ARTS2090: Publics and Publishing Essay

Question 4: How is the diminution of traditional, and often hierarchical, “authoritative” intermediaries changing the role of publishing in social life? This question is specifically focused on the changing roles of journalism. 

 

Alan Rusbridger stated in his article ‘The Splintering of the Fourth Estate’, “the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through an intermediary was truly transformative”. Communication has evolved from simple transmission to engaged discussion and further progressed to involve inherently different platforms as tools to share information on. The place of the traditional, often hierarchical and authoritative intermediary has been challenged as publics become empowered to contribute to the journalistic news cycle.

 This essay will endeavor to highlight the diminishing power of media conglomerates focused on failing business models, particularly in the context of the Global Financial Crisis. The essay will then continue to explore the readers, publics or audiences enhanced ability to interact with journalism in the Web 2.0 world, focusing on the role of journalism as the fourth estate and why it is a necessity for modern democratic societies.

The Fourth Estate describes the medias role as watchdog in democratic society, acting as a regulatory branch for the Judiciary, Legislators and the church. Its role is not profit creation but the provision of accurate and objective content to the public, facilitating a multi-vocal functioning democracy. “The press of old – ‘the bastard estate’ – has become the vast contemporary news media, yet continues to claim a place at the table of public life,” (Schultz 1998: 16).  This was true in 1998, the technological progression of media formed the core of traditional “authoritative” intermediaries like News Corporation and Fairfax Media, supplying paying publics with broadcast and print media as the mediator between the world and the individual, equipped with the resources to do so. Journalism became synonymous with ‘newspaper’ as part of big media.

 “The muscle of a very large, very powerful and sometimes very aggressive media group, especially one that is keenly interested in exerting political influence and expressing powerful views on how media regulation should operate.” (Rusbridger 2010a). This media power has very clear influences over the functioning of other facets of society- including the branches the Fourth Estate. This goes against the grain of liberal democracy.

 Pluralist theory on media power suggests, “democratic process is threatened by the erosion of the public sphere and by the failure of media to fulfill their role as the fourth estate” (Street 2011: 290). Traditional media owners argue for increased media deregulation, increasing the concentration of media ownership in the public sphere and decreasing media diversity. “In a democracy this concentration creates a risk that points of views are monopolised into a single direction” (Johnson 2010: 67). The diversity of reported views directly correlates to public discussion, a cornerstone of democracy is that the many voices contribute, this is a threat to impartiality (ibid: 71). 

It is Rusbridger’s belief that the Fourth Estate’s splintering stems from the introduction of the “third wing to the fourth estate”, the worldwide Web- and more topically Web 2.0. This evolution, adding to the wings of print and broadcast media, changed the way information is distributed, directly challenging the business model for news and the foundations of its provision established by firms.

“The ‘point to point’ technology of the Internet, Twitter and so on, and the ‘many to many’ of the traditional mainstream media, are colliding and converging,” (Johnson 2010: 67). The Global Financial Crisis has exacerbated this situation; it is hard in the media world for businesses to deal with the economic challenges of “declining advertising revenues” and the “woes of an industry already witnessing declining newspaper sales” (Ibid: 67).

Media academic, Clay Shirky believes that the business model for news has failed because it can no longer supply a substantially unique product to readers who can access and contribute news/information to a wide social network instantaneously. “The internet commodifies the business of newspapers. Any given newspaper competes with a few other newspapers, but any newspaper Website compete with all other Websites,” (Shirky 2010).

The rise of online branches of successful newspapers such as The Guardian now compete against each other, against smaller specialist news sources such as The Global Mail, against social media platforms like Twitter and other user aggregated content platforms like Reddit. Every platform on the Internet is competing to be consumers most read and most trusted sources of information: news or otherwise.

The introduction of paywalls guarding access to some online news websites like The Australian, illustrates traditional authoritative intermediaries constant grapple to remain an elevated authoritative power continuing the role of disseminating quality information to the public. 

The idea that online users should pay for the content they use is an “assumed continuity with the analog business model, which is to say they assumed that readers could eventually be persuaded or forced pay for digital editions” (Shirky 2010). An example of this was News Corps introduction of paywalls to their online content, “News Corp has produced no innovation in content, delivery, or payment, and the idea of 90%+ loss of audience was already a rule of thumb over a decade ago.” (Shirky 2010).

