that is more aligned to their personal interests and circumstances.  The internet has eliminated the restrictions of traditional media, allowing for alternative views, greater depth, and overall increased personal autonomy.

References

 Anderson K. & Dresselhaus A. (2011) ‘Publishing 2.0: How the Internet Changes Publications in Society’, The Serials Librarian, Vol. 60 (1-4): 23-36.

 Barron P. (2011), ‘News-bites can satisfy all appetites’ British Journalism Review Vol 22: Issue 2. Pp. 23-31.

 Flipboard: Your Social News Magazine By Flipboard Inc. http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/flipboard-your-social-news/id358801284?mt=8

 Goldhaber M. (1997) ‘Attention Shoppers!’, Wired, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.12/es_attention.html

 Habermas J. (2006) ‘The Public Sphere: An Encyclopaedia Article’ in M. Durham and D. Kellner (eds) Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks (Revised Edition) London: Blackwell pp.73-78

 Pariser E. (2011) ‘Beware Online Filter Bubbles’ Ted http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

 Rusbridger A. (2010), ‘The Splintering of the Fourth Estate’, The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/19/open-collaborative-future-journalism/print

 Scott B. (2005) ‘A Contemporary History of Digital Journalism’, Television and New Media, Vol 6, No 1, pp. 89-126.

 

Do Visual Media Work Differently to Other Media Forms?

The clear distinction between visual media and other forms lies with the way information is ‘coded’.  Visual media can be quite literal.  An image for example, is a graphic depiction of the very thing it represents.  If we consider a text, information is transmitted through words on a page.  The words are representative of a particular meaning; however because they are words, they are symbolic, they do not necessarily represent what they intend to represent.  It is the reader’s interpretation of these signs which determines the meaning that is taken from them.

 Our interpretation of images is different because what we see in an image is essentially what the image is.  Of course there are exceptions to this, such as art.  I don’t think the literal nature of images means that they are necessarily more accurate than other forms of media, they just operate in different ways.

 A good way to demonstrate this is through the ‘hockey stick’ data visualisation of global temperature levels.  The original graph would indicate a clear trend in temperature rises, yet a revised version of the same graph depicts relatively no change.  I think that it is often easy to observe images as being the legitimate truth when in fact they can be just as biased as words.  This is especially relevant when visual media is taken out of context.  Words on a page can be crafted to depict a particular angle and in the same way data visualisations which are constructed through information can be used to demonstrate a particular viewpoint.

 Our ability as an audience to interpret the information we consume means that we can either agree or disagree to statements being made.  The climate change debate exemplifies this well.    The written arguments of sceptics and scientists can be analysed and debated by readers, however the visualisations which attempt to communicate the same information are in a way concrete representations of what is being argued.  Regardless of whether the graph is right or wrong, it works to legitimise the claims of the individual.  The casual observer can engage with the text to a greater extent, and create their own informed opinions, which without the inclusion of visual aids, may have not been possible.

 Visual media work to create a new level of understanding.  The cartoon videos of the RSA website accompany commentary from scholars and lecturers in order to aid in the explanation of concepts and ideas which are trying to be communicated on a verbal level.  What results is increased engagement with the public sphere.  The verbal component would likely only appeal to individuals in a particular field, yet the visual component breaks these boundaries enabling the content to be comprehended more easily and therefore appeal to a wider audience.  Essentially, this changes what we define as academic material.  In a sense it’s popularised by a cartoon, yet manages to maintain the credibility of academic material.  The merging of these two distinct forms of publishing create a new form that broadens the relevance of the material to new publics.

 

Anon. (2009) ‘The Global Warming Skeptics versus the Scientific Consensus’, Information is Beautiful, <http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/climate-change-deniers-vs-the-consensus/>

RSA Animation (2011), ‘RSA Animate; Choice’ <http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/videos/>

Information Graphics and Data Visualisations

It is interesting to consider how advanced we are at reading symbols.  Everyday we make use of them in all kinds of ways; symbols are integral to fast cognitive processing of information, through the use of colour, size and orientation.  More importantly, symbolic representations are fundamental to information graphics.

 To stress the value of information graphics, let’s consider road signs.  Imagine how difficult it would be to drive, if all road signs were black and white written instructions.  Road signs incorporate shape, colour and size in order to convey different messages, and as road users, we become familiar with them to the point that our cognition of them is instantaneous.

 The signs and symbols, which feature on the road, are largely universal (i.e. red means danger), and thus are a feature of graphical representations of information in all types of fields.  The success of visualising information seems to be in the way size, colour, shape and orientation are socially accepted to represent and communicate various things.  When thinking about data visualisations however, not only can a graphical representation speed up cognitive reception of data, but it can also enable pattern recognition, that is the ability for us to see things that we couldn’t see before.

