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This is a Linkdump & K-log. Goal: Building Theory about New Media, Culture & Society. Topics: Media | News | Journalism | Culture.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
The American Journalist
This was my 3rd essay for Cultureweek (September 2004), but the paper came out two months late due to growing pains (sic). This is an edited version.
It is election campaign frenzy in the United States. On television the networks and cable news channels cover the campaigns of the Democrats and Republicans extensively. The presidential election is also at the top of the news agenda in print and online news outlets. This extensive coverage gives us a lot of information about who’s who in American politics. But it also shows us the faces, names and opinions of the people responsible for covering these events: the journalists. Among journalists, those who report on politics, policy and politicians are seen as the cream of the crop. They are the public's eyes and ears on the campaign trail, the pack journalists or so-called 'Boys on the Bus', referring to the mostly male reporters who travel with the candidates. What do we know about these people beyond their faces on television and their bylines in print?
American journalists are, much like their colleagues in Western Europe or Australia, - college educated men in their early forties. This demographic is especially dominant among political correspondents. Journalists earn a decent living, but most them working in a corporate climate without a whole lot of job security.
One of the less fortunate side-effects of the growing concentration of media ownership in the United States is the corporate policy of job rotation. Journalists regularly switch between news beats and they are now also regularly moved around within a corporation but across the country. This means that an increasing number of reporters do not have roots in the communities they report on. One could argue this is rather unfortunate, as journalism that is supposed to be relevant to the everyday lives of people requires a level of embeddedness in their community. On the other hand, this detachment does fit comfortably with the occupational ideology of journalism that preaches professional distance and a commitment to objectivity and telling 'the truth'.
Journalists have embraced objectivity and detachment quite differently in the past. Back in the mid-20th century this for example meant that reporters and editors felt their most important role in society was to deliver 'hard' news as quickly and as neutral as possible. Journalism needed to become more 'objective' because of a simple commercial reason: being value-neutral means more people are likely to subscribe, watch or listen (and less likely to sue...). Other functions of journalism such as interpretation criticism, and entertainment were traditionally not considered to be as central to news work. Today, journalists want to do it all. Surveys of journalists show that they increasingly believe that they have to interpret the news in order for the average consumer to understand what is going on in the world. At the same time journalists are still held to deadlines. In the age of 24/7 news channels on radio, television and the World Wide Web (all channels that need to be filled with content - as cheap as possible) this leads to an almost inevitable result: fast news, fast interpretation, fast work.
The shift from delivering to interpreting the news is clearly visible in the content of today’s journalism.
Studies show that over the last few decades the role of journalists in the news has steadily increased. On television journalists get more screentime than their sources. Newspapers are growing thicker because more space is devoted to the opinions of columnists and op-ed writers, and more pages are alotted to features and special segments.
In short: journalists are becoming the news, they are not just reporting it.
The backdrop to all of this is an American society in which citizens spend less and less of their time consuming the products of journalism.
Perhaps there is a relationship between the two trends: while journalism becomes more detached from its audience and more involved with itself, (especially younger) audiences disconnect and spend their time watching John Stewart’s The Daily Show or surfing The Onion.com website while chatting, blogging and messaging non-stop (if they are not on their cellphone, that is).
Back to the current coverage of the elections in the US. In covering speeches, debates and other real-time campaign events with candidates Kerry and Bush, news media offer one of the few opportunities where once can listen more or less unfiltered to the people who will govern this important country. This is one of the few times that journalists on television keep their mouths shut (although not for long) and allow sources to speak without constant interruption. Regardless of the political propaganda, it is a rare chance for American voters (and on-lookers from around the world) to get an idea of who the political representatives are. It is sad but true that few people watch, or listen to this kind of news coverage. As a foreigner living and working in the US (since the Summer of 2004) I feel energized by this election campaign. I guess I am not used to passionate, inspired or convincing political rhetoric. In my country, The Netherlands, politics has gone to sleep. Here, in the United States, politics matter. November 2nd matters. I'd like to call on every citizen: don't miss out on live, uninterrupted coverage of debates, discussions and events, otherwise we have to listen to the journalists again (and they are already taking over).
If you want to know more about who American journalists are, check out a report written by four Indiana University Journalism professors (David Weaver, Randal Beam, Bonnie Brownlee, and G. Cleveland Wilhoit): "The American Journalist in the 21st Century: Key Findings". It is published by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, Florida, April 2003. For additional information: see a summary at the Poynter Institute website.
Other sources for the trends sketched here: authors such as Thomas Patterson, Todd Gitlin, Dan Hallin and Michael Schudson. Check them out.
# posted by Mark Deuze : 10/21/2004 01:57:42 PM
Friday, September 24, 2004
The Finnish magazine Maine (published in Finnish by Edita) asked me recently to write their monthly 'Guru' article on the changes and challenges facing journalism. I'd like to share my first draft here, and invite you all to mail me comments, feedback and other stuff you feel I should include (or exclude).
(working title): Journalism, Reinvent Thyself! (Word count: 969)
Just like society needs criminals and wars in order to maintain itself over time, journalism needs scandals and disruptive technologies in order to continuously re-: think about Great Britain in the peaceful post-WWII era or the profession of journalism in most Western democracies during the seemingly successful heydays of the late 1980s. In such a stagnant situation, social order is threatened to the point of collapse. In Great Britain this enabled a surge of regionalism and 'new' nationalism with Welsh, Scottish and northern Irish people reclaiming independence, resulting in increasing violence, economic upheaval and ultimately toppling governments. In journalism, the last two decades can be typified by the meteoric impact of digitalization and the World Wide Web, as well as by an increasingly fast-paced commercialization and conglomeration process affecting media industries and practices across the globe. In this essay I argue that this is what these social systems desperately need.
