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The Future of Journalism

800px-Dead_sea_newspaper On Friday evening I attended and spoke at the ‘Future of Journalism’, an event organised by the Media Alliance & Walkley Foundation which was styled as a “Blueprint for progress”, featuring healthy discussion and debate about the future of paid journalism and, amongst other topical issues, whether news consumers would actually start paying for content they’ve already been enjoying for free.

I was part of the final panel for the night, joining Ralph Nicholson (formerly with Reuters, now the publisher and editor of The Beach Times, a free newspaper in Costa Rica), Jo McManus (who has 30 years experience as a journalist and now lectures the next generation at ECU/WAAPA), and Australian political blogger William Bowe (the Poll Bludger) for a very spirited conversation chaired by Jonathan Este, the Media Alliance’s director of communication.  We were briefed that the discussion would be pretty informal, which held true, but it was very wide-ranging, discussing everything from possible business models for online news through to the role of social media and blogging both by, and in opposition to, traditional journalists.

From the outset, I should by saying I have no idea what the best business model for journalism is in the online age, but I am quite certain it is not putting all content back behind a paywall.  That way, I’d suggest, lies disaster, one the reasons for which I outline a little below. 

There isn’t time to touch on everything that was discussed, but I wanted to re-visit three points that were raised during our panel (or earlier, and to which our panel then responded):

[1] The relationship between bloggers and paid journalists.  For whatever reason, the ‘bloggers’ (or ‘amateur bloggers’ now, since so many journos write blogs) still attract the ire of professional journalists because the bloggers are seen as a vast, untrained, amateur army of low-quality content creators who aren’t bound by a code of ethics but do get read by people who should be reading proper journalism.  To be fair, many of the people who spoke didn’t share this view, but at least a few did, and there were plenty of barbed asides to be heard.  Let me reiterate what I said on the night: there are certainly some bloggers who write as well as journalists, are just as ethically-driven as good journalists and who can research and investigate as well as paid and trained journalists. However, the vast majority of bloggers do not consider themselves journalists, do not seek to compete with journalists and still value (and enjoy) quality journalism done by paid professionals.  Despite what Rupert Murdoch might now believe, bloggers are not the enemy and those who do engage in debate with, or commentary on, professional journalism are usually amongst the strongest supporters of good journalism as a profession.  Indeed, a  blog post written by blogger and journalist Steven Johnson back in 2006 called ‘Five Things All Sane People Agree On About Blogs And Mainstream Journalism (So Can We Stop Talking About Them Now?)’ did a far more elegant job of making this point. Perhaps a few more people should read it.

[2] Digital media tools are not names to be feared, but rather processes than can be readily understood.  There were a lot of comments from old hands in the industry about the difficulty keeping up with the latest new technology – the main mentions were MySpace to Facebook, and now to Twitter.  MySpace, Facebook and Twitter all share many commonalities: they’re all about making sharing ideas, conversations, links and media (broadly defined).  Rather than asking how Facebook is different from MySpace, or Twitter different from the first two, what might be more fruitful is to ask what the latest technology does that’s similar to something you are familiar with.  Rather than treating Twitter as something new, and thus something alien, if it’s examined as primarily replicating the conversational style of Facebook, but without anything else from that platform (including those annoying applications) then you start to come to terms with what it is.  Sure, it takes a little while to become familiar with a new tool, but starting to use these tools, rather than spending copious time fearing them and lamenting all these new-fangled technologies, is surely a better use of peoples’ time. Many journalists have embraced Twitter, for example, and it’s paying real dividends.  It is, of course, important to verify any ‘facts’ gathered via Twitter, but that’s true of each and every source. During our panel I suggested that people interested in journalism can become part of the media conversation long before they become active professionals or even before any formal training using social media tools – tomorrow’s journalists can sharpen the skills they’ll need via Facebook, Twitter or whatever comes next, and that should, in my opinion, be seen as an asset.