With the advent of Web 2.0 and the rise of open media, the power of authoritative intermediaries is diminishing.  The third sphere has changed the way readers want to interact with journalism. It is now a “fluid, constantly-iterative world of linked reporting and response,” (Rusbridger 2010b). Breaking news could constitute a link, video, tweet or a status and it can be instantaneously reported in the same way to an interactive platform. Focus on the failed business model that when readers stop paying for content, the production of quality news declines, must aadopt the pace of the current news cycle. “If ever there was a route to building audience, trust and relevance, it is by embracing all the capabilities of this new world, not walling yourself away from them.” (ibid 2010b).

 Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian, believes paywalls are currently ineffective because they contain information. It goes against the grain of open media. Newspapers “want to grow a large audience for our content and for advertisers, and can’t presently see the benefits of choking off growth in return for the relatively modest sums” (Rusbridger 2010b).

“The media are not the holders of power, but they constitute by and large the space where power is decided” (Castells 2007: 242). This neatly sums the new role of online publishing in the social lives of the public. The Fourth Estate has definitely splintered, allowing any person the ability to comment – however seriously- on almost all online content. The benefits of this involvement is that it creates online the most accurate representation of our societies views in the media that has ever been published. Online self-publishing allows the formation of online communities sharing views, interests and debates. It aggregates data, facilitates sharing and creates new pools of information for new stories and angles.

 A negative of open source content however, is that credibility of written material can be challenged and diminished. Before this third wing of publishing was established, print and broadcast media were veritably trusted. The rise of public opinions creates a source that is not held accountable for the truth of what it says.

 The acceleration of the public’s ability to publish has grown exponentially since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1455. Leaping from the ability to transmit information to discussing it, the formative role communication plays in creating public opinions has not changed.  “Communication, and particularly socialized communication, the one that exists in the public realm, provides the support for the social production of meaning, the battle of the human mind is largely played out in the processes of communication” (Castells 2007: 239).

 Castells view, “what does not exist in the media does not exist in the public mind, even if it could have a fragmented presence in individual minds” (ibid: 241) paints a clear picture of the public sphere echoed by social theorist, Habermas, before the mass ability to communicate transformed the access to alternate points of view. It was, and still is the role of journalism not to tell the public what to think, but what to think about, ideally providing a balanced argument. A hallmark of traditional intermediaries diminishing power is that now their audiences can do this themselves. The traditional role of the journalist has also been diminished.

 “The diffusion of Internet, mobile communication, digital media, and a variety of tools of social software have prompted the development of horizontal networks of interactive communication that connect local and global in chosen time” (ibid: 246) broken apart from one-way communication, the ability to disperse personal opinions, from one to many has led to the aggregation of participation in online groups forming public opinion.

Never before has there been such a wide range of opinions on a wider range of issues.  It is not news that activist communities group together to gain publicity for their cause, what is new is the freedom from intermediaries as the only way to obtain information; breaking down barriers as to what constitutes ‘news’ the “picture of an authoritarian society with only an unregulated free market as our saviour” (Johnson 2010: 73) has been vanquished. The emergence of niche community networks feeds directly into the trend dominating Web 2.0, social media and user generated content.

Derided as a fad not a credible source of information, social media platforms like Twitter have a crucial function in the dissemination of information. Unlike traditional press media, the life of a news story can be extended and followed by an alert public with more content aggregated than physically possible to publish in a newspaper, updated instantly, anyone can follow the trend. “Twitter can be customised into a personalised news feed to give you extraordinarily rich and deep content on specialised subjects faster (and in many cases deeper) than any newspaper could hope to match”. (Rusbridger 2010a)

 Because so much of this content is user generated, suddenly any member of the public with access to the Internet, has access to expert opinions, a slew of educated points of view, links to people directly implicated in news stories and a direct way to contact them. It is this integration that Twitter has become an essential tool in journalism bringing, “rich diversity, specialist expertise and on the ground reporting that we couldn’t possibly hope to achieve without including them in what we do.” (Rusbridger 2010a)

 The inadequacy of paywalls becomes particularly apparent as the minute news breaks the online community will dissect it on accessible platforms. The information available in minutes is, “twittered into global ubiquity. It is one of the clichés of the new world that most scoops have a life expectancy of about three minutes” (Rusbridger 2010a).