Societies, industries and professions need to be in a constant state of flux in order to preserve their dominant values, norms and ways of doing things. A primary function of real or perceived changes and challenges is social maintenance: perpetuating existing power relationships and hierarchies. Yet the contemporary journalistic ecosystem offers more opportunities than just restating mantras like "the pen is mightier than the sword" or convincing us that the written word is the superior way of communicating news. Bits, bytes and pixels as well as infotainment and emo-tv have opened to the door for different definitions of journalism to enter the mainstream. These are not necessarily 'new' definitions, as journalism has always been about selling a product and marketing that product across different media. My point: by embracing convergence, by moving journalistic products online, by including more personal, inclusive, emotional (and thus more feminine) approaches to journalistic storytelling, journalism as a whole enters a constant state of flux so cherished by management gurus. If we want journalism to survive this transition in a way that is vital and crisp rather than offering audiences more of the same old, its practitioners have to be made aware of the consequences of these changes, thus enabling them - reporters, editors, managers, producers and directors alike - to find their own voice rather than merely reproducing those of powerful others that came before them.
So, Journalism is changing. Journalism is part of an ever-expanding corporate media industry, whose companies consider news as but one of their wide range of products to be marketed to audiences. Journalism is also dependent on a vast array of technologies that facilitate and accelerate the process of gathering, editing and disseminating information. Journalism provides a service to society and in doing so is intrinsically linked to and part of society - a society that in today’s world is at once local and global as national borders are disappearing and migration flows span the globe. When adapting to these and other circumstances, journalism, indeed, is changing fast. Sure, professional journalism has always been part of commercial enterprises, made use of technologies and served a variety of audiences. The point is, journalism usually dealt with this in the same old way: by blindly fighting off anything that was perceived to be threatening 'editorial autonomy'; by using disruptive technologies like microphones, cameras, computers and Internet largely to repurpose the same stories and narratives produced before; and by firmly focusing on the dominant economically privileged culture of their society while delegating the 'others' (youths, women, ethnic minorities) to the margins of niche media.
Let us stop and think for a bit what this social maintenance behavior of journalists and their managers has resulted in. First of all, the 'mass' audience for news has vanished. An increasing number of news producers compete for a dwindling number of news consumers. Second, people in most Western democracies have become extremely distrustful of their journalists - as well as their politicians. For many people, politics and journalism represent the same thing: "people not looking like me, not taking me serious, not serving my interests." Third, all kinds of journalisms have emerged on the fringes of the mainstream increasingly finding audiences by simply allowing these audiences to become reporters themselves: discussion forums online, talk radio, SMS-television, citizen's media varying from pirate radio and community media projects to local independent television or print- and Web-based initiatives of what mainstream journalism likes to call 'alternative' media. As media companies are scrambling to build multimedia newsrooms and develop new formats for magazines and broadcast programs that disappear as fast as they arrive, they fail to understand nor embrace the inevitable consequences of the state of flux journalism finds itself in. Instead, journalism and journalists seem to dig ever-deeper trenches, burying their heads in the sand to avoid acknowledgement of a world not accepting their early-20th century ideals of serving the rational informed citizen anymore. Today's citizens are for all the right or wrong reasons increasingly convinced that what is important to them as individuals should be addressed by society’s institutions at once. A journalism that continues to treat people as a 'mass' based on gendered concepts like 'rationality', 'authority' and 'objectivity' using top-down storytelling devices runs the risk of making itself obsolete.
The World Wide Web enables the emancipation of the news consumer to become a fellow news producer. Commercialization promotes new styles of more personal and emotional storytelling and 'de-institutionalizes' the sourcing practices of mainstream journalists. The global multicultural society allows for the 'grayness' of real multi-perspectival news instead of the black-and-white of "getting both sides of the story." These are but a couple of simple lessons we can learn from the contemporary state of flux. Nostalgia only serves to maintain the causes for the troubles journalism finds itself in. It is time to reinvent journalism.
# posted by Mark Deuze : 9/24/2004 01:44:36 PM
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
Spending the summer settling in to the Midwest of the US, and ofcourse writing for Bloomington's Cultureweek. Here my 2nd installment:
The Framing of Michael Moore
The European media response to Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 was mixed. Although the prevailing opinion in the United States seems to be that anti-Americanism dominates the European public sphere, the movie (opening across Europe about one month after its US premiere) was hailed as a cinematographical achievement but a dissappointment otherwise. European audiences do not think Moore is telling them anything new, as they have had their fair share of televised casualties of war, mourning families, and criticisms of President George W. Bush. If anything, the European media have already established a sceptical and critical attitude towards the American President and his advisors. In Europe then, Michael Moore is applauded for his art, and greeted with some indifference for his message. In other words: journalists and movie critics frame Moore as a gifted artist and filmmaker - hence his Palme d'Or award at the recent Cannes film festival.
How Michael Moore is framed in his beloved home country is an interesting other matter. Perhaps Moore himself gives the answer to this question in his 2001 book Stupid White Men, where he writes: "hey, take this book out of the humour section, I ain't kidding around!" (p.83). Indeed: Michael Moore is predominantly framed in the American media as a comedian. Let me elaborate this point on the basis of the various ways in which US newspapers and broadcast organisations have commented on, and talked about his current film, Fahrenheit 9/11.