[3] The relationship between social media and news. Many more entrenched journalists seem to think that social media tools, like blogging or Twitter, might be valuable since they let journalists talk to their audience, but they still seem to see the gap between themselves and the audience as a chasm; their audience, by contrast, is increasingly thinking of themselves as participating in a conversation, and often a conversation amongst equals.  That doesn’t mean everyone thinks they’re a journalist, but the era when journalists were set apart by their training and ethics has by and large ended thanks to a lot of very bad journalism in the world and a lot of very smart people in that audience. Indeed, the word audience might just need to be rethought altogether. As Dan Gillmor, amongst others, have eloquently described the change: “Journalism is evolving from a lecture to a conversation, and the first rule of good conversation is to listen.” This, incidentally, is the main reason I think putting news behind a paywall will fail: stopping people from participating in the conversation about the news you report or create will reduce the impact and spread of that news.

A different way of thinking about this is that many people engage with news not by visiting a newspaper’s website, but by coming across a link via Google or, increasingly, a link that a friend or contact has posted using a social media tool.  These are conversational contexts, and any media links posted in these contexts are seen as things to be discussed. In the coming months, this will be even more pronounced thanks to Google’s newest invention, Google Wave.  As I understand it, Google Wave is about taking all of the disparate bits of conversation that can happen using online communication tools and making it possible to retain and continue the conversations, regardless of where it starts (be that email, a blog, or wherever else).  Thus, for Google Wave, conversation is content.  While we’ll need to see how Google Wave works once it’s officially launched, we know today that newspapers are already put in a lot of effort into trying to gain solid Google rankings. In the coming months, that may very well involve being more conscious of news as a conversation rather than a lecture.  I can understand how that might sound daunting to journalists and the industry, but figuring out how to be part of more conversations may very well be part of successful business models for the quality journalists of tomorrow.

Those points aside, I must admit I enjoyed that Future of Journalism event; the very fact that the night was organised shows that news journalists in Australia are trying to figure out new, sustainable ways of plying their trade in the digital age.  Moreover, while there were definitely a few dinosaurs in the room, some of the newer faces of journalism, including Tim Burrowes from mUmBrella (his response to the event here), and Stephen Brook from the Guardian, showed that many journalists are definitely already in tune with the tides of the digital world in which they operate.

[Photo: ‘Dead sea newspaper’; CC BY SA]

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News & the Net: Two Steps Backwards …

Local citizen journalism evangelist, Bronwen Clune, often describes the news media corporations and mechanisms as ‘control media’.  While this is certainly a striking expression, and no doubt fair when thinking about the likes of Rupert Murdoch, I’ve wondered if it’s at times a bit of a harsh brush with which to paint the news media in general .  However, the Associated Press (AP) seems to be doing out its way to take the idea of control media literally, which has not been embraced by the interwebs at large; AP recently described a system of Digital Rights Management (DRM) to police the uses of its news content online.  Their explanatory graphic and been, how shall we say, reinterpreted by the public they’re expecting to pay for AP’s services:


[Source for the top half of the image: AP’s Press Release “Associated Press to build news registry to protect content”; source for the full image: “What the AP really meant to convey”. Via Boing Boing]

At the same time, Chris Anderson on the promotion trail for his new book Free, has been enjoying himself by being as provocative as possible in interviews (conducted, oddly enough, by journalists).  For example:

In the past, the media was a full-time job. But maybe the media is going to be a part-time job. Maybe media won’t be a job at all, but will instead be a hobby. There is no law that says that industries have to remain at any given size. Once there were blacksmiths and there were steelworkers, but things change. The question is not should journalists have jobs. The question is can people get the information they want, the way they want it? The marketplace will sort this out. If we continue to add value to the Internet we’ll find a way to make money. But not everything we do has to make money.

While change is definitely in the air, suggesting that journalism is a redundant profession is going too far.  We need good journalism; we need people who are willing to take risks and invest huge amounts of time into investigative reporting; and they need to be paid.  I’m not suggesting the status quo even means anything any more, and the last few years have definitely forced the news industry to decide whether it’s just an entertainment business or something more, but amongst all of that I think we need to try and figure out sustainable models that support journalism (but not sensationalism).  I think unpaid citizen journalism and random acts of journalism by netizens will definitely play a significant role in the news media landscape that’s developing, but I don’t every think the culmination of citizen journalism will ever be enough by itself.  I can’t live without the ABC or SBS, and I’m delighted they’re mainly government funded, but I know that’s not the only answer.  And I also realise that answers aren’t readily available yet.  We should, however, be looking for them.  While the news industry is definitely having a rough time, and the future is uncertain, I also don’t think AP’s approach hard core ‘lock it all up’ approach, or Anderson’s dismissive suggestion the all journalists need to get real jobs and write news as a hobby, are really helping the debate.  Not one little bit.

