Thursday 29 July 2010

MED104 - 3.1 Inform me! news media

Christopher Harper (2003). Journalism in a digital age. In H. Jenkins & D. Thorburn (Eds), Democracy and New Media (pp. 271-280). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Online mainstream and alternative news sites including:

* Crikey
* Perth Indy Media
* The West Australian
* The Huffington Post
* Salon

This week's reading was from 2003 so some of it was a bit outdated but overall I found it quite interesting. The first point that was made was that traditionally it was the media was the gatekeeper that set the agenda for what we should think about, by emphasising and focussing on specific events, ideas and social values and presenting them for us to think about. However online media changes that premise, because the user has more power to challenge the gatekeeper, and to compare the media presented with many other sources.

It was interesting to read that in a 1998 poll by Roper Starch Worldwide on what people used to source news, 69% said TV, 37% newspapers, 14% radio, 7% other people, 5% magazines, and only 2% said online. By 2004 a Pew Research Centre survey reported that 29% of people sourced their news online, and a recent 2010 Pew survey reported that 61% of people now source their news online, which is third only to local and national TV. So the way that people are sourcing their news has changed dramatically over the last 10-15 years.

This has impacted traditional media in some key ways. As a rule the cost of a newspaper did not even cover the cost of paper and ink, let alone all of the distribution costs, but traditionally newspapers generated almost 40% of their revenue via classified advertising alone, and then even more money from other forms of advertising, and this made most newspapers profitable. However, as newspaper circulation has dropped and traditional classified advertising has gone online, advertising revenues have decreased dramatically and many smaller newspapers have folded or been taken over by large news media corporations. At the same time those corporate owners have cut editorial staff while at the same time increasing their output, forcing many journalists to spend far less time on producing quality stories than they did a generation ago and resulting in some stories being produced that should never have been produced, such as the stories about Saddam Hussein and his WMD that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Some people argue that the digital revolution will spell the end of professional journalism, but I don't agree. In the words of Leah Gentry, an online journalist who works on the Chicago Tribune "Journalists who succeed online will do solid reporting, careful editing, compelling writing, and visual storytelling, using the latest tools available. They'll tell their stories in whatever medium people use. But the tenets of the industry will remain the same". In our discussion forum we were asked if traditional forms of informational media are dying. Personally I don't think they're dying so much as evolving. At the end of the day people just want to see and hear what's going on - whether they see and hear via a newspaper/TV/radio, or online, doesn't change the basic premise of wanting good, solid information.

I think one of the problems with journalistic ethics and credibility has come about because when newspaper classified ad revenue and circulation both started to decrease in the last 10-15 years and editorial staff cuts started happening, not only did reporters have much less time to work on good solid verifiable stories, but a lot of publications seemed to think it was OK to resort to flashy, sensationalist, headline-based "scandal" type reporting in an effort to get readers back in, instead of accepting that things were changing. So not only were journalists not given appropriate time to get things done properly, but a lot of the stuff they were producing was complete rubbish, which in a way also opened the door for a lot of non-traditional outlets like Crikey to jump in. I don't think the rise of new outlets such as Crikey will kill the more mainstream professional journalism, but hopefully it will encourage the mainstream professionals to do a better job.

The biggest question at the current time is, who will pay for quality journalism in the future and how do online newspapers make money? Currently some sites such as the Wall Street Journal and the UK's Times are experimenting with paywalls, which means that a subscriber must pay to view the site. There are also several publicly-funded news websites available, including Australia's ABC News and SBS World News Australia. But nobody really knows how it's all going to pan out.


Friday 23 July 2010

MED104 - 2.5 All the world's a game

Ornebring, H. (2007). Alternate Reality Gaming and convergence culture: The case of Alias. International Journal of Cultural Studies 10(4), 445-462. (electronic databases)
Sarah Colman and Nick Dyer-Witheford (2007). Playing on the digital commons: collectivities, capital and contestation in videogame culture. Media, Culture and Society 29 (6), 934-953.

Really solid and thorough article about gaming, fan production and how that works with and against corporations.

This week we looked at games, and the relationship between virtual and non-virtual worlds. Ornebring discussed ARG's (Alternate Reality Games), which are a form of internet-based mystery game in which players participate in a fictional world and engage in collective problem-solving - an example given is ARGs connected to the TV series Alias. Coleman & Dyer-Witheford covered MMOGs (Massively-Multiplayer Online Games) which are synthetic worlds which allow many players to interact in persistent virtual environments - examples given include Second Life and World of Warcraft. The overarching message from this week's study was that while games are fun, they also fit into corporate goals and strategies of brand building and creating a loyal consumer base. What I got from all this is - there's a lot of money to be made in the business of having fun.