A quick search using the infamous Google news search engine reveals roughly three ways in which journalists and movie critics used to describe Fahrenheit 9/11. First writers seem to deploy a neutral term like 'film', 'movie', or 'documentary' (although this already narrows the perspective down to a specific genre with certain conventions and rules). Second, descriptions are based on an evaluation of (some of) the content in Moore's film, where a prefix like 'anti-Bush', 'anti-war' or 'Bush-bashing' is used. Third, journalists go as far as to use value-laden concepts to in fact describe the film, where they deliberately put documentary in quotation marks (as in: "documentary"), or invent new terms like 'docutragicomedy', which strategy seems to dominate the ways in which Fahrenheit 9/11 is described in first instance.
By looking at the evaluative terms that are used to describe the film's content, its cinematographic style, and its overall perceived value and impact the framing of Moore's work as trouble-causing comedy becomes clear. Two distinct categories emerge. The first category consists of words that seem to thematize Michael Moore's work in terms of its distinctly critical perspective. Here, Fahrenheit 9/11 becomes 'incendiary', 'controversial' (CNN), ('bad' or 'proper') 'propaganda' (LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Slate), or even 'patronising' and 'socialist' (this last phrase was used several times by Bill O'Reilly of Fox). A second category of evaluations however redirects our attention to the entertainment-value of Moore's film. This category is filled with references – that seems to outnumber those of the other category by a ratio of 2:1 - such as: 'entertaining' (Kansas City Star, Lawrence Journal-World), 'hotbutter critique' (AP), 'satirical' (CBS News), 'a standup routine' and 'humorous' (Chicago Sun-Times, Rolling Stone).
As for the framing of Michael Moore the person, what is he according to journalists and movie critics in America? Here, in fact only one specific set of terms emerge: Michael Moore is a 'comedian', a 'gungho cowboy', a 'standup comedian' and ultimately even a 'scruffy' or 'fat' comedian. Sure, some media professionals make an effort to include other terms in their descriptions when they describe Moore as a 'troublemaking journalist/comedian/moviemaker' (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), a 'demagogue' (New York Post), and as a 'propagandist standup comedian' (Time). In fact I only found one description that seems to be more or less value free: 'author-documentarian'.
Let me return to my original question and answer it: American news media consistently frame his work as funny or even hilarious and entertaining, while Michael Moore himself is framed as a comedian with, at best, journalistic aspirations. By casting the popular political criticism of Michael Moore as the sounds, words and images of a court jester, media in the United States in effect might succeed in disarming him. Why take the work of a comedian seriously? Indeed, this would mean spending resources - time and money - on thoroughly investigating the claims that he makes. As soon as people start laughing about his message the opportunity for a genuine discussion in the American public sphere is lost. There is another reason to wonder why US media seem to discredit Moore's work as 'popcorn politics' (Viscalia Times-Delta). Many of his arguments are in fact based on news reports by the same media that label him as a comedian. Moore is showing journalists what can be done if one does some homework rather than republishing the White House press releases. Moore, probably unintentionally, shows that journalists as the self-proclaimed watchdogs of society have been asleep on the job.
One can easily debunk all of this with the argument, that Moore himself so cleverly deploys humour as a device to tell his stories. I would like to argue, that his use of humour cannot be coined as comedy but rather as (political) satire - an intelligent way to reveal the absurdity and complexity of the American condition to larger audiences.
All of this beyond the question whether there is anything funny about mass lay-offs, small-town poverty and unemployment (Roger & Me), a nationwide gun culture of fear (Bowling for Columbine), or countless thousands of dead soldiers and civilians on all sides in a far away place (Fahrenheit 9/11). Maybe its just me, but I find nothing funny or hilarious about any of this.
# posted by Mark Deuze : 9/1/2004 10:36:05 AM
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Change of Scenery
Again it has been a while - this time because I moved from The Netherlands to the United States last week. One of the many things Im doing these days, is writing a regular column about media culture for a relatively new free alternative paper in Bloomington (Indiana) called Cultureweek. As they do not have a website, I will post the columns for archival and feedback purposes here too. I'll start with the July 2004 issue.
The Problem of Journalism
Journalism is a problem. First, it is a problem for people using the products of journalism: newspapers, magazines, broadcast news, news websites. Increasingly we find information in these products that does not seem to have anything to do with our everyday life or with the priorities of interest we have set for ourselves. Second, it is a problem for the industry that both feeds and is dependent on journalism: media. Journalism is not identical with the media, which are the carriers of mass communication. The media need content to be matched to advertisers and audiences. This means media need masses. If anything, the current trend of fragmenting audiences and a corresponding proliferation of markets and products does not bode well for the media. Journalism used to function as social glue for media: its content kept people together, offered them stories that enabled people to talk with eachother in class, at work or in the supermarket. As journalism has become less relevant to people, they have turned away from news and now use other sources of information as raw materials fueling everyday talk: soap operas, gossip magazines, alternative media, popular music. Third, journalism is a problem for people doing journalism, making the news.
Journalists today face many different and interconnected challenges regarding technology, culture, and the political economy of their work. Technological, because media cross-ownership forces journalists from different (competing) media in local markets to work together and jointly produce multimedia journalism. It is safe to say most journalists really do not think this is a good idea. Cultural, because the rich multicultural diversity of contemporary society forces journalists to critically examine their own white, middle-class and masculine biases. The so-called Newsroom Diversity Index of 2004 of the Hoosier Times is zero (meaning there are no non-white reporters), as it is in many local newsmarkets in the United States and in Western Europe. Researchers at Indiana University (in 2002) claim more than two-thirds of US journalists are men, and their median age is 41 years. The political context of journalism is also rapidly changing, with governments (including the US) deregulating media markets all over the world, yet at the same time openly questioning press freedom. Corporate colonization of the newsroom is a continuing economic challenge to journalism, as is the ongoing concentration and globalization of media industries, making journalists smaller and smaller pawns in an expanding global news market.