“The relationship between technology, communication, and power reflects opposing values and interests, and engages a plurality of social actors in conflict”(Castells 2007: 237). The balance of power has shifted; traditional intermediaries no longer the actors that hold the technology and resources possible to distribute news. The role of journalism is not tied to large conglomerates, it is a societal role to be a watchdog, to filter and present factual information for public discussion. “Journalists are principally responsible for keeping the ideal of the news media as the Fourth Estate alive, despite significant and sustainable challenges to the industry’s independent institutional legitimacy” (Schultz 1998: 16). This role coupled with Rusbridger’s belief that “the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through an intermediary was truly transformative” is truly correct of the way communication networks have formed, becoming ingrained in the expanding social life of public online.

 

Reference List

Anderson, B 1991, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso London, pp 1- 36

Castells, M 2007, Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society, International Journal of Communications vol 1, University of Southern California, pp. 238-266

Johnson, J 2010, The New Politics of Media Ownership, Renewal, vol. 17 no. 4, pp. 67-74

 Rusbridger, A 2010a, The Splintering of the Fourth Estate, The Guardian, 19 November, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/19/open-collaborative-future-journalism 

Rusbridger, A 2010b, The Hugh Cudlipp Lecture: Does Journalism Exist, The Guardian, 26 January, http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jan/25/cudlipp-lecture-alan-rusbridger  

 Schultz, J 1998, Reviving the Fourth Estate: Democracy, Accountability and the Media, Cambridge University Press Melbourne, pp. 15-22

 Shirky, C 2010, The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics, 8 November http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/11/the-times-paywall-and-newsletter-economics/

 Street, J 2011, Mass Media, Politics and Democracy, 2nd edn, Palgrave Macmillan London/ New York, pp. 283- 302

 

Friction

From reading the introduction of Paul Edward’s A Vast Machine in the ARTS2090 study guide, the collision between science and data and its cultural and human interpretation, is multifaceted. The introduction sheds light on the many ways data can be interpreted by different audiences (as outlined by Edwards in the way the book can be read) but notes that data must first be there, organised in a systematic and reliable way. This means models and graphs, data that can be interpreted across a spectrum of professions. 

This data is collected from different archives, assembled in a uniform way and hopefully aides the transduction from raw data to knowledge. Edwards book discusses climate change as being a sincere threat for life from now on, he acknowledges that people disagree on that point. Edward says his goal is to “provide an analytical perspective, a conceptual framework,” to illustrate his reading of the data sets he has collected.

He is not alone in his belief that scientific data has resounding cultural readings, the example of the ‘Geography of hate’ (http://users.humboldt.edu/mstephens/hate/hate_map.html#) – a geographic map of ‘hate’ hotspots located using twitter, is another example of a culturally important information collected in a scientific way. This archive of information is constantly multiplying and the levels of modulation over locations would be constantly changing. The practical side of data collections like the hate map and the data on climate change, is that to an audience it is credible and commands intellectual authority. Visualisations and models as readable expressions of content and that has a great impact on audience perceptions and digestion of that knowledge.

With the rise of accessable data, culture is changing. It is self-analysing cultural habits more- as seen with functions like facebook page statistics and social medias influence in general. What is positive about this analysis is that it can be put to use analyzing detrimental global habits as simple as not recycling or turning off the lights. The rise of data and progressing ways to assemble it gives future even more connected generations hope that with these archives of information, positive change will not be far off as negative habits have been recognised.

 

Social Body

Visualisation: Theory and images

The weeks discussion on the verity of visualization, images as motivated signs and the trust we place in these things to convey the physical and conceptual world around us, is derived from a philosophical perspective.

Signs are images. And from interpreting these images, they become motivated signs, standing for a physical object like a ‘cat’ or a conceptual idea like ‘to think’, either way the message is conveyed using a picture or a more abstract form- the alphabet or character. The use of an alphabet allows a much broader exchange of information to take place.

Plato was against this, believing it polluted the trueness of the image. His beliefs of antiocularism involved believing that there is one perfect form, and any replicas of that become less and less true, hence an inherent distrust in artwork and the written word.

The flexibility of the alphabet fits in with Heidegger’s theory on the ‘age of the world picture’, whereby he believes that the ordering of our world is always in production, becoming more and more detailed as we improve the tools/instruments with which to analyse the relationships between subjects (thus getting a better picture of the world).

By this theory we are building a more absolute, more perfect image of the world as it is now by furthering our ability to analyse what is around us- telescopes, microscopes, infographic charts- and coding as a new form of information exchange. This directly contradicts Plato’s beliefs on how to view the world.

