Human Technologies

Great (short) TED talk by my friend and always awesome Renny Gleeson (Wieden + Kennedy, Portland). I especially like the idea of always fluid, always constructed identities - a key feature of media life.

Uncertainty about Digital Futures

These are some thoughts based on a discussion over at Deadline Hollywood Daily on the uncertainties over the digital future. The film and TV people - above and below the line - are at odds over what will happen once the distribution model for their work is expected to completely shift to online. In the current strike, a complaint - as explained in this United Hollywood video - has been that studio executives claim not to make any money (or not knowing what will happen), while in the same breath explaining to reporters or investors that their businesses online will generate billions. Lots of uncertainty about digital futures, for sure.

It seems that all parties in this conflict are certain about one thing: the future is online. So lets ignore the fact that below-the-line labor suffers most from this strike, and that paying writers for scripts and not for repurposing the products based on those scripts perhaps might be valid if you put writers on a payroll with benefits and so on.

Regarding the promises of the digital age, several industry observers have made reference to the importance of the "pipes" (you know, broadband bandwidth). That seems to be true - but I think may be ultimately misleading. The studios have gradually retreated from producing movies (just like the labels have almost stopped investing in artists and bands), instead focusing their business model predominantly on marketing and distribution (and some boutique creative work).

As internet is basically an open P2P communications infrastructure, it completely disrupts the gatekeeper model in journalism (hence the panic in the news industry), or the bottleneck model in, for example, film and music.

In the short term, fighting off anyone who wants to share in online revenue is a solid business purpose (to please stock market analysists). but in the long run, it seems - and I may sound too hopeful here - that talent, creativity and innovation may be a more promising investment.

Assuming for a moment that Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL (the "Fab Four") will win the fight for Net neutrality, they and companies like them will be in control of distribution and access. producers and consumers of content - whether professional or amateur - will have to go through them. but they do not operate on the premise of gatekeeping - more on the level of forwarding, "gatewatching", annotating, aggregating, and so on.

In other words: what will have lasting value, is compelling content. How it will get to whoever wants to consume it, is in the short term hugely important but in the long term tremendously irrelevant.

Thoughts in progress...

PopUp: Second Printing & eBook

Great news today from my friend and co-author Henk Blanken: our recent book PopUp is currently considered for a second printing by our publisher Atlas, and this edition will be "new & improved"... Also, we heard that the book might be released later this year as an eBook - which would befit a "new Media"-based tome. This is really exciting - and largely due to Henk's awesome storytelling and editing skills. The book is in Dutch and deals with the cultural clash between old and new media. Way cool.

Media Jobs And Digital Futures

Thanks to a hint this morning from David Brake, I followed a critical write-up by Nicholas Carr of a disturbing trend throughout the media industries of recent years: a gradual siphoning off of jobs brought about by two developments: outsourcing/ offshoring/ subcontracting (also documented on this blog), and the digitalization (automation/augmentation) of media work.

One key quote sums it all up (links from original post):
"An early 2007 study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that media companies announced 17,809 job cuts in 2006, up sharply from the 9,453 cuts announced in 2005. U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that employment in the publishing and broadcasting business as a whole fell by 13 percent in the six years from 2001 through 2006, with nearly 150,000 jobs lost. During this same period, even the number of Internet publishing and broadcasting jobs dropped by a sharp 29 percent, from 51,500 to 36,600."
Carr responds to an optimistic reading of this phenomenon by PBS's Mark Glaser, who suggests that all these job losses are countered by a "healthy" surge in digital jobs.

Both Glaser and Carr admit that
"the general direction in [media, MD] employment, whether online or off, is downward - and strongly so."
But they do not go into the details of how and why this is happening, and what media workers perhaps can do about it. Of course, now I could state, that my new book (Media Work) covers those particulars quite comprehensively... but that would be too easy, and perhaps not even entirely true (other recent works by eminent colleagues such as Ned Rossiter, Andrew Ross, or Tiziana Terranova do this much more critically for example). But let me list some key media industries and spell out how job loss is occurring:

- Advertising/PR/marketing communication: offshoring of creative accounts to India & China ((see the recent announcements from for example the Publicis Groupe); merging/convergence of teams within holding firms (under the much-hyped banner of "Integrated Brand or Marketing Communications"), outsourcing work to consumers through viral/buzz/word-of-mouth/interactive marketing campaigns (think the consumer-created Doritos commercial at the 2007 Superbowl which bypassed Omnicom as the firm of record for Frito-Lay).

- News/journalism: subcontracting newswork to copydesks and international news agencies (or "news instructors", like AP and Reuters , who in turn relocate jobs to India), convergence into multimedia newsrooms, outsourcing to consumers under the header of "citizen media".