Journalism as a problem is, fortunately, but one side of the newscoin. Journalism is also one of the most exciting, fun, popular, creative and free activities you can think of. Maybe we do not read the Herald-Times everyday and we do not watch FOX or ABC news all the time, but surveys still show people, young and old, more aware of issues facing the nation than their parents or grandparents were twenty or thirty years ago. Maybe we do not vote for political parties anymore, but we increasingly engage in political discussions (online and offline), and participate in all kinds of voluntary (if only temporary) groups, councils, clubs, and other public activities. People's everyday priorities are increasingly reflected by what scholars call non-traditional media: alternative weeklies (Cultureweek), satirical television shows (The Daily Show), websites (Indymedia), and private media or We Media online like group weblogs (Slashdot, Kuro5hin or 'corrosion'), and offline like community newsletters. This is also journalism - and it is not a problem.
Journalism operates as a highly autonomous, though not completely independent system. It has professional, corporate and mainstream properties as well as voluntarist, independent and alternative elements. Indeed, research shows that corporate reporters and editors share the same news values (objectivity, ethics and a quest for truth) as oppositional local radio volunteers or online independent media activists. It is naïve to assume corporate journalists to be sensationalism-hungry narcissists, or to think alternative reporters are all idealistic free spirits, as most journalists are a bit of both all the time. The crux of the matter is to find ways to criticize journalism that helps journalists to become more aware of the opportunities offered by convergence, diversity and understanding people’s everyday lives, while at the same time acknowledging the complex global, political and economical context within which all of this takes place.
As a Dutch journalist and media scholar, my main concern about US media is their blind fixation on the United States as a country without cultural, political and economical links with the rest of the world other than to far away places where American troops are sent to kill people. American culture is a reflection of global culture as much as it is an influence on cultures all over the world. Even in Bloomington, Indiana we feel this everyday, as people from all over the world study here, products from all over the world are sold here, and the problems we face every day are exactly the same as the problems experienced by people in other small towns in many different countries. What makes the US such an amazing country for people (like me) interested in media, is the fact that American journalism is both the best and the worst in the world. It is never mediocre. The US has an amazing tradition of free, independent and alternative or even oppositional media. Yet it has also the most commercial, hierarchical, superficial and sensational journalism one can think of. The weirdest thing is, that sometimes the same group of journalists produces news that fits both categories: one day they publish or broadcast horrific narrow-minded jingoist crap, the next day they offer moving and insightful in-depth reporting. In my home country, The Netherlands, journalism is okay. In the United States, my new country, journalism is brilliant and awful - but never just okay. And this makes it the most amazing place to be - especially if you are interested in the problem of journalism.
# posted by Mark Deuze : 7/27/2004 09:02:54 AM
Thursday, July 08, 2004
Thanks to Bicyclemark, check out this great collection of scholarly work on weblogs at the University of Minnesota. Among others, it features a nice essay on journalism and blogs by Brian Caroll, where he urges journalists to embrace "the communal ethos of the blogosphere".
It is this hybrid form of the 21st century news narrative, somewhere inbetween journalism's media logic and bloglogic, that I'm particularly interested in. Bicyclemark earlier also suggested this link to research on weblog networks as social ecosystems. My point: the (at least in part) disembodied nature of online communication and publishing may in fact help us to teach traditional journalism how to reconnect with 'real' people. Can you see the circularity?
# posted by Mark Deuze : 7/8/2004 12:59:25 AM
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Before I go on, let me interpellate myself:
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
# posted by Mark Deuze : 6/30/2004 05:17:37 AM
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
It has been a while... After the presentation of the paper (available in chunks below) at the conference in New Orleans - which was very nice - all my time has gone into packing my stuff for moving to the United States.
I have been thinking about bloglogic, though - the concept I introduced earlier as a way to map and understand blogging as a medium-specific set of communicative acts. Bloglogic, let me reiterate, consists of 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.
It is particularly useful to look at blogs, bloggers and blogging in this way, as it provides both specificity to an analysis of this phenomenon, as does it allow us to see how the various aspects of bloglogic have their roots, counterparts or histories in other (genres or types of) media. It is my contention that all media phenomenona have old and new properties in terms of the dynamic distinction between determined and determined properties, following Mark Poster. Poster (in a 1999 essay in New Media & Society) argues: "What is new about the medium of the Internet – which I distinguish from print and broadcast media – is that as a machine, a thing in the world, an object extended in space, in short as simply one more technological device, it is nonetheless underdetermined." Later on in this work, Poster amplifies his concept: "With the term ‘underdetermination’ I contend that certain social objects that I call virtual (hypertexts, for example) are overdetermined in such a way that their level of complexity or indeterminateness goes one step further. Not only are these objects formed by distinct practices, discourses and institutional frames, each of which participates in and exemplifies the contradictions of capitalism and the nation state, but they are open to practice; they do not direct agents into clear paths; they solicit instead social construction and cultural creation."
My point here is, that all media always have dominant (that is: redundant, determined, self-similar, consensually specified) as well as marginal (or: complex, random, undetermined, disruptive, different) properties. Identifying these properties within the framework of bloglogic may help harnassing our understanding of this phenomenon beyond what Poster beautifully critiques as: "technophobic demonization" versus "naive celebration", and "we might avoid overlooking what is genuinely different about it as well as greeting it with unattainable novelty."
Reference: Mark Poster (1999). Undetermination. In: New Media & Society 1 (1), pp.12-17.
# posted by Mark Deuze : 6/16/2004 06:58:16 AM
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Final part of ICA paper, #6
For comments, criticism and a copy of the bibliography, please send me an e-mail.