There are also a lot of other considerations when it comes to games, which were covered in this week's lecture by Dr David Savat, the Chair of Communication Studies at UWA. Today's online games are commercial products which are not just consumed worldwide, but also exploited in many different ways. Many of these games have their own virtual economy, which SEEMS virtual until you realise that you can use real money to purchase virtual currency, and you can trade virtual currency in for real cash, which then gives rise to any number of potential moneymaking activities all under the guise of "games". For instance, I'd never heard of the term goldfarming until this week and it's hard to believe but apparently there are people who fill warehouses in countries like Russia, Indonesia and China with young kids, having them play these MMOGs for 14 or 15 hours a day, paying them a pittance and making large amounts of money out of the whole process. People also make money from selling avatars, or creating scarce virtual items and selling them, or any number of other dodgy enterprises. And then there are all the other "real life" things that spill over into the virtual world - people who meet online but end up meeting in real life, getting married, engaging in crime, killing each other... frankly, the mind boggles when I view this through my own rather limited context of Sim City and Bejewelled! So really, I don't think there's a lot of difference between selling "real" goods offline, and selling "virtual" goods online - both involve a demand for goods, a seller and a buyer in a marketplace.
If I'm honest, this isn't an area that holds great interest for me... I can see how it all fits together but I can't see it being something that I'm going to suddenly jump into and get really involved in.


Wednesday 14 July 2010

Old Spice


Monday 12 July 2010

MED104 - 2.4 Play with me!: Having fun with media

Helen Thornton, (2009). Claiming a stake in the videogame: what grown-ups say to rationalise and normalise gaming. Convergence 15 (2), 135-139. (electronic databases)
Very thorough take on gaming, analyses discourses of gamers, especially gender and sexuality.
Jenkins, H. (2006). The War between effects and meaning: Rethinking the video game debate. In D. Buckingham & R. Willett (Eds.), Digital Generations: Children, Young People, and New Media (pp 19-31). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Ass. (E-reserve)

While I found the lecture by Stewart Wood very interesting, I have to say that... how do I put this nicely - the first reading was one of the most boring readings I've had to do this year! It was basically a very dry sociological study of gamers. I personally thought that the sample size was so small, and the level of detail so great, that the point of the whole thing was a bit lost. But what I think Thornton was trying to say was that male gamers in particular, tend to try to rationalise and normalise the fact that they play games, rather than just saying that they play them because they like to play them, because there are social implications associated with gaming - that is, if you spend too much time gaming, you have no social life. The only sentence I found even remotely interesting was this one: "Gaming, like television viewing, film viewing, or internet use, is tied to wider social and cultural discourses."

The second reading was again by Jenkins, and it was a far more interesting read. He discusses what he calls the Video Game Violence Debate, and the difference between Effects and Meanings. What he's basically saying is that people who espouse Effects believe that video games cause violent and antisocial behaviour, and people who espouse Meanings believe that the playing of video games allows an individual to consciously engage with the ideas behind the game and use those ideas to form or reaffirm their own existing ideas and beliefs - so if somebody was already violently inclined, then playing a violent game may either set them off or may help them to shape their views in new directions. I don't really know if violent games make people violent, or if they just attract people who are already violent - I think it's probably a bit of both. I don't really think that showing violent material to a happy and well-adjusted teen is going to turn them into Rambo or anything. But where I have a problem with the "Meanings" view is with younger people who don't already have existing beliefs, or people in general who don't have (and never get) the ability to work through emotional questions and form their own interpretations. My daughter is only 7 and there's no way in the world she'll see a game like Call of Duty anytime soon, but the point is, she's like a sponge - anything she sees or hears, she takes in and often she believes what she's told, until she's told otherwise. It's all very well for Jenkins to say that shielding children from violence would leave them unequipped to cope with the world - I think it goes the other way too, that exposure to explicitly violent material, including games, can normalise violence. So to answer a question on our Discussion Forum about which side we're on - I think I'm sitting on the fence, but I probably have my legs hanging over the "Effects" side. :>

On a personal level, I have a somewhat addictive personality when it comes to games and nowadays I don't have much in the way of free time so I've weaned myself off but over the years I've played a variety of different games on different platforms. My first introduction to games was the good old handheld Donkey Kong Jr handheld game that my brother had in the early 80's. This was followed by a friend who had an Atari (Space Invaders & Pacman!) and then in the late 80's another friend who had some kind of PC (I don't remember specifically which but I think it may have been a Commodore 64) with games loaded via cassette tapes. Once I got a PC I started off with games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Later on I discovered The Sims - I think on my friend's Playstation first, I wasn't working at the time and was staying at her place, and I remember her hubby who was a tradie, getting up for work one morning and I was still in the loungeroom after an all-nighter - should've recognised the addictive potential right there! Then I got various versions for PC before I finally uninstalled it because I lost too much time. In recent times I got a Nintendo DS-Lite with the mod chip so I have over 200 games. The main ones I play now are single-player things like Scrabble, the Indiana Jones Lego one, Brain Training and Nintendogs (with my daughter). Last year, a friend convinced me to play Mafia Wars on Facebook... what a complete waste of time that was. It got to the point where I'd be on there several times a day just madly clicking, and then a good hour each night... my husband found the whole thing baffling. One day I realised how dumb it was so I uninstalled it. My only game vice at the moment is Bejeweled 2 Deluxe on my laptop.