- Film/TV: phasing out of below the line labor by a surge in special effects/CGI-laden scripts, runaway production (Mexico, Canada, India, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa).

- Videogames: outsourcing original creative work to specialized companies (for example: middleware, game soundtracks, localization), often located in countries in South-East Asia (Vietnam, South Korea) where governments invest heavily in the development of software industries (the South Korean case is exemplary).

All these developments are almost impossible to manage without investments in digital, networked, and global technologies and thus must be seen in a context of cutting down on costs associated with PEOPLE and IDEAS. It is the slow but sure dehumanization or depopulation of the creative industries at work here, and the only remedy is a 21st century version of mass worker mobilization.

Infographics of a New Media Ecology

(UPDATED: 08.14.06)

Check the following graphs & stats and tell me what they have in common (hint: see Manuel Castells' argument on the 'hypersociability' of networked individualism in his book The Internet Galaxy). Disclaimer: I realize that some of these graphs are dated and they do not all measure the same things, have different units of analysis, and some are predictive rather than descriptive - but I am interested in the macro trends the various stats and graphs of more or less equivalent phenomena seem to refer to.

Media Making
- Weblogs (1), Weblogs (2)
- Podcasts (1); Podcasts (2), Podcasts (3)
- Wikipedia
- Webcams: Brazil,

Social Media
- Multiplayer (Online) Gaming
- Orkut
- Social Software

Media use
- Internet
- Multitasking (1), Multitasking (2), The Netherlands, Online (USA), Hours p/week (USA), Online versus other media (USA), Taiwan, Canada, international (first source for news), international (by search engine users), Korea, South Africa, Germany (online user demographics), ...

Media Artifacts
- Wireless Enabled Laptops
- Mobile Phones: United Kingdom, Africa, Australia, China (1), China (2), Japan, worldwide...
- Television: [...]

(more to come)

Indymedia, Journalism, and Digital Culture (part 1)

Sunday May 30th I will be presenting a paper at the ICA 2004 conference in New Orleans, USA. Over the coming days, I will post (parts of) this paper chronologically - that is, in linear mode - on this blog. Its a 6.000+ words paper, so please bear with me as I experiment with this mode of publishing online. The title of the presentation is: "Indymedia, Journalism, and Digital Culture". Below is the introduction and opening comments.

start ICA paper, #1

In this presentation I aim to connect the proliferation of Independent Media Centres (IMC, or: Indymedia) around the world since the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle to the emergence of a global digital culture, and to the rise and establishment of new forms of participatory journalism. In doing so, I assume Indymedia to be a journalistic platform, as its main functions can be considered to be to serve as a platform for the production and dissemination of (alternative) news and information. Yet it is also a form of participatory user-generated content or we media, as it allows anyone to post and upload files, information, and news generally without an editorial moderation or filtering process (Platon & Deuze, 2003; Bowman & Willis, 2003). In the context of this essay I define digital culture as an emerging set of values, practices and beliefs regarding the way people act and interact within digital and networked media environments in contemporary society. As all media are or soon will be digital, and these electronic media can be considered to be omnipresent or even embedded in everyday life, culture can be seen as both digital, and mediated. In the context of these considerations, I treat Indymedia, journalism and digital culture as social practices of particular wired peoples emerging in societies all over the world, which practices should be seen as mutually constituent.