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The Future Newspaper … Isn’t?

Clay Shirky’s ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable’ has been getting a fair amount of attention in the past few days and his central point is ringing true for most people: the traditional revenue model of the newspaper is so dead that it might just be time to admit that in many cases news will need to find (a) new platform(s) of choice.  It is worth noting, though, that Shirky is not downplaying the important role journalists have to play in our society; what he has resoundingly challenged is whether collecting their daily output on printed paper has much of a future.  Indeed, Shirky’s conclusion is worth noting:

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

I concur; the world at large needs good journalism, but many good journalists will need to find a new home and it’s likely a new medium, too.  On March 12, the New York Times posted this visualisation:

US Newspaper circulation

You’ll have to click and see the enlarged version to read the text, but the brown and beige circles show declining circulation numbers for US newspapers; blue circles show increases (there are very few blue dots).  The US is a country of brown and beige dots.  The fact that neither Shirky nor anyone else knows what should come next is an important tension.  For those currently making a living working for newspapers who are laying off staff, this is a really immediate tension and, to be honest, I’m glad I’m not in those shoes.  For society more broadly, the question of where we get our news, and whether we’re willing to pay anything for it – either personally or through an organisation we support, or even through government funding – is something we do need to consider. I have to say, I’m feeling more protective than ever of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and SBS and have no qualms whatsoever about some fraction of my taxes supporting both.  And sitting at a point of convergence of the best traditional journalism and web 2.0 platforms have to offer, I’m glad that people like Margaret Simons are finding new ways to keep the fourth estate alive and well.  (And to be fair, there is still a lot of quality journalism out there … it just too often gets buried behind the bleeding leads.) 

For Perth folks, the paucity of our current choice in newspapers has been obvious for a long time; we only have one and it has spent almost all credibility it ever had.  A new editor is on board now, but it’ll take a lot before The West holds any serious sway or has most people read it for anything other than the TV Guide and Saturday classifieds.  In a well timed move, Perth’s citizen journalism advocate, Brownen Clune, has just relaunched her own web presence, hitting the ground running a provocative post entitled ‘The Emperor’s New Media’ which argues that many journalists lack credibility, and the profession overall is in disrepute, leaving little wonder why so many folks don’t want to pay to read it anymore:

Can we be so quick to blame the business models of newspapers (selling advertisements) when people won’t miss the service (news) they are providing? For years journalists have been regarded alongside used-car salesmen as the least trustworthy profession and every journalist has certainly experienced the polite disdain from strangers when you tell them what you do.

There is something very wrong with the media and the quality of journalism has a lot to do with it. “News” has become so devalued that people are not willing to pay for it.

Bronwen’s post has attracted some spirited comments from Fairfax journo Nick Miller (continuing an older debate, really) who does remind us that Perth certainly hasn’t really developed much of an alternative model as yet (and Bronwen’s PerthNorg, which is valuable, relies a great deal on filtered content created by the mainstream newspapers).  But to return to Shirky’s point, we need more experiments, like PerthNorg, which are willing to try and find new ways to connect journalists of various types with audiences. 

In terms of the quality of journalism out there, there’s definitely appetite for more transparent reporting and for reporting that returns more clearly to the notion of the fourth estate; keeping the average citizen informed is, after all, the aim.  If nothing else, the fact that Jon Stewart and The Daily Show (a comedy show!) managed to get so many tongues wagging in the US recently when they went after CNBC’s ethics, and then Jim Cramer in particular when he took issue with Stewart’s criticism, shows that there is real desire for a more robust sense of the fourth estate (even if many people don’t recognise the term any more).  As The Washington Post put it:

Jon Stewart has amassed a passionate following over the years as a sharp-edged satirist, the man who punctures the balloons of the powerful with a caustic candor that reporters cannot muster. As public furor over the economic meltdown rises, the Comedy Central star has turned not just his humor but also his full-throated outrage against financial journalists who he says aided and abetted the likes of Bear Stearns, AIG and Citigroup — especially those who work for the nation’s top business news channel.  Stewart morphed into a populist avenging angel this week, demanding to know why CNBC and its most manic personality, Jim Cramer, failed to warn the public about the risky Wall Street conduct that triggered the financial crisis.