 A visualisation that does this well is The Scale of the Universe’ produced by Cary and Michael Haung (2012)This interactive visualisation really does reflect the benefit of visualisations over raw data.  It is impossible for us to fathom the scale of comparable objects in the universe; however this visualisation affords the user, the ability to zoom through a virtual universe, from the Hubble space field, right through to the size of a Planck length.  Effectively this enables an understanding of size through comparison, something numbers on such a scale cannot do justice.

 Whilst graphics do afford an ability to grasp information in different ways to raw data, they are often abstract representations.  Plato’s dialogue on art and illusion deals with the idea that images are not real but rather an illusion.   Images are illusory because they attempt to depict reality, yet in reality they are only pictures.   Plato alludes to the fact that art is viewed by the soul.  Therefore it could be said that our interpretation of aesthetics is biased because we are being subject to the image not only playing on our conscious senses attempting to analyse meaning and data, but also on our deeper subconscious.  My argument is that images are not black and white.  Just like artwork in a gallery, different people will interpret what they see differently.  The aesthetic component of data visualisations therefore can potentially lead to individuals making sense of information in different ways, identifying different relationships, processes and correlations in data.

 This idea is integral to understanding the comprehension of visualisations.  To explain, consider the various ‘tools’ implemented in Visualisations in order to represent data graphically.  For example, Timo Arnell considers the thickness of a line to represent the strength of relationships between entities.  A dotted line, he explains, can be applied to 2D drawings to give a 3D transparent appearance, showing the viewer what exists out of sight.   The line is simply what it is; a line, however our interpretation of the line is dependent on our understanding of its symbolic representation. 

 

Arnell, Timo (2006) ‘the dashed line in use’, <http://www.nearfield.org/2006/09/the-dashed-line-in-use>

Haung, C & M (2012) ‘Scale of the Universe; An Interactive Scale of the Universe Tool’ http://www.diigo.com/bookmark/http%3A%2F%2Fprimaxstudio.com%2Fstuff%2Fscale_of_universe?tab=comment

Plato (n.d.) on ‘art and illusion’ in ‘a snippet of a dialogue: Theodorus – Theaetetus – Socrates – an Eleatic stranger’ from Sophist, <http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/plato/plato-sophist.asp?pg=34>

Does Google Make Information Accessible?

The Word for this week is ‘piracy’.  However this post does not reflect upon this term.

The question of whether or not Google makes information accessible is not entirely straight forward.  Whilst the search engine does provide the platform for the vast majority of internet users worldwide to search the web there is a level of suspicion surrounding the way Google personalises search results to align with users.  Whilst Google provides organised information for our convenience, are they overstepping the mark by prioritising the information they think we want to see, or perhaps the information they want us to see.

 Eli Pariser, the author of The Filter Bubble thinks that they are overstepping the mark, and has expressed concern for the effect that Google is having on individuals performing as informed citizens.  He speaks of how Google search results are influenced by user, location, computer and browser.   He suggests that the personalization of Google is resulting in people absorbing information they want to see rather than what they need to see.   Effectively Google is shortening our information horizons limiting our potential to experience the world (Dover, 2010). 

 Media has been integral to the formation of society.  For individuals to function as citizens, they must have access to information, more importantly, the same or similar information in order for public discourse to form.  Historically newspapers were an important example of this occurrence.  With the personalised Google however, the opportunity for this to occur is potentially diminished considering that results are varied.  Not everyone is on the same page.

  Google always responds to criticism by claiming that its algorithms which align search results to user relevance are used to improve the user’s experience.  Greg Linden (2011) supports the personalised Google arguing that recommendations are vital for us to learn new things.  He suggests that individuals can’t search for things they don’t know exist.  Personally I can relate to this claim, I do however see the issue when it comes to information such as news and current affairs which create informed citizens.  If we are all being exposed to different pieces of information, how can we engage equally on matters within society?

  I don’t believe that Google is actively attempting to restrict particular pieces of information from users.  I do think that they are feeding consumers more customised results of information to make them more content with what they are consuming and thus more content with Google.   Others suggest that our information is being used to create personalised products targeted at us (Silverstein, 2011).   But should Google have the right to withhold our information to customise our navigation of the web?  At the end of the day the internet is a public place and Google is a corporation, surely they’re not going to offer people a service for nothing, there has to be some catch for their free service, and our information is it.

 

Dover, Danny (2010), ‘Google’s Unspoken Failures Are Limiting Your Potential’ Search Engine trends,http://www.seomoz.org/blog/googles-unspoken-failures-are-limiting-your-potential    

 Linden, Greg (2011), ‘Eli Pariser is Wrong’ Geeking With Greg, http://glinden.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/eli-pariser-is-wrong.html

 Pariser, Eli (2011), ‘Beware Online Filter Bubbles’, TED http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

 Silverstein, Barry, (2011), ‘The Good and the bad of Information Filtering’ http://www.revenews.com/search-engine-marketing/the-bad-and-the-good-of-filtering-information/

Infotension

This week’s readings were certainly an eye-opener.  It’s concerning to note that the abundance of information that exists on the web is potentially creating more problems than benefits as we face the prospect of having information that is valueless given that so much of it exists.  With so much information, what becomes of value is attention.  Information is hungry for attention.