Leah Lievrouw (2002) urges us to look at our new media surroundings in terms of: [t]he artifacts or devices that enable and extend our abilities to communicate; the communication activities or practices we engage in to develop and use these devices, and the social arrangements or organizations that form around the devices and practices. It is in this recombinant context that my argument for the articulations of digital culture, Indymedia, and journalism can be read. Indymedia should be seen as a loosely organized set of social arrangements developing around the practices and ideals of open publishing and collective non-hierarchical storytelling (Platon & Deuze, 2003). Yet its praxis is also tied into the roles and functions of journalism and alternative news (Hyde, 2002). As a form of alternative journalism it has its roots in radical and oppositional media pre-dating the Web, both in the United States and elsewhere across the globe (Downing, 2001; Atton, 2002). In terms of the open publishing model of Indymedia online where anyone can post messages, news and information to the site without (formal) editorial filtering or intervention, and IMC site functions as a so-called group weblog. According to a much-linked to and IMHO comprehensive definition by Jill Walker (University of Bergen, Norway), a weblog is a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first <> though weblogs are primarily textual, experimentation with sound, images, and videos has resulted in related genres such as photoblogs, videoblogs, and audioblogs <> Most weblogs use links generously <> Many weblogs allow readers to enter their own comments to individual posts (2003). Interestingly, weblogs and more specifically group weblogs have been considered to be quite similar to pirate radio stations of the 1970s and 1980s in that they broadcast unfiltered perspectives legitimized by their existence outside of, or in opposition to, mainstream media corporations (Katz, 1999). Beyond similarities and roots in online and offline genres and structures, Indymedia must also be seen as a phenomenon particular to internet. The 100+ Indymedia sites all over the world are enabled and maintained by the particularities of the World Wide Web and its users/ producers, at once connecting local communities and issues with global ones, manifesting itself both as a particular community tied in to local interests (as different countries, regions or cities each have their own version and interpretation of Indymedia up and running), and as a general brand, easily recognizable as such through its logo and the freely downloadable IMC source code (determining the look and feel of the site all over the world). Jim Hall (2001) places news and journalism online in the social context of a changing information society, where he particularly emphasizes the reciprocal links between news providers and readers (p.25), as one of the features of this new media environment the journalistic profession finds itself in. Using examples such as the role of online information in reporting the Columbina high school killings and the Kosovo crisis in 1999, Hall goes on to suggest that online journalism is both more tied to (small) localities, and has a more global reach than ever before. In doing so, Hall closes the gap between Indymedia and journalism by implicitly referencing to an emerging digital culture within which global/local and producer/consumer distinctions are gradually fading (see for a similar argument Pavlik, 2001).

In this essay I discuss the building blocks of digital culture on the basis of contemporary discussions about journalism, (the politics of) globalization, and alternative media as these pertain to specific internet phenomena such as online journalism, (group) weblogs, and Indymedia. As the basis of this argument I use a by no means exhaustive literature review (see the bibliography of this essay), a series of interviews with online journalists and Indymedia activists across Europe, Australia and the United States between 1999 and 2002 (see: Deuze & Yeshua, 2001; Platon & Deuze, 2003; Deuze, Neuberger & Paulussen, 2004), and my ongoing cross-national research among journalists in general, and about Web-based journalisms in particular (see: Deuze, 2002a, 2002b and 2003). In doing so, I assume that digital culture has emergent properties with roots both in online and offline phenomena, with links to trends and developments pre-dating the World Wide Web, yet at the same having an immediate impact felt all over the world, particularly changing the ways in which we use and giving meaning to the omnipresent media in our daily lives.

[to be continued...]


So what is Bloglogic?

As a first step, let me explain where the notion of blogging having a certain logic of its own comes from. Following the work of American scholars David Altheide and Richard Snow, Peter Dahlgren has proposed a media logic in cyberspace, defined as the particular institutionally structured features of a medium, the ensemble of technical and organizational attributes, and the cultural competences of users – all of which impact on what gets represented in the medium and how this gets done.

In short: we need to bring together materials on medium features, the corresponding ensemble of attributes, and cultural competences of prosumers in order to paint a coherent picture of Bloglogic.

Fortunately, the Web offers plenty of places which have done so in the past. See for example this excellent overview of weblog as a form of electronic publishing by Caslon Analytics (an Australian internet consultancy). Another good collection of links and resources on weblog theory is put together by Oliver Wrede (of the German consultancy PrincipleDesign). I guess one also has to cite Rebecca Blood's popular "weblogs: a history and perspective" (07.09.00) essay.

Weblogs as Extensions of Offline Life

Weblogs are not just Net-native, they have their roots in offline phenomena as well: personal diaries, print newsletters (distributed within or among certain groups, organizations, neighborhoods - for example featuring summaries of what's up and what's happened), as well as societal developments like the emergence of a DIY culture emphasizing individual autonomy and mastery of one's own discourse and reality.

As my IU colleague Susan Herring and colleagues write (see post 26.04.04): "All of this suggests that blogs, rather than having a single source, are in fact a hybrid of existing genres, rendered unique by the particular features of the source genres they adapt, and by their particular technological affordances."

The notion that weblogs are not just 'produced' by internet culture, but rather must be seen as a hybrid genre inbetween offline and online phenomena, fits within a view of internet and new media in general as amplifiers or even accelerators of already existing trends and developments. UCLA's Philip Agre has published an excellent paper on this approach - which he calls the 'amplification model' - regarding politics (full reference: The Information Society 18(5), 2002, pages 311-331).

To quote Agre: "Research on the Internet's role in politics has struggled to transcend technological determinism -- the assumption, often inadvertent, that the technology simply imprints its own logic on social relationships. An alternative approach traces the ways, often numerous, in which an institution's participants appropriate the technology in the service of goals, strategies, and relationships that the institution has already organized."