In the final section of this essay I discuss the ways in which digital culture can be seen as a self-organizing property of Indymedia and journalism. With self-organization or autopoiesis I consider the various ways in which social groups (families, neighbourhoods, circles of friends) and social systems (medicine, law, politics, journalism) continually reproduce themselves by internalizing particular values, beliefs and practices operationally independent from the outside world yet at the same time structurally coupled with other groups and systems within that world. This notion was originally introduced in the 1970s by Chilean biologists Herbert Maturana and Fracisco Varela and has been introduced in the social sciences most prominently by German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. Self-organization is not particular to digital culture, as much as distantiation, participation and bricolage have manifestations before or next digital culture as well. Indeed, I consider all (social) systems to have autopoietic properties. Niklas Luhmann (1990) primarily considers the communicative acts and relationships within a social system as self-organizing, rather than the actors (that is: people) themselves. My argument therefore maintains that a digital culture is created, reproduced, sustained and recognized as such through the ways in which people establish relationships and communicate about these relationships. What is amazing about a digital culture - rather than a print, visual or information culture - is that it fosters community while at the same time can be fueled by isolation. In other words: we can be (or feel) connected to everyone else within the system - for example through chatrooms, Instant Messaging, group weblogs, Trackback systems and RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary) feeds on individual weblogs, Usenet discussion groups, Bulletin Boards Systems, SMS-tv, and so on - while at the same time being isolated as individuals sitting at a desk in front of a computer at home, at the office, in a public library or internet cafe. Yet digital culture is not self-created and self-maintained through connected devices and access alone - it also has self-referential properties in that certain values, beliefs and practices are preferred over others. A good example is the emergence of a Netiquette as an evolving set of ethical guidelines for communicating and publishing online. These values are sometimes formulated in opposition to (and thus distantiated from) those upheld by mainstream corporate media: preferring the personal experiental account rather than professional detached observation, heralding openness for all rather than access based on expertise claimed on the basis of institutional authority, attributing more weight to providing a bottom-up platform for individual voices instead of top-down delivering of messages based on a consensual perception of the common denominator. Again we must realize that such values have not sprung into existence when the first Bulletin Board System went online. What has happened, though, is an acceleration of acceptance of these values through the ongoing proliferation of internet access and usage, and a corresponding process of infusing disparate social systems like oppositional social movements and professional journalism, inspiring the emergence of Indymedia and participatory news. If publics increasingly demand to have a say in the news, even though they do not know what they talk about nor are they generally interested in that news, it must be seen as a communicative act and thus an autopoietic component of digital culture. Digital culture, in other words, can be characterized by participation, distantiation and bricolage as its key elements, whih self-organizing properties are part of online (Indymedia) as well as offline (journalism) news media phenomena.
We live in a digital culture. That culture is still evolving - as all cultures are and always will be - in the directions as outlined in this essay. This will have consequences for the way we work, communicate, give meaning to our lives. We are at once local and global, individual and collective, isolated and connected, engaged and apathetic. I hope to have showed that this seemingly eclectic and paradoxical mix of values and charactertistics are by no means mutually exclusive, but rather must be seen as constituents of each other, and parts of a whole that is digital culture. Some of the most pressing debates of today - about authenticity and originality, self-determination and social cohesion, equity and equality - are already influenced by this emerging cultural system all over the world. Social systems in society are feeling the impact of this emerging cultural consensus as well - especially the traditional institutions of modernity: parliamentary democracy and journalism. With a discussion set against the backdrop of Indymedia and journalism I have aimed to synthesize the core elements of digital culture with the often-voiced concerns about the decline or change of national politics and mainstream news media, in order to show how new types of citizenship, participation, activism, dialogue and interactive communication have emerged. There is a message of hope here somewhere.
This sweeping overview of what in my opinion are the three core elements of contemporary digital culture - participation, distantiation, and bricolage - hopefully shows effectively that the phenomena we observe in daily life online have their emergent properties in the offline of days gone by. I realize I am not suggesting anything new or original here - I am merely offering my own bricolage in order participate in the self-organizing system that is academia, and by referring to authors before me building on their ideas and publications, I hope to become part of a creative commons that inherently consists of multiple authorship and collaborative control over the concepts we discuss.
# posted by Mark Deuze : 5/26/2004 05:15:36 PM
Continuing ICA paper, #5
John Hartley (2002: 22ff), referring to Claude Levi-Strauss, defines bricolage as the creation of objects with materials to hand, re-using existing artefacts and incorporating bits and pieces. According to Hartley, bricolage incorporates practices and notions like borrowing, hybridity, mixture, and plagiarism. Most scholars in media and cultural studies invoke bricolage when describing the mixing, reconstructing and re-using of separate artifacts, actions, ideas, signs, symbols and styles in order to create new insights or meanings. Bricolage has many manifestations: as in the various ways in which (sub-) cultures constitute their 'new' identity by borrowing artefacts - clothes, hairstyles, accessories - and ritualistic activities - dancing, communicating, performing - from a wide variety of groups and time periods. The extreme metal scene for example combines Biblical with oppositional references (the inverted cross) in order to distinguish itself from the mainstream, to that purpose also wearing shirts with gory pictures or offensive words printed on front and back (Purcell, 2003, p.29). This kind of blending to achieve new - if only temporary - styles, indentities or subcultures has also been associated with the supposed end of Grand Narratives as a typical feature of Lyotards' postmodern era.
