Just Out: Guest-Edited Special Journal Issue on CoCreative Labour

My friend and colleague at QUT, John Banks, and I worked on this special for the last two years or so, and we are very excited how it turned out. I hope you check one or more of the papers out! Please let me know if you need one of the PDF's, I'm sure we can help.

International Journal of Cultural Studies Table of Contents for SPECIAL ISSUE: CO-CREATIVE LABOUR: 1 September 2009; Vol. 12, No. 5.

Table of Contents Alert

Co-creative labour
John Banks and Mark Deuze

Amateur experts: International fan labour in Swedish independent music
Nancy K. Baym and Robert Burnett

America Online volunteers: Lessons from an early co-production community
Hector Postigo

Misfortunes, memories and sunsets: Non-professional images in Dutch news media
Mervi Pantti and Piet Bakker

Working for the text: Fan labor and the New Organization
R.M. Milner

The mediation is the message: Italian regionalization of US TV series as co-creational work
Luca Barra

All for love: The Corn fandom, prosumers, and the Chinese way of creating a superstar
Ling Yang

Fandom and Media Work

Last week was the annual AOIR conference, this time in Vancouver. I could not make it, but several friends and colleagues were cool enough to point out to me that MIT's Henry Jenkins - whose work is a big source of inspiration for me, as for many others - referred to Media Work at his conference keynote (see picture, courtesy of one of our IU graduate students in attendance).

Henry discussed participatory culture, its historical antecedents in fandom (from an audience perspective), and its recent appropriation by media industries. Several blogs online feature summaries of his talk - I particularly like the Twitter-style index at Kathleen Fitzpatrick's Planned Obsolescence blog, and the more detailed and balanced review by Axel Bruns on his Snurblog.

In a critical response to Jenkins' keynote, Rochelle Mazar's excellent Diary of a Subversive Librarian featured the following observation:
Fandom is not a money economy, but it is an ecomony nevertheless. It’s a complex gift economy, where creative production, feedback, and critical reflection are the products and name recognition, attention and feedback are the currency.
This is a profound insight, and immediately resonated with something about the workstyles of professionals across the media industries: they more often than not see their work as somehow located outside of a "money economy", and tend to establish their professional identity also based on "gift" criteria such as peer review, reputation, and attention (of competitor-colleagues first, and audiences later).

Media workers and fans thus share a fundamental property of their self-identity. But in terms of their social identity, they differ: fans tends to shy away from the money issue, whereas professionals expect to be paid for their work (even though many go through a "work for free" phase, especially at the start of their portfolio careers).

However: once media professionals have experienced their fair share of lay-offs, terminated contracts, and cancelled projects, once they have reached another phase in their lives (with perhaps more attention for family life, care of elderly parents, grounding in some kind of community), the "fandom" aspect of media work perhaps diminishes, and shifts more towards a rather traditional value theory of labor.

I wonder whether that is the moment when the "fun" gets taken out of media work. Whether this is the moment companies lose their most senior, experienced workers - because they fail to invest in them in a way that enables these professionals to stay fans?

To me, this comment reveals a crucial element of what it means to have "talent" in the media industries: that is, to be a fan (and to work in an environment that enables and encourages you to stay one).

More Studies on Media Participation

After an earlier post on the recent OECD report on "The Participative Web", some more interesting studies on media participation, user-generated content, and other aspects of convergence culture:

An April 2007 report by Forrester (based on surveys among U.S. adults) divides the participatory spectrum up in groups (see image):

- Creators (13%): Publish Web pages, publish blogs, upload video to sites like You Tube
- Critics (19%): Comment on blogs, posting ratings and reviews.
- Collectors (15%): Use RSS, tag Web pages
- Joiners (19%): Use social networking sites
- Spectators (23%): Read blogs, watch peer-generated video, listen to podcasts
- Inactives (52%): Other internet users.

Furthermore, a new (April 2007) study (PDF) by the Pew Internet & American Life Project called "Teens, Privacy and Online Social Networks" reports on teens with online profiles (at sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and so on):

- 82% of profile creators have included their first name in their profiles.
- 79% have included photos of themselves.
- 61% have included the name of their city or town.
- 49% have included the name of their school.
- 29% have included their email address.
- 29% have included their last names.
- 2% have included their cell phone numbers.
- 6% of online teens and 11% of profile-owning teens post their first and last names on publicly-accessible profiles.
- 3% of online teens and 5% of profile-owning teens disclose their full names, photos of themselves and the town where they live in publicly-viewable profiles.

UPDATE [May 2007]: and yet another report on participatory culture, media, and social insitutions: this time by UK-based thinktank Demos, titled "Logging On: Culture, Participation and the Web".

What I am left with after reading all of this, is a nagging feeling that the gap between all this wonderful participation and effective (let alone collective) action only seems to be growing. Indeed, perhaps one should be open to theorizing (online) PARTICIPATION not just as a component, but increasingly as a supplement of ACTION.

