Posts Tagged ‘Good News Week’

First, some links:

Clay Shirky on the collapse of traditional newspapers and the need to find alternative means of journalism;

Natalia Morar, who organised an anti-government flashmob on Twitter and is now hiding from arrest;

Oprah and other celebrities battling to be the first on Twitter with a million followers; and

SR7,  a company for hire that specialises in digging up dirt on employees for other companies.

Now, some thoughts, in no particular order:

¬†1. Journalism is essential. People both like and need to know what’s going on. However, journalism is not a naturally occuring resource. People must go out, obtain information, then analyse, write and relay it, a time-consuming process traditionally¬†deemed¬†deserving of monetary compensation. No matter how easy it is to copy an existing source online, that source first needs to come from somewhere; and before that, someone must decide that the source itself is newsworthy.

2. As has always been true of all creative endeavours (singing, painting, dancing), there are vastly more people who participate in these activities than are paid to do so. Largely, this is a question of enjoyment, creative expression and ease. Blogs have tapped into this in a big way. Most bloggers make no money. Many blogs are read by only a tiny handful of people known to the writer, or not at all. And yet, they are prolific, because even without monetary compensation, the vast majority of people simply enjoy writing them. Many readers employ a similar logic.

3. Despite having been around for a number of years, Twitter has only just hit the collective journalistic hivemind. Recent weeks have seen an explosion of articles on how it is being used, why it is damaging people, whether the concept is utterly pointless, and the implications of its ongoing development. Diverse examples of all these include:

– the now-notorious #amazonfail incident and its aftermath;

the Times bemoaning Twitter as a ‘rolling news service of the ego’ and then promptly signing up;

a warning that social networking sites are damaging kids’ brains¬†at the same time¬†Twitter is being added to the Brittish school curriculum; and

Рthe use of Twitter in both the Mumbai bombings and hyperlocal news sites.

4. Writing on the collapse of newspapers as we know them, Clay Shirky sums up the process of social revolutions thusly: “The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn‚Äôt apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can‚Äôt predict what will happen.” He concludes by saying that what we need is a “collection of new experiments” to help us figure out how journalism – as distinct from newspapers – can keep working.

5. TV news isn’t going anywhere. Neither is radio, which has survived bigger technological upheavals. Print journalism is failing because the internet has ruined its monopoly on exclusive media. Unlike free-to-air radio and television, which have always had to contend with the notion that a¬†majority of listeners won’t be paying directly for their content, newspapers have thrived as a one-to-one exchange: a set amount of money per customer per paper, with very few exceptions. It’s not that the internet devalues the written word, or that¬†making journalism¬†freely available is inimical to notions of profit: it’s that, without being able to charge on that one-to-one basis, newspapers cannot command anything like their previous volume of revenue.¬†They’ve simply never had to compete with a medium that could do the same thing, better, for a fraction of the cost. And now they’re floundering.

6.¬†¬†Spare a moment to consider the notion of Digital Rights Management – DRM – and its relationship to the newspaper fiasco. Although concerned parimarily with digital music copyright, the ongoing debate about encryption for games and, with¬†the advent of the Kindle and other such devices, the pirateability of digital books and audiobook rights, the¬†underlying problem is the same in both instances:¬†defining notions of ownership for both¬†users and creators in an era¬†where digital copies are readily available. Books in particular have always been subject to the whims of borrowing and lending without falling apart, but might their new digital formats change that? Or are they an exception to the rule? For long stints of time, it’s nicer to read on a page than a screen, but¬†what if screens are improved, or some other technology developed that is just as comfortable to use as paper? Will we still crave tactile connections?¬†

7. People might not like to pay for content, but¬†as Wikipedia,¬†YouTube¬†and Linus Torvalds¬†have already¬†proven, many are¬†ready, willing and able to create content for free. Open source principles clearly predate the current revolution, and consciously or not, they’re informing it.¬†Remove money from the equation (or at least, give it a drastically reduced emphasis) and¬†gaze anew at the crisis of print journalism. Blogs, tweets, viral news: many of the new news staples are ungoverned, unruly, disparate products of the hivemind – flashmobs, crowdsourcing – but that doesn’t mean they go utterly unpoliced or work without change or criticism. Hey, it’s a revolution, folks. We’re breaking and making at the speed of thought. Give us time to learn the ropes.

8. Way back in 1995, ¬†Major Motoko Kusanagi once¬†mused, “And where does the newborn go from here? The net is vast and infinite.” In 2006, she reaffirmed the sentiment. We’re not yet ghosts in the shell, but let’s keep an open mind. The future rests in us.

Recently, I’ve been struggling to comprehend the social ramifications of defamation, censorship¬†and privacy laws in government and industry.¬†While the scenario of a verbally abusive¬†co-worker or boss is undeniably awful, and while nobody should have to¬†put up with¬†insults about their character, religion, race, competency, sexuality and/or personal hygiene, I can’t help but feel that¬†restrictions¬†designed to enforce polite behaviour are¬†increasingly infringing on freedom of speech. Prior to the rise of the internet, I imagine there was a fairly intuitive rule of thumb when it came to bitching about colleagues, viz: don’t write anything down. Trash talk was for the pub and other such¬†friendly gatherings, or at the very least somewhere courteously beyond earshot of the person in question. Email¬†lead to a new¬†caveat:¬†keep it off the company servers. Personal accounts are personal accounts, but you never know when someone might¬†have legitimate cause to flip through your business correspondence. Even in this instance, however, there was still a veil of privacy, in that barring an authorised, dedicated¬†search¬†or deliberate hacking, there was no way for the subject of the conversation to accidentally ‘overhear’ and thereby take offence.