With bricolage originality or a modernist emphasis on 'first things' as an emblem of quality is thrown out of the window in favor of an attitude that prefers an assemblage of good copies over a single bad original. The international resistance against the efforts of the media publishing, recording and distributing industries to defend the copyrights of their materials is a good example of a phenomenon that is tied in with bricolage as the legitimate way of doing things in today’s emerging digital culture. Again I must emphasize how bricolage has its roots in mid- to late 20th century developments in for instance the arts and sciences. Examples of people openly embracing the identity of a bricoleur can be found from popular music to postmodern philosopy. In music, bricolage is applied by artists in all genres, from a mainstream artist like David Bowie changing faces every four years or so to a marginal band like black metallers Dimmu Borgir from Norway mixing classical music, pop melodies, extreme hard rock music with a highly decorative band image reminiscent of the days of Kiss and Alice Cooper. Another excellent example of a late 20th century celebration of bricolage is the popularity of disk-jockeys who mix, cut, edit and re-assemble bits and pieces of music to shape new soundscapes fueling parties and raves all over the world. In philosophy we find the bricoleur embraced by pragmatism’s leading philosopher Richard Rorty from the United States, while online the ultimate bricoleurs are the individual webloggers of the world with their daily musings, linkdumps and ramblings.
Bricolage plays an important role in the realm of politics and political citizenship, as although people may recognize Left from Right, Progressive from Conservative or for example Democrat from Republican, they also experience problems when having to identify themselves (as voters) exclusively or explicitly with a single side. People assemble political positions on just about everything rather than follow the guidelines of a single party program or political ideology. As Anthony Giddens has argued, today we are immersed in our highly personal life politics - another building block the individualized society - through which the multiple private and public spheres we (assume we) belong to get meaning. Those meanings are not necessary consistent, nor are our convictions implicitly rational and deliberate. The bricoleur-citizen identifies with many issues, images and symbols before (or, heaven forbid, after) voting or enacting some other kind of civic engagement.
On the World Wide Web bricolage is evident in the ways in which we click, publish and link our way online. Chandler (1998) applies bricolage in a textual analysis of personal Home Pages: especially in a virtual medium one may reselect and rearrange elements until a pattern emerges which seems to satisfy the contraints of the task and the current purposes of the user. Indeed, no version of the resulting text need be regarded as final - completion may be endlessly deferred in the medium in which everything is always 'under construction'. In (online) journalism bricolage is acknowledged in the common practice of shovelware: the repurposing or windowing of content. Online, journalists re-use and re-distribute edited and otherwise manipulated versions of content originally produced for offline media. News sites generally offer repurposed or aggregated content that was previously produced and used in other media, such as audio and video clips, still image galleries, logos and icons, bits and pieces of written text. When online journalists acknowledge their sources and offer internal or external hyperlinks to a vast array of materials, documents, related stories, archival content, and other sites, they attribute an active bricoleur-identity to their users as they give people a chance to find their own way through the information at hand (Deuze, 2003). Indymedia websites are also a good example of this practice, as IMC sites tend to offer a bewildering array of links to topics, sources (sometimes including Web radio and video), issues and places all over the world. To the average journalist or politician this chaotic, disorganized and seemingly random display and practice of online information is pure horror. How to make sense of it all? What is credible information? Help! Credible and manageable or not: this is the way people behave online (and increasingly offline as well: constantly zapping, browsing, switching and even multitasking between and within different media types, genres and formats).
Digital culture consists of the practices and beliefs of the bricoleur - whose activities should not be confused with boundless freedom and endless creativity, however: The bricoleur’s strategies are constrained not only by pragmatic considerations such as suitability-to-purpose and readiness-to-hand but by the experience and competence of the individual in selecting and using 'appropriate' materials (Chandler, 1998). Again, bricolage as an emerging praxis can be considered to be a principal component of digital culture, as well as an instigator, engine, and accelerator of it.
[to be continued]
# posted by Mark Deuze : 5/26/2004 04:58:49 PM
Continuing ICA paper, #4 (two installments to go)
Distantiation is a concept that has a determined pre-internet meaning and existence. The way I would like to use it here stems from cinema studies (and takes its cue from Louis Althusser), and can be understood as a manipulation of the dominant way of doing or understanding things in order to juxtapose, challenge or even subvert the mainstream. On a societal level distantiation manifests itself as hyperindividualization or the extreme fragmentation of contemporary society into personal public spheres within which we only talk to and with ourselves. Such individualization is considered to be a particular feature of the gradual (and structurally incomplete) transition from industrial to information societies in elective democracies around the world. This global shift to individualized societies has been described by Zygmunt Bauman as an inevitable development, as he concludes: the way individual people define individually their individual problems and try to tackle them deploying individual skills and resources is the sole remaining 'public issue' and the sole object of 'public interest' (2000: 72). This means that digital culture can be characterized by the distantiation of the individual from society. This trend is also articulated in the disconnection-participation concept as discussed before, specifically with reference to the co-constituent rise of DIY culture, voluntarist civic engagement and self-righteous media citizenship. Such fragmentation of publics is countered by a recogniztion of Marshall McLuhan's global village or Manual Castells' network society as expressions of our sense of place and identity - especially embraced by multinational mass media corporations in their efforts to bring the globe to our doorstep via satellite news feeds and global news networks customized to regional particularities, adding emphasis to the global nature of local problems and vice versa (Merrill & De Beer, 2004).