Plato was not the only one to disagree with how the world is viewed. Alva Noe, takes a more fundamental approach to the way we ‘view’ the world.  She believes that the visual experience is now considered untrustworthy because of “ideas concerning a totalizing techo-social configuration of vision (often seen as “modern”)).

Her idea that the visual world is a grand illusion, pertains to her belief that perceptual consciousness is a kind of false consciousness, that we are actually continuously piecing together the world and missing bits of it- as opposed to simply opening our eyes and being greeted with a complete world experience, “the snapshot conception ”.

This theory of vision, and therefore visual experience is particularly interesting today with the added aspect of the rise of photoshop and other methods of creating false visualizations. Examples of this in the recent media include the apparently photoshopped picture of North Korean war ships sent out as propaganda.

In a world that is so reliant on visualization, we are surprisingly unsure of the integrity of the visual world around us.

Visible

 

Argumenet 1: WikiLeaks- Archive Fever & Structuring Data

The world today- to the wider public- is full of seemingly invisible communications, but to a data analyst most of the communication paths we make are very visible and yield interesting results.

The prominent example WikiLeaks portrays an interesting take on subjects like archive fever and data structure.

Firstly- what is WikiLeaks? WikiLeaks describes themselves as a: “not-for-profit media organization”. They operate a heavily encrypted drop-box to receive tip offs to inside information about news important to the public. They publish the ‘invisible’- the secret, the hidden or the covered-up visibly to the public in their interest as a watchdog of the fourth estate. The encrypeted dropbox makes it almost impossible to track the communication path, but the information that is the outcome itself is very visible.

Their style differs to other media organizations because they public the raw data next to an article written by their journalists. WikiLeaks also publishes a lot of raw data that does not have accompanying articles, so much in fact that not all of their information has been checked for personal details that are not fit to share in relation to such secretive information. Questions around the safety for citizens involved have been raised as individual names, family names and villages have been published endangering civilian safety. Whistle blowers for instance, journalists have a legal obligation to protect have been named- as is the case of Bradley Manning.

Looking purely at the structuring of their data and they way they archive it, it is phenomenal the amount of sensitive information they have managed to obtain and subsequently publish on the Internet, such an accessible platform. This dropbox has got a more social side to it, people in the position to extract information they think is important for world to know, are posting files here. They are archiving the data in an accessible place (the reverse to the usual use of archives- an information source to come back to later).

In Wasserman’s article for The Huffington Post- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/edward-wasserman/assange-and-wikileaks-questions_b_1831841.html, he asks if two years after WikiLeaks posted a deluge of sensitive information, particularly annoying the American’s, it was time for a: “dispassionate assessment of Wikileaks’ impact?” weighing up the effects from the military and diplomatic data published, has this been widely detrimental or did it, “blow whistles that needed to be heard, embolden dissidents worldwide, fuel the Arab Spring, encourage lackluster news media to defy official controls, help chase despots from power??”

I think that WikiLeaks has had positive and negative affects depending on how the data is used, it has highlighted corrupt and dysfunctional issues in very high places, however it is potentially dangerous to regular civilians to have such raw and disjointed data published on the internet without the correct interpretation. There is a reason journalists, diplomats and government officials are careful about what gets published.

Infotention

Infotention was not a word that I had a lot of familiarity with. It was coined by Howard Rheingold and describes the psycho-social-techno skill set needed to navigate the internet with literacy (a meaningful understanding of it). This literacy in the society we operate in, is essential to navigating the net, powered by human brains but also by computer filters.

As we use more archives, specifically personal archives where privacy could be an issue, it is more important that we remain well versed in how to navigate the net, we must keep out infotention high. We are using much more online storage: for photos, music and personal playlists, movies and shows, and also important files and passwords to sites (like bank accounts) that operate on the net. The Internet has become an integral part of our society that we now cannot function without (can you imagine not being able to do internet-transactions?). These internet themselves are part of databases and archives- and we are only a small part in their data, but to us we are a large part because it can often contain personal details like addresses, access to social networking sites and other communications. 

Databases and archives are powerful and do command authority because they have such a vast collection of resources that the world wants to access and simultaneously add to- like wikipedia or your own Facebook account. But these archives- powerful as they are- are competing against each other to become a more complete and reliable source than any other. Examples in our lecture I thought were great were amazon.com and of course ever-present Apple. 