UGC initiatives in: Journalism

[REMARK: this is the first post in a series on similar or comparable major issues in the key media professions of journalism, advertising, marketing communications, public relations, radio/TV/film production, and computer and video game development]

User-Generated Content is clearly the buzz of Web 2.o (and the second dotcom boom/bust). Here some recent 'hip' iniatives in US journalism that are making headlines and should be critically scrutinized:

[UPDATE April 17, 2007]: a column in Hollywood Today links User-Generated Content, citizen reporting, the shootings at Virigina Tech and - using Dr.Phil on CNN - violent video games...
CNN: I-Report (used prominently in the coverage on the campus shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007)
Fox News: uReport
USA Today: Network Journalism
Fisher Communications, Journal Broadcast Group and Granite Broadcasting: YouNews.TV
Clearchannel Communications (Santa Rosa's KFTY-TV): Local content harvesting
Reuters: You Witness News
Yahoo: You Witness News
MSNBC: FirstPerson
New West.Net: Unfiltered
MediaGeneral (Tampa Tribune): Hyperlocal
81 US news companies and counting: Citizen Media

And all of this even has layers (11 of them, to be precise)!

...And all of this had media companies worried as well as excited (although the excitement seems to stem more from the promise of cost-cutting rather than the thrill of added value to reporting):

Survey: user-generated content biggest worry, opportunity for media companies

Quote: "Who's afraid of user-generated content? According to data collected for Accenture's annual survey of senior media executives, user-generated content is one of the biggest threats that traditional media companies face in the next few years."

Risk Reduction, Outsourcing, and UGC

UPDATE: this post is part of a international seminar "Towards Participatory Journalism" at the University of Tampere in Finland, where I participated via video uplink today. Check out all the other presentations (PowerPoints) of Thorsten Quandt, David Domingo, Jane Singer, Steve Paulussen, and Esa Sirkkunen here.

Think about the following quote from a story by Kate Kaye for Clickz on the rise of 'citizen journalism' among mainstream news operations (in the US):

For newspaper sites in need of creating more volume, enabling user-generated content "is the cheapest way to foster bigger growth," said Ken Doctor, lead news analyst at media market research firm Outsell. User-created content can double inventory volume at a production cost of one to three percent the cost of staff-produced newspaper content, Doctor added.

Now, consider the recent news about large layoffs at news operations such as Santa Rosa, California-based TV50, and at Florida-based Media General (who started the much-touted converged TBO.com) in favor of what is labeled as "hyperlocal" and "interactive" community websites.

Add to that the increase in outsourcing in journalism, and the reported rise in so-called "atypical" work (as in: temporary, contingent, or otherwise precarious labor) in the media in general - and in journalism in particular.


Outsourcing, layoffs, citizen journalism, user-generated content, and hyperlocalism all correlate.

So who are living in these 'hyperlocal' areas that are now supposed to cover their own news?


The same people that used to be of primary interest to the advertisers sponsoring mainstream news in the first place: affluent, white, middle class and largely suburban households.

Giving voice to the voiceless? Don't make me (horse) laugh.

How Media Consumption = Work

Work in the media cannot be seen as exclusive to those professionally employed by the industry. Indeed, work in the media to some extent exists as 'free labor': the work consumers to do read, watch, surf and listen (thus delivering audiences to media organizations to be sold to advertisers), and - increasingly - the work we do as 'produsers', 'prosumers' and 'co-creators' of media content and experiences.

Consider these recent examples:

- The Firefox web browser organizes a competition (FirefoxFlicks) for the best user-generated video advertisement;

- Under the banner of 'citizen reporters' people from all over the world are volunteering their journalism skills to commercial news organizations, offering significant added value to such sites.

- The massive multiplayer game Project Entropia asks players to create their own ads within the persistent game environment, letting them buy time on virtual billboards;

- CNN solliciting 'citizen journalists' to send them their home-made videos of the devastation of hurricane Katrina;

- All kinds of television shows are increasingly relying on highly profitable SMS-TV cell phone participation schemes to include viewers in the show's progress and end-results, and as an example the movie American Dreamz advertises itself with the slogan: "Imagine a country where more people vote for a pop idol than their next president";

- pictures made by people using their mobile phones uploaded to news sites during and after the London bombings;

- The movie company Participant Productions (behind such films as Syriana, North Country, and Fast-Food Nation) offers opportunities to get engaged and participate in all kinds of activism target-marketed around the topics of their films;

- people generating podcasts that feature songs from artists marketed by the few corporate giants left in the music industry;

- Book reviews offered by customers at Amazon.com, generating significant online buzz that in fact influences sales. Interestingly enough, my students last semester interviewed some of the top reviewers at Amazon, and this is what some of them said about why they write reviews for the company (what follows are quotes from different persons): "Receive free review copies and creates awareness for my writing"; "By gaining a high reviewer ranking, you become popular on the site. If you become popular, sometimes people and companies will approach you to review their items - and often they provide complementary copies"; "It's an interesting hobby. I'm constantly learning more about writing,enjoy being "helpful" for products that have no or few adequate reviews, and I also get free books (sometimes DVDs & CDs) from people who wish their books, etc. reviewed."

It must be clear from this incredibly incomplete list that consumers are implicitly and increasingly (also) doing the 'work' in media work...

PS: the image here was made by Daz Smith and is available at his Mustard site.