We at once belong to ourselves and nothing but ourselves (and this is indeed what consumer culture seems to reinforce), as do we belong to the world in general and thus to everyone else. In the political-economical lingo of globalization: no one is outside anymore. At the same time, our immersement in the global village does not mean we all become the same, nor that an universal identity is likely to emerge. As Zizek (1998) critically points out: what is effectively threatened by globalization is not the cosa nostra (our private secret way of life from which others are excluded, which others want to steal from us), but its exact opposite: universality itself in its eminently political dimension. In this sense, globalization and individualization keep everything and everyone firmly in place and thus constitute each other across time and space. The parallel notions of place and time can be distantiated in that these concepts have become more flexible in a digital, mobile, always-online network society. What are meaningful properties of close and recent in a global economy, or indeed in a network society? Can there be a centralized or dominant system governing our understanding of real-time telepresence? It seems time and place have become arenas of continuous contention, and are increasingly open for all to define. In terms of digital culture it makes sense to look at some of the most successful online applications for everyday individual use - of which weblogs and the various ways in which these are redistributed are an excellent example. Mortensen and Walker (2002: 267-8) opt that blogs encourage a feeling of time, in that on weblogs posts are arranged chronologically, determined by the time of thinking. Weblogs are considered to be more similar to the way we think and act in everyday life - which can be typified by the paradox between inconsistency and chronology - than for example the kind of narrative offered through newspapers or broadcast newscasts - functioning on the basis of (patterned) selectivity and linearity. Indeed, if anything, webloggers define what they do as more or less similar to journalism, but consider their personal voice, subjective style and perhaps un-professional petit-narratives to be of added value, and they feel this sets them apart from the news media (Neuberger, 2004). In fact, webloggers tend to do what they do in distantiation from what journalists do, while at the same time adopting some of journalisms' peculiar strategies and techniques (Lasica, 2001). The same rationale can be said to apply for oppositional media in general, and online alternative media in particular (Eliasoph, 1988; Platon & Deuze, 2003).
The discussion on whether blogging can or should be considered a form of journalism and whether journalists should become bloggers is alive and well on the Web and in some the literature (Lasica, 2001; Rosen, 2004; Glaser, 2004). In a discussion piece in the Online Journalism Review (of September 24, 2002) column writer Dan Gillmore is quoted as claiming: Weblogs are certainly part of the process that adds up to journalism. I'm talking about the trend of do-it-yourself journalism. We think of journalism in terms of this late 20th Century model of mass media, where gatekeepers gather news from sources and send it out to readers [...] There's this blurring of lines and I don't know where it's going to come out, but I do know that something major is going on that is bringing journalism from the top down and the bottom up. Here, Gillmore connects the emergence of a DIY culture with relatively new kinds of journalism as well as with the signaled trend towards ever-increasing individualization. In the same piece, journalist Paul Andrews implicitly addresses the relationship between participatory media, journalism, and distantiation: A new style of journalism, based on a 'raw feed' directly from the source, is emerging. Journalists testing the new waters are bound to wreak havoc on institutionalized media. If blogging - and Indymedia can be considered to be an example of a oppositional news-oriented group weblog - in some ways is a subversion of the mainstream institutionalized media approach to news, its practice also builds on a long tradition of alternative media, as well as so-called citizen's media based on communication, dialogue and conversation within certain communities. In pre-Web times the popularity of such media - or in terms of distantiation the increasing impopularity of mainstream corporate media - has been embraced by parts of the news industry, adopting the techniques and strategies of so-called public or civic journalism - a movement emerging during the late 1980s (Rosen, 1999). As defined by pundits, public journalism has two prime goals: one is making news organizations listen more closely to their audiences, and two: making news organisations play more active roles in their communities (Merrit, 1995). At the core of this argument seems to be a normative assumption that in order for journalism to survive into the 21st century, participation should be embraced over detachment. Although this does tie in with the cultural importance of participation as discussed earlier in this essay, it must be noted that the popularity of participatory forms of journalism can at least in part be explained by the fact that these run counter to what institutionalized media traditionally offer. As former CNN-reporter Rebecca McKinnon writes: the blog has emerged as an effective vehicle for alternative citizen-journalism, from time to time effectively 'hacking' the mainstream media's spin-cycle and bringing important news to public attention (2004). Heikki Heikkila and Risto Kunelius (2002) suggest the popularity of such dialogical types of journalism can be explained by the failure of mainstream serious journalism to address the experiences of people in a meaningful way. What is important for my argument here is the interconnectedness of distantiation, Indymedia, journalism and digital culture.
Distantiation can be countered by a return to (or, as some say: a retreat into) tradition, where tradition can be seen as the perceived safety or sense of security in sameness, similarity, routines, and deeply entrenched patterns of organization. This notion becomes visible through the increasing problematization of the inevitable by-products of globalization: worldwide migration, resistant social movements (aka: freedom fighters or terrorists), popular consumer culture, and the displacement of labor. But this is just one way of interpreting distantiation dialectically. The examples I have used to discuss distantiation in the context of digital culture vis-a-vis media, journalism, and weblogging also show that distantiation does not necessarily mean different from, or in radical opposition to, the mainstream or dominant ways of doing things. Public journalism is still very much an institutional journalism; group weblogs are most definitely based on consensual ethical behavior (Netiquette) and journalistic quality principles (such as authority, legitimacy, and credibility); Indymedia websites are maintained and sometimes edited, filtered or content-wise managed by so-called editorial collectives where processes of decision-making evolve quite similar to those in the average corporate newsroom (Schudson, 1999; Matheson, 2003; Platon & Deuze, 2003). Distantiation in digital culture perhaps means being deeply immersed in the sytem while at the same time attributing legitimacy and credibililty to a self-definition of working against or outside of the system. Seen as such, I am interested in the ways in which participation and distantiation as somehow mutually exclusive or even self-contradictory aspects of digital culture are sustained and developed over time by people in everyday life, and particularly by people involved in and affected by news media. If participation and distantiation are key concepts in digital culture, how do people recognize each other as such, attribute quality and legitimacy to their actions, and what is different about media production and consumption in a digital culture, rather than a print, visual or information culture? For now, my answer refers to a third principal component of digital culture: bricolage.