Okay, ‘avenging angel’ might be a bit over-the-top, but Stewart has, in my opinion, re-energised the question of journalistic ethics and, if nothing else, we can see responses like Fix CNBC http://fixcnbc.com/; while the sentiment is noble, perhaps, like, Fix the Newspapers, we need to hope for more?

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Annotated Digital Culture Links: January 18th 2009

Links for January 16th 2009 through January 18th 2009:

  • At First, Funny Videos. Now, a Reference Tool [NYTimes.com] – YouTube as #2 search engine? Googlopoly clearly progressing according to plan: “The explosion of all types of video content on YouTube and other sites is quickly transforming online video from a medium strictly for entertainment and news into one that is also a reference tool. As a result, video search, on YouTube and across other sites, is rapidly morphing into a new entry point into the Web, one that could rival mainstream search for many types of queries. … And now YouTube, conceived as a video hosting and sharing site, has become a bona fide search tool. Searches on it in the United States recently edged out those on Yahoo, which had long been the No. 2 search engine, behind Google. (Google, incidentally, owns YouTube.) In November, Americans conducted nearly 2.8 billion searches on YouTube, about 200 million more than on Yahoo, according to comScore.”
  • Hudson River plane crash [Kottke] – Detailed wrapu-up of the citizen journalist (and some mainstream media) responses to teh Hudson River plan crash. Twitter and Flickr excel. [Via BBoing]
  • U.S. Airways Crash Rescue Picture: Citizen Journalism, Twitter At Work [Slicon Valley Insider] – Twitter as a citizen journalism platform: “Janis Krums from Sarasota, Florida posts the first photo of U.S. Airways flight 1549 on Twitter from his iPhone. Thirty-four minutes after Janis posted his photo, MSNBC interviewed him live on TV as a witness …”
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Annotated Digital Culture Links: January 15th 2009

Links for January 14th 2009 through January 15th 2009:

  • Gurunomics – Crowdsourcing the “Social Media Revolution” Revolution – Gurunomics – the social media revolution (satire) you had to have. I think.
  • Turning Down Uploads at Google Video [Official Google Video Blog] – Google finally gets around to the slow, painful, drawn out murder of Google Video (why it’s still active today I have no idea): “In a few months, we will discontinue support for uploads to Google Video. Don’t worry, we’re not removing any content hosted on Google Video — this just means you will no longer be able to upload new content to the service. We’ve always maintained that Google Video’s strength is in the search technology that makes it possible for people to search videos from across the web, regardless of where they may be hosted. And this move will enable us to focus on developing these technologies further to the benefit of searchers worldwide.” (They’re also killing Jaiku, apparently.)
  • Doctor Who Opening Credits, Firefly Style [YouTube] – When fandoms collide, creativity can result!
  • Weak Password Brings ‘Happiness’ to Twitter Hacker [Threat Level from Wired.com] – “An 18-year-old hacker with a history of celebrity pranks has admitted to Monday’s hijacking of multiple high-profile Twitter accounts, including President-Elect Barack Obama’s, and the official feed for Fox News. The hacker, who goes by the handle GMZ, told Threat Level on Tuesday he gained entry to Twitter’s administrative control panel by pointing an automated password-guesser at a popular user’s account. The user turned out to be a member of Twitter’s support staff, who’d chosen the weak password “happiness.” Cracking the site was easy, because Twitter allowed an unlimited number of rapid-fire log-in attempts. “I feel it’s another case of administrators not putting forth effort toward one of the most obvious and overused security flaws,” he wrote in an IM interview. “I’m sure they find it difficult to admit it.””
  • Ten things every journalist should know in 2009 [Journalism.co.uk – Editors’ Blog] – “1. How to use Twitter to build communities, cover your beat, instigate and engage in conversations.
    2. How to use RSS feeds to gather news …
    3. That there is a difference between link journalism and ‘cut and paste’ journalism (aka plagiarism). …
    4. That your readers are smarter than you think. …
    5. That churnalism is much easier to spot online. …
    6. Google is your friend. But if you are not using advanced search techniques, you really have no idea what it is capable of.
    7. You do not have to own, or even host, the technology to innovate in journalism and engage your readers. …
    8. Multimedia for multimedia’s sake rarely works, and is often embarrassing. If you are going to do it, either do it well enough so it works as a standalone item or do …
    9. How to write search engine friendly journalism. …
    10. Learn more about privacy.”
  • Report Finds Online Threats to Children Overblown [NYTimes.com] – “The Internet may not be such a dangerous place for children after all. A high-profile task force created by 49 state attorneys general to find a solution to the problem of sexual solicitation of children online has concluded that there really is not a significant problem, despite years of parental anxieties and media hype. The Internet Safety Technical Task Force was charged with examining the extent of the threats children face on social networks like MySpace and Facebook, amid widespread fears that older adults were using these popular sites to deceive and prey on children. But the report compared such fears to a “moral panic” and concluded that the problem of child-on-child bullying, both online and offline, poses a far more serious challenge than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults. “
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Annotated Digital Culture Links: January 1st 2009