But sites like Facebook and Twitter have changed all that. Now, employees are able to form online groups and discuss the foibles of their jobs en masse or tweet about the demands of annoying co-workers – with troubling consequences. The blogsphere, too, has created workplace turmoil, with some employers sacking staff for mentioning their jobs online. While companies are well within their grounds to worry about the release of actual business information, especially where a preemptory or unauthorised¬†mention of¬†same could¬†cause genuine loss or damage, the¬†notion of bringing a company’s reputation into disrepute simply by admitting to personal foibles and opinions is deeply troubling.¬†Satirising a job is not the same as maligning it, and criticising management should not be a sackable offense. Nonetheless, such things are currently happening.

As a student, I never liked the idea, put about at assemblies and other such spirit-building occasions, that I was moving through life as a ‘representative’ of my school, nor that my behaviour at all times, regardless of whether I wore the uniform, was correlated to some nebulous, anachronistic¬†notion of school pride or reputation.¬†As a grown worker, the sentiment still holds. First and foremost, we should belong to ourselves: all other affiliations, be they professional or academic, are secondary. There’s an ugly paternalism to schools and businesses laying claim to the morality and opinions of their attendees, and this is what rankles: the notion that our individual humanity is permissable only insofar as it doesn’t contradict the party line. It’s a big, messy, multifaceted issue – slandering colleagues is different to releasing confidential data is different to criticising management is different to having a sense of humour is different to daily blogging – but it is, ultimately, the same issue. Namely: how should we act online?

In a perfect world, people¬†wouldn’t insult each other, nor would¬†certain personality¬†types be incompatable. But this is not a perfect world. In an age when instantaneous, public communication has dropped the veil of privacy from personal complaint, we need to grow thicker skins and get used to living with other people’s opinions. Because what’s really throwing us for a loop isn’t the fact that people have opinions or even that they’re different from ours: it’s that, all of a sudden, we know what they are, and feel moved to respond. Companies are kidding themselves if they think that the vast majority of their employees would still work if they didn’t have to. Work is a necessary evil: get over it. Employees are kidding themselves if they think that bitching about co-workers in cyberspace is the same as bitching at the pub. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t type it where they can see it: simple. The law is kidding itself if it proves systematically incapable of distinguishing between serious, ongoing abuse and satire. People make jokes, and every exchange is nuanced: take it into account. Authority figures are kidding themselves if they think their position should put them¬†beyond mockery or scrutiny. As in politics, you will be teased, disliked; your decisions will be questioned. It’s the price of being in power: live with it or step down.

But most importantly, we as a society are kidding ourselves if we think the solution to socio-digital omnipresence is to segregate our personalities. Our jobs and lives are bleeding together exactly because the two should be compatable; because people want to enjoy their work while still retaining the freedom to speak their minds. Communication should be used as a tool for social improvement, not restriction, which means compromise on both sides. And historically speaking, compromise has never involved the building of walls between different groups or ways of life.

Instead, it knocks them down.

Speaking as a concerned citizen, there’s a few issues I’d like to raise in light of recent media coverage.

1.¬†Dear journalists:¬†stop appending the word ‘gate’ to any vaguely scandalous story. Watergate¬†brought down President Nixon, and in any case was named after¬†the relevant¬†hotel: calling¬†John Della Bosca’s¬†lunchtime foray into verbal abuse¬†‘Iguanagate’ is just plain stupid. Media, this isn’t¬†your first offence. CNNNN’s Lunchgate should have got the point across. Remember: you’ve been warned.

2.¬†An armpit fetish molester? Sweet Zombie Jesus, but I’d thought that parliamentarian¬†Trey ‘Chair Sniffer’ Buswell¬†was bad enough. This is taking the concept of olfactory stimuli just a smidge too far, I’d say: Glenn Quagmire is not a rolemodel.

3. Exploding planes are bad.

4. In a bid to maintain the ‘integrity of the academy organisation’, Katherine Heigl has pulled out of the running for an Emmy. Which is, y’know, noble and everything, but since when has integrity had anything to do with television awards? I’m just sayin’.

And, finally:

5. Angelina Jolie wants to go on The Muppets. Don’t we all?

TGIF, people!

I don’t know what it is about the Brisbane Times. Maybe being linked in to the Age and SMH website was too much for it; maybe it’s always been this way, and prominent online publication has merely made it obvious.¬†Perhaps the Illawarra Mercury, God love it, has finally found a friend. But whatever the probable¬†cause, the facts don’t alter: no matter what enterprises of great pitch and moment are afoot in the world, the top 5 stories in the Brisbane Times always involve murder, sex, scandal¬†and disreputable teenagers – often in the one article.

Witness today’s offerings: while the Age and SMH show a respectable balance between media, IT,¬†social¬†commentary¬†and politics, good ol’ Brisneyland presents the¬†following headlines:

1. Oral sex blamed for rise in throat cancer

2. How did dead man kill his wife?

3. You banker! ‘Trainee bus driver’ busted

4. Cop ‘should be fired’ for allowing 13yo to marry

5. Condoms turn up heat in Antarctica

I’ve got no objections to trashy news (or newspapers, come to that). I just find it consistently funny that, regardless of what’s actually going on, the top BT articles are always dredged from the pits of scum and sexual entendre.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to enjoy the journalistic schardenfreude of salacious misery. Anyone got a Tim Tam?