 Michael Goldhaber has described attention as the currency of the new economy (1997).  Audiences of content are obviously outnumbered by the seemingly infinite archives of information on the internet; therefore their attention is of value because it is relatively scarce. 

 The million dollar question however, is what creates attention and how can it be sustained?  I guess if I had a definitive answer I wouldn’t be writing this blog, but Michael Erard (2009) suggests that two key strategies are making things free, and making them brief.  This may seem like a good idea, but it’s not sustainable.  Everyone can publish short and for free, and it will probably just lead to an abundance of more information, only this time more redundant and useless than the information that already exists on the net.

 The internet has increased our consumption of content, yet at the same time has diminished our attention to detail.  Potentially concerning are the claims of Emily Yoffe (2009) that suggest we as consumers are becoming addicted to technology, to the instant gratifications that are attainable through media use.  The result is shortened attention spans.  So as there is more information, our attention spans are reduced thus causing the value placed on attention to rise.

 This brings me to the concept of ‘infotension’, a term coined by Howard Rheingold (2009).  He describes infotension as a combination of brain powered attention skills with computer powered information filtering systems.  I guess infotension is a hybrid human computer information filter.  What Rheingold proposes is that the use of tools such as search engines, RSS feeds, social bookmarkers and feed aggregators can enable users to effectively filter information in order to find exactly what they are looking for.  Essentially what these tools enable for is a constant update of information, which essentially restructures the relationship between the user and the information by effectively making the relevant information find the user who wants it.

 Rheingold’s ‘infotension’ could be the crucial element in saving our brains from the tsunamis of information that we are bombarded with everyday.  Educating individuals to navigate through the information on the net, and use the tools available to filter the valuable from the useless could prove important for two reasons.  Firstly I think that it will enable consumers to exercise their attention and secondly it may promote quality as published content will need to only consume the attention of those who are interested in it most.

Archive Fever

To define an archive in simple terms, it is the organisation of information to be easily accessed for later reference.  As humans, we can only remember so much, so I guess the term ‘archive fever’ is warranted when talking about our obsession with archives.  Where would we be without archives?  I think it’s safe to say that our civilisation would be light years behind technologically.  The ability to record information for future reference has been central to society’s progress.  As Derrida points out, there would indeed be no archive desire without the possibility of forgetfulness (Enszer, 2008)

Traditional archives of historic importance, as Sharon Howard points out in her article, Archive Fever; A Dusty Digression (2007), are made up of material that was deemed as being important at the time.  The restrictions of space mean that obviously not everything can be saved.  The important distinction between this type of archiving and the archiving we have today in the digital world is the ability for everything to be archived.  Mathew Ogle (2007), suggests that the ‘real time web’ that we have adopted over a relatively short period of time is keeping a constant archive of content without us even realising it.  So the key distinction is that everything is being archived, not just content that is deemed important.  No wonder Derrida uses the term ‘archive fever’

Historically archives decided what was ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of culture.  Some things were kept some things destroyed, thus enabling the generation of the time to depict themselves as they wanted to be seen by the generations that followed.  With the rise of the internet, or ‘real time web’ as Ogle puts it, we do not have that same privilege.  Jon Stokes (2003) describes the internet as a giant public archive with privately owned Google as its de facto interface.  This is a potentially concerning statement if we consider how archives traditionally distinguish what is inside and outside of culture.  

Of course a more optimistic approach would suggest that this is a good thing.  For the first time in history, we are able to archive everything.  Traditionally, archives had authority; they were considered as authentic documents that were the definitive record.  With the internet archiving everything, how does this impact on the authority of archives?  I think that it can be said that archives will continue to maintain authority depending on their provenance.  Official documents will always hold authority over those produced by amateurs; however I think that the internet has promoted archiving for individuals, and I guess archives will only become more personalised as the internet continues archiving records that are relevant to the individuals who created them.

 

Enszer, Julie R. (2008) Julie R. Enszer (personal blog), ‘Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression by Jacques Derrida’, November 16, <http://julierenszer.blogspot.com/2008/11/archive-fever-freudian-impression-by.html&gt;

 Howard, Sharon (2007) ‘Reposted: Archive fever (a dusty digression)’, Early Modern Notes, September 25, <http://emn.sharonhoward.org/2007/09/reposted-archive-fever-adusty-digression/&gt;

 Ogle, Matthew (2010) ‘Archive Fever: A love letter to the post real-time web’, mattogle.com, December 16, http://mattogle.com/archivefever/

Stokes, Jon (2003) ‘Reading Notes: Archive Fever’, Ars Technica, June 27, <http://arstechnica.com/old/content/2003/06/130.ars&gt;