Links for December 30th 2008 through January 1st 2009:

  • Principles for a New Media Literacy by Dan Gillmor, 27 December 2008 [Center for Citizen Media] – “Principles of Media Creation: 1. Do your homework, and then do some more. … 2. Get it right, every time. … 3. Be fair to everyone. … 4. Think independently, especially of your own biases. … 5. Practice and demand transparency.””We are doing a poor job of ensuring that consumers and producers of media in a digital age are equipped for these tasks. This is a job for parents and schools. (Of course, a teacher who teaches critical thinking in much of the United States risks being attacked as a dangerous radical.) Do they have the resources — including time — that they need? But this much is clear: If we really believe that democracy requires an educated populace, we’re starting from a deficit. Are we ready to take the risk of being activist media users, for the right reasons? A lot rides on the answer.”
  • Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies by Howard Rheingold [Freesouls, ed. Joi Ito] – “Literacy−access to the codes and communities of vernacular video, microblogging, social bookmarking, wiki collaboration−is what is required to use that infrastructure to create a participatory culture. A population with broadband infrastructure and ubiquitous computing could be a captive audience for a cultural monopoly, given enough bad laws and judicial rulings. A population that knows what to do with the tools at hand stands a better chance of resisting enclosure. The more people who know how to use participatory media to learn, inform, persuade, investigate, reveal, advocate and organize, the more likely the future infosphere will allow, enable and encourage liberty and participation. Such literacy can only make action possible, however−it is not in the technology, or even in the knowledge of how to use it, but in the ways people use knowledge and technology to create wealth, secure freedom, resist tyranny.
  • How to Do Everything with PDF Files [Adobe PDF Guide] – Pretty much anything you can imagine needing to do with PDF files, without needing to buy Acrobat!
  • The 100 Most Popular Photoshop Tutorials 2008 [Photoshop Lady] – Many useful photoshop tutorials from fancy fonts to montages and entirely new creations!
  • Israel posts video of Gaza air strikes on YouTube [Australian IT] – THE Israeli military has launched its own channel on video-sharing website YouTube, posting footage of air strikes and other attacks on Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. The spokesman’s office of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it created the channel — youtube.com/user/idfnadesk — on Monday to “help us bring our message to the world.” The channel currently has more than 2,000 subscribers and hosts 10 videos, some of which have been viewed more than 20,000 times. The black-and-white videos include aerial footage of Israeli Air Force attacks on what are described as rocket launching sites, weapons storage facilities, a Hamas government complex and smuggling tunnels. One video shows what is described as a Hamas patrol boat being destroyed by a rocket fired from an Israeli naval vessel.”
  • No terminating the Terminator … ever [ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)] – “Time will not be allowed to terminate The Terminator, the US Library of Congress said overnight. The low-budget 1984 action film, which spawned the popular catchphrase “I’ll be back”, was one of 25 movies listed for preservation by the library for their cultural, historic or aesthetic significance. Other titles included The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Deliverance (1972), A Face in the Crowd (1957), In Cold Blood (1967) and The Invisible Man (1933). The library said it selected The Terminator for preservation because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star-making performance as a cyborg assassin, and because the film stands out in the science fiction genre. “It’s withstood the test of time, like King Kong in a way, a film that endures because it’s so good,” Patrick Loughney, who runs the Library of Congress film vault, said.”
  • Webisodes Bridge Gaps in NBC Series [NYTimes.com] – Takes a look at the late 2008/early 2009 webisodes from NBC (particularly for Heroes and Battlestar Galactica) and the way these online stories are used to keep fans engaged with television series (or, really, television-spawned franchises) during breaks.
  • Nintendo to offer videos on Wii [WA Today] – “Nintendo will start offering videos through its blockbuster Wii game console, the latest new feature for the Japanese entertainment giant. Nintendo said it would develop original programming which Wii users could access via the internet and watch on their television. It is considering videos for both free and fees. The game giant teamed up with Japan’s leading advertising firm Dentsu to develop the service, which will begin in Japan next year, with an eye on future expansion into foreign markets.”
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Annotated Digital Culture Links: December 16th 2008