Companies are increasing their marketing and social monitoring through very measurable metrics now and thus we need to be able to read between the gaps ourselves to continue to usefully use archives. It is a cognitive literacy, we learn through our past experiences using this technology and remembering features we liked or didn’t like (I guess leaving memories as our only real personal archive we have left). 

The world that we engage and communicate with is a world that is so competitive for our information. Yet we cannot distance ourselves from it without loosing touch and loosing our connection to everything else we have built. I think that our patterns are very firmly ingrained in our ultimate archive, the world we have built and the society we have become. 

Desire for archive fever

Image

Crowd Watching Television at night in Fitzroy Gardens at Kings Cross on New Years Eve, 1955-56 (ABC Reference ID: abc.net.au/photo/DP000092)

Archives simply put are collections of objects or information that is recorded for a later time. This has been an ongoing tradition for centuries, technologically progressing. Some archives are open for public use (creative commons) like the ABC photo above, pulled from their media archives available on the net.  

Our obsessive humanistic desire to archive our life and experiences can be categorised under ‘archive fever’ (a term coined by and the name of Jacques Derrida’s 1995 publication). The dynamic relationship between the theory behind archives and the practical collection of materials creating an archive is constant, but how do these theories and models enter their practical development and use in media? Different models will lead to different outcomes based on the techniques they employ to conjure memories (our own personal archives) and connections, perspectives, perceptions and possible future actions. It is the method of communication used that affects how we process these connections. This mediation of what happened (in theory) to real life interpretation results in our understanding. By this logic, anything we process- stories, pictures, articles- must be processed through theories entrenched in us about how we perceive the world to work, thereby generating our opinions on the archived materials that mean something to us. This relationship, a network between elements and actants is described in Latour’s Actor Network Theory (ANT).

It is interesting that two people could have such a different perception of the photo shown above, based off the connections they associate with it because of the filters their perceptions go through first shaped by theory. It is also interesting that whatever mediation we use to express ourselves are experiences we are carrying on in a different for. For example, showing someone a picture of watching TV in a crowd is not the same as being among them on that particular night. 

This creation of archives can also be seen from the point of view and human and non-human interactions, whereby we interact with inanimate objects but the meaning that they possess is understood by us and therefore necessary to record. Because we feel like we must have a reliable record of the past, archives also compete with each other to be the most complete and comprehensive source. Whether through the archive’s organisational structure or its content, a great deal of power is attached to this data ownership because of its ability to distribute content with ease; archives also demand authority as a trusted source. 

Assemblage

The Guardian 2012: Three Little Pigs advertisement

The Guardian’s award winning advert for their journalistic endeavors, published in 2012, highlights the importance of news and its accessibility to us in the 21st century. This however is not a new phenomenon but an example of our ever progressive methods of record keeping.

In lectures we have discussed scrolls and manuscripts, we’ve looked at the more organised codex, the invention of dictionaries, indexes and pamphlets. The trailer above demonstrates the much later move to digital media as a form of information sharing. A far cry from Gutenberg in 1455 and Chinese block printing. So what do these things have in common?

Overwhelmingly, all of these mediums were created (and were innovative in their time), to achieve the same purpose: to share information and findings.

Be it the first copies of the vernacular bible that were produced, easily disseminated pamphlets agitating for social uprising or scientific journals publishing new discoveries (or documenting and spreading past findings) this is still the way we use media today.

Histories dramatic progression and innovation, dating before the 15th Century to the present, has preserved the ideals behind assembling these chunks of data into records.
We are still intent on disseminating information to more people, spreading our findings and spreading our beliefs (something increasingly common with the rising ease of generating content- like this blog.)

People inherently want to share ideas and discuss the issues facing their life. The chance to assemble physical records of ideas and actions presents the chance for people to join in their mutual beliefs around an accessible group of sources.

Sharing the latest ideas or stories has always been a human obsession as Charlie Brooker demonstrates to us in his 2010 video ‘How to report the news’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHun58mz3vI ), we want all of the information and we want it now (although, we may have become more desensitized over the past century).

As a culture we hold on to assemblages everywhere, they allow us to function and progress. Although Brooker mocks the way we make news, it serves a record-keeping and informative purpose.
Simply put assemblages are a linear, progressive, documented histories, that address and assemble what we consider to be important societal issues into an accessible medium for public discussion. Enter The Guardian.