I play games for entertainment and to wind down, so I do consider them to be another form of media. I don't really play multiplayer games though, apart from my Mafia Wars time. But I know people who play games like that who have made friends with others also playing the game, people they wouldn't have otherwise met. From personal experience I can say yes, if you have that type of personality then it's easy to get addicted to certain games!


Thursday 8 July 2010

MED104 - 2.3 Entertaining the world: using media across culturalboundaries

A little behind this week due to school holidays and child illness so here goes!

Jenkins, H (2006). Pop cosmospolitanism: Mapping cultural flows in an age of media convergence. In H. Jenkins, Fans, bloggers and gamers: exploring participatory culture (pp 152-172). New York: New York University Press. (e-reserve)
Srinivasan, R (2006). Indigenous, ethnic and cultural articulations of new media. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 9(4), 497-518. (electronic databases)

Oh dear... it seems I'm not much of a "pop cosmopolitan" at all! After reading both articles today, I'm feeling like I've been living a very narrow-minded life until now! The Jenkins reading discussed media convergence, which he says "involves the introduction of a much broader array of new media technologies that enable consumers to archive, annotate, transform, and recirculate media content". He argues that media flows move rapidly across national borders due to both corporate strategies and grassroots tactics, and that the media flows are multidirectional between geographically dispersed cultures. One of the examples he uses is how teenagers in the developing world embrace American popular culture, which I suppose is obvious when you consider the worldwide coverage of brand names like McDonald's, Coca Cola and Nike. Now many younger Americans are consuming different cultural media such as Japanese anime and manga, Bollywood films and Hong Kong action movies - which I was aware of, but none of which I've ever seen!

Jenkins also discusses how the meaning of shows can change during the translation to different cultures. An example he uses is the TV series "Iron Chef", a Japanese cooking competition which was shown to a niche audience in the US and was very popular. However, when it was later remade into an American version (where changes made included replacing the Japanese martial arts experts with American pro-wrestling stars) it failed dismally - I think because the Japanese elements of the show were what made it popular and replacing those and "Americanising" it too much took away what people liked about the original. While I didn't watch "Iron Chef", the reference did make me think of a couple of other TV shows that were also remade in America, both with differing results. The first one was Australia's own "Kath & Kim", which embraced the Aussie sense of humour and satirised Australian suburban life in a way that made it very popular both in Australia and abroad. Similarly to the "Iron Chef" experiment though, the American remake was cancelled after one season due to low ratings and scathing reviews, with the general view being that it wasn't well written and didn't measure up to the original - again, my view is that it was "Americanised" too much.

A different example is the TV series "The Office", which was originally a very successful British show starring Ricky Gervais that was then remade in America (and as it turns out, also in France, Germany, Quebec, Chile and Brazil, which I didn't realise until today!). I've only seen the British and American versions and although their concepts are similar, the actors, the writing and just the culture they represent make them different. There are many divided opinions on which is better and I even found an article which compared the two and showed small video clips of each version to support the author's argument! Personally I don't think one is any better than the other - I think they're both great. The British version is much more... British, very biting humour, sarcasm and often a bit uncomfortable to watch, while the American version feels a bit lighter and more... American. :-) But I think the main reason the American version has been successful is that the writers only subtly changed the British winning formula, introducing some American humour into it but essentially keeping the essence of the original show intact.

The Srinivasan reading looked at media convergence from the perspective of indigenous and ethnic communities, and how networked and database-driven technologies can actually empower these communities by enabling cultural preservation and allowing them to create and distribute their own perspectives on present-day realities and future visions. While this is a noble idea and produces great results when it actually happens, in my mind there is still the minor problem of the "haves versus the have-nots" - the ability for these communities (which are often "have-nots" in a technological sense) to achieve these goals is purely dependent on the "haves" enabling them to do so.

Overall, I think this new era of global media entertainment is really exciting. On the one hand, it's great that anybody can produce and distribute media that anybody else in the world can consume - it opens up the world in ways we've never seen before and hopefully this could one day lead to a greater understanding and acceptance of different cultures. But added to that is the ability of minority groups to preserve and classify their unique cultures using modern server and database technology, so that they aren't lost as so many native languages, rituals and cultures have already been.