Links for December 16th 2008:

  • The writer’s guide to making a digital living [Australia Council for the Arts] – “The writer’s guide was developed through the Australia Council’s Story of the Future project to explore the craft and business of writing in the digital era. It includes case studies from Australia’s rising generation of poets, novelists, screenwriters, games writers and producers who are embracing new media and contains audio and video content from seminars and workshops, as well as extensive references to resouces in Australia and beyond.” (The online presentation is great, but you can also download the full guide as a PDF and watch the hilarious introductory video.)
  • YouTube Videos Pull In Real Money [NYTimes.com] – Making videos for YouTube — for three years a pastime for millions of Web surfers — is now a way to make a living. Michael Buckley quit his day job in September. He says his online show is “silly,” but it helped pay off credit-card debt. One year after YouTube, the online video powerhouse, invited members to become “partners” and added advertising to their videos, the most successful users are earning six-figure incomes from the Web site. For some, like Michael Buckley, the self-taught host of a celebrity chatter show, filming funny videos is now a full-time job.”
  • A “Run” of William Gibson’s “Agrippa” Poem from a Copy of Original 1992 Agrippa Diskette [The Agrippa Files] – A video capture of William Gibson’s infamous self-destroying poem Agrippa – to read it, you had to erase it! Amazing stuff.
  • Top 10 Most Pirated Movies of 2008 [TorrentFreak] – Surprising no one, The Dark Knight is the most pirated movie of 2008, but how did The Bank Job end up at #3 given it took less than $US 65 million at the box office? The match between downloads and box office figures seems vague, at best!
  • News About the News Business, in 140 Characters [NYTimes.com] – “With staff changes and reductions across the media industry, even a blog post can be too time-consuming a way to announce who is in and out of a job. That is why a public relations employee turned to the instant-blogging platform Twitter to create The Media Is Dying, a Twitter feed that documents media hirings and firings in one-sentence bursts of text. “These sorts of layoffs are unheard-of,” said the stream’s founder, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve his sources in the industry. “It’s gotten insane to keep up with who was moving around and changing beats.” Initially, The Media Is Dying was accessible only to select Twitter members, as the feed was intended to help those in the P.R. industry stay on top of the revolving entries in their address books. But requests to be included flooded the founder, who decided to go public three weeks ago.”
  • Iran’s bloggers thrive despite blocks [BBC NEWS | World | Middle East] – “With much of the official media controlled by the government or hardline conservatives, the internet has become the favoured way of communicating for Iran’s well-educated and inquisitive younger generation. Go online in Iran and you will find blogs or websites covering every topic under the sun. Politics, of course, but also the arts, Hollywood cinema, women’s issues, women’s sport, pop music. Whisper it quietly, there is even an online dating scene in the Islamic Republic. Day-by-day there is an intriguing cyber-war, as the government wrestles for control of the internet, and Iran’s bloggers wrestle it back. Iran hosts around 65,000 bloggers, and has around 22 million internet users. Not bad for a country in which some remote areas do not yet have mains electricity.”
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Annotated Links of Interest: October 13th 2008

Links of interest for October 13th 2008:

  • Video games and music | Playing along [The Economist] – “As the music industry searches for a new model in the age of digital distribution and internet piracy, it is getting a helping hand from an unexpected quarter: video games such as “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band”, which let people play along to songs on simplified imitation instruments. “These games are revitalising the industry,” says Aram Sinnreich, an industry expert at New York University. “They’re helping as both a revenue and an advertising platform. … Established artists are also using the games to promote their music. Bobby Kotick, Activision’s boss, says Aerosmith have made more money from “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith”, a version of the video-game that features the band, than from any of their albums.” [Via Terry Flew]
  • Mainstream News Outlets Start Linking to Other Sites [NYTimes.com] – ” “Thou shalt not link to outside sites” — a long-held commandment of many newsrooms — is eroding. Embracing the hyperlink ethos of the Web to a degree not seen before, news organizations are becoming more comfortable linking to competitors — acting in effect like aggregators.”
  • AC/DC Electrify BitTorrent Album Downloads [TorrentFreak] – “AC/DC will release its new album ‘Black Ice’ worldwide on October 20th, in physical format only since the band doesn’t sell its music online. However, the upcoming album has already been digitized by pirates, as it leaked to BitTorrent five days ago. In that time it has taken the trackers by storm, racking up a staggering 400,000 downloads.”
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Fairfax Vs PerthNorg … sort of, anyway!

As Axel and Mark have noted, Brisbane will get its turn to debate the The Future of Journalism this Saturday at a one-day symposium bringing journos, media makers, academics, students and more together to debate the issues. If only it wasn’t 3,500kms away … I’d love to be there, and I doubt the Future of Journalism roadshow will be stopping in Perth any time soon. That said, I’m delighted that Perth citizen journalist and citizen media advocate Bronwen Clune will be presenting on Saturday, bring a little perspective from the West coast. In anticipation of that even, I thought it worth pointing out that earlier this month, in the wake of the news Fairfax was axing more than 500 of their staff, Bronwen (who is the creator of PerthNorg) wrote a provocative post entitled ‘A Letter to Love-Stricken Fairfax Journalists’ which asked whether Fairfax was actually the best place for committed journalists today:

If you are one of the journalists standing in a picket line outside The Age and SMH, I have to ask – do you realise how pathetic you look? … David Kirk has made you an offer and is calling for volunteers before compulsory redundancies. Your relationship is clearly strained and here he is giving you a dignified out and you choose to beg him to take you back? Where is your backbone, your fire, your passion for news? Has Fairfax got you so wrapped around its finger that you think the only way you can be a good journalist is to stay with it? Guess what – people produce good news outside of news corporations everyday. And you can too. Take the divorce settlement and learn to stand on your own feet again. You are better off investing in a relationship with your audience – you’ll find it infinitely more rewarding.

Clearly Bronwen wasn’t pulling her punches, and in the heated discussion which ensued the full spectrum of opinions were heard, from those in total agreement to those who completely disagree (with the oft-heard but fair question: where is the business model for citizen journalism?). However, for my money, the most interesting thread was when Fairfax journalist Nick Miller joined in. Miller, also originally from Perth, didn’t bring a knee-jerk reaction, but instead pointed out that journalists are well aware of what’s happening in the industry, but they still need jobs! An excerpt from Nick’s argument:

I get it. You’re on the forefront of digital journalism. You reckon everyone else should be here. Um… they’re not. Yet. And we’re yet to see any proof that this medium can financially support the extent of investigative journalism that mainstream media currently supports. … I challenge you to go through Perthnorg and remove every link to, and every reference to, a story that originated or was sourced in a Fairfax or WAN or News Ltd report (or wire story, which are paid for by mainstream media). Then see what you’ve got left. A lot of gossip, sure. And gossip is often the start of a news story. But it’s not news.


I am passionate for news. And at Fairfax I have found an organisation that backs my quest for good investigative journalism with all the resources that that requires. Time, money, opportunity, logistical support, etc. The luxury of being able to say ”I didn’t file a thing today, but you should see what I’m working on”. I don’t see any online organisation in Australia that will support that kind of journalism – beyond simply giving it a place to be published. Therefore, I think it is the right thing to fight Fairfax in its attempt to reduce that support. I suggest the Norg concept is just as likely to be an online evolutionary dead end as Fairfax’s. We file for The Age online, too, after all. … The medium isn’t the issue. It’s the search for commercial support for the often highly uncommercial occupation of journalism.

While I agree that a lot of what appears on PerthNorg is more like a Digg-style take on other news sources, there is some original content in there (probably around the 10-15% mark, I’d estimate) but Nick does beg the big question of how any citizen journalism portal can support journalists financially (sure, there’s embedded advertising, but that’s more likely to pay the hosting bills and give a modest income to the site’s creator rather than anyone else creating content). Also noteworthy was the point made by another commentator that people employed by Fairfax Digital are not subject to the rights and conditions afforded even normal Fairfax Journalists, suggesting that even the digital portals for big media companies are becoming the cyber-sweatshops of the twenty-first century. There are, of course, a lot more issues at hand so I’m looking forward to hearing reports from the The Future of Journalism in Brisbane … I hope there are some optimistic answers about citizen journalism and mainstream media working together … and at least some people getting paid!

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Student Digital Media Project Showcase

After getting off to a decent start with my blogging about student creativity this year, I seem to have fallen a little behind.  I’ve had this post in draft form for ages, waiting for some insightful commentary to spring forth from my uncooperative brain, but alas, none has emerged so I thought I’d just showcase a few outstanding examples from my Digital Media (Comm2203) unit last semester and let them speak for themselves! While the first Student News assignment in this unit asked students to make a relatively traditional television news-style story (the best of which were screened on local tv), the final project was rather different as it was designed to provoke some hard thinking about digital media more broadly both in form and content.  The outline for the final projects stated:

The Digital Media Project is designed to explore the affordances of digital video and media in an online context. Working in teams (the same as your Student News Project team), students will produce a 3-minute short digital video piece which critically explores an idea, concept or area which was discussed in or, or directly provoked by, the ‘Convergence & Transmedia Storytelling’ or ‘Citizen Journalism and Participatory Culture’ lectures, readings and seminars.

This project emphasizes (a) research in the area of digital media, (b) clarity in communicating and sharing a research-informed perspective or argument about part of the digital media landscape; (c) taking an innovative approach to creating digital media; and (d) technical proficiency in creating digital media.

Given that the first half of the unit was largely practical – many were first-time users of digital video cameras, sound equipment and non-linear editing software – I wondered if introducing conceptual material from the likes of Henry Jenkins and Axel Bruns might overwhelm students; on the contrary, I found almost everyone excelled at combining their newfound practical skills with wider issues and concepts.  All 28 projects submitted were of a high quality, and everyone who took this unit should be proud of their work, but a few really did stand out amongst the rest and are well worth highlighting here.

The first project I want to mention is ‘Citizen Journ vs Traditional Journ‘ which mimics the style of the Mac Vs PC advertisements, with a stop-motion twist, to explore the changing relationship between traditional journalists and citizen journalists:

In a similar vein but using a really different technique, ‘Something Old, Something New‘ mixes excerpts from a 1940s documentary on being a journalist with contemporary footage to examine exactly how far journalism has changed in the face of participatory culture:

Looking at web 2.0 culture more broadly, ‘A Blog’s Life’ is a comical look at the evolution of blogging, in the style of a nature documentary:

And in a slightly more academic tone, ‘Transmedia Storytelling and Convergence’ gives a pretty good rundown of some core features of Henry Jenkins’ arguments about transmedia in the digital media landscape:

Finally, ‘Joe Bloggs Presents Web 2.0’ is a laugh out loud satire looking at the average blogger (A LANGUAGE WARNING, though: Joe Bloggs swears like an angry trooper!):

And, yes, I did have what can best be described as an awkward cameo appearance in that the adventures of Web 2.0 there – but it was worth if, if nothing else, for that outstanding end credits song! If you’re inspired to see more, 27 of the digital media projects can be found here.  Also, it’s worth mentioning that the majority of students chose to post their work under a Creative Commons license (not all, I should add, but I’m pleased enough that by the end of the course everyone knew enough to make an informed choice one way or another).

Oh and quick shout out: my partner in crime in teaching Digital Media was Christina Chau who was an excellent tutor and whose own thoughts on the unit can be read here!

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