[to be continued...]
# posted by Mark Deuze : 5/26/2004 10:07:02 AM
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Continuing ICA paper, #3
In a time when political scientists become internationally famous by claiming that the social capital of society is in decline because American people do not participate in league bowling as much as they used to (Putnam, 1999), it may be counter-intuitive to claim that a more engaged and participatory culture is emerging. Yet that is exactly what is going on if one looks at the field of media. Ever since the mid-20th century so-called alternative media have flourished and in some cases even gained mass acceptance and popularity (Atton, 2001). I am talking about pirate radio stations, small-scale print magazines (often originating in less-than-affluent social contexts such as squatters and the homeless), local newspapers and radio stations, since the 1980s community-based Bulletin Board Systems and Usenet newsgroups on internet, and later on a wide range of genres on the Web such as community portal sites, group weblogs, voluntary news services, and so on. The level of participation within the media system has increased throughout the years; perhaps people stopped bowling in order to have more time to go online, build low-tech short-wave transmission stations, or to establish citizen's media? Rodriguez (2004) explicitly connects participation as a defining principle of digital culture with the emergence of Indymedia (or IMC: Independent Media Centers): From the beginning, the IMC was not thought as a communication centre where information products were designed for the un-informed majorities, but more as a hub of exchange, dialogue, and articulation to be used by all. Yet this is not just an aspect of alternative or citizen's media – participation as a principal component of contemporary culture has also been established and acknowledged in the mainstream media, with (also from the late 20th century) functions like newspaper ombudsmen and reader representatives becoming an accepted part of newsroom organization, at the same time when journalists, scholars and media critics alike increasingly call for journalism to become more responsible, responsive and transparent (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001). In digital culture, participation and journalism meet in different ways, leading some industry observers to claim that journalism must prepare itself for an upcoming era of participatory news, as Dale Peskin (2002) predicts it: [n]ews evolves into collaborative, a participatory activity. Everyone is a journalist, or can be. Peer-to-peer news will eclipse business-to-consumer news.
A remarkable characteristic of this kind of participation is that its often communal. People working on such efforts generally do it for different reasons, but essentially do it together in groups or even (virtual and/or physical) communities. Translated in terms of journalism this would mean they enjoy a system of multiple authorship and ownership over their media - which Beam (1990) considers to be a defining element of professionalism for journalism. Coupled with the widespread proliferation of computers and internet connections to the home (and to handheld mobile devices), a recognition of this culture of participatory authorship has come from software developers where they have introduced the concept of open design. The most advanced form of this type of design is advocated by the Open Source Movement, based on the principle of shared and collaborative access to and control over software, and using (or rather: tweaking) it to improve the product for the benefit of other users. This perceived necessity of user-participation in product-development and productivity has also been acknowledged in the realms of marketing, management, and even news media (Bar, 2001; Bowman & Willis, 2003; Gillmor, 2004).
Participation has a distinctly political dimension, as it ties in with a shift in the identity of citizens in contemporary elective democracies from a rather passive informed or informational citizenry to a rights-based, cultural and voluntary citizenry. This shift, taking place from the mid-20th century to the early 21st century as for example Hartley (1999), Schudson (1999), and Norris (2001) document, basically entails a notion of citizens who have become increasingly willing and able to voice their concerns and claim their place in society but do so (and often only) whenever they feel their personal (including familial, communal, and sometimes regional or national) interests are at stake. As fas as media go, this means people can be apathic, passive couch potatoes for ninety percent of their time, but become directly engaged participants in some local or global Habermasian public sphere when issues are involved which they have prioritised for themselves (hence my earlier suggestion of a necessary interdependency of participation and disconnection).
Participation as a core element of digital culture also has its roots in an emerging DIY (Do-It-Yourself) culture, particularly flourishing during the 1990s, with people increasingly claiming the right to be heard rather than be spoken to - such as in the case of the traditional mass media broadcasting model - there is even a DIY channel on the US cable television network. Hartley (2002: 75-77) describes how this kind of self-righteous media citizenship also incorporates notions of mutuality, solidarity and interactivity. Interactivity is generally considered to be one of the unique characteristics of networked digital technologies such as internet (Dahlgren, 1996; King, 1998). On the other hand, varying levels of interactivity exist in all media, with online media perhaps featuring the most advanced, multiple way options for interaction. Participation as a meaning-making value has specific internet exponents, for example present in the praxis of individual and collaborative weblogging. Tim Dunlop summarizes how weblogs have political and cultural dimensions, possibly interpellating our understanding of democracy, journalism, and other (exclusive, top-down, elitist) expert systems in society: To some people, weblogs (blogs, as the word is almost universally abbreviated to) are a geek hula-hoop, a fad that will pass once the novelty wears off; a bit of fun, but not something to get too excited about. To others they represent a rebirth of participatory democracy, a new form of journalism, and even the home of the new public intellectuals (2003).
It is tempting to claim people in (Western) democracies have become nothing but complacent consumers hell-bent on shopping and watching reality television, celebrity news or soap operas, if a narrow definition of social capital and civic engagement is used. Yet I would like to argue that today's citizen is more engaged than ever before, even if it is not within the confines of membership-based political parties, civic organizations and amateur bowling-league teams. Participation, not in the least enabled and amplified by the real-time interconnectedness of internet and however voluntaristic, non-linear, and perhaps solely fueled by particular interests is a core aspect of digital culture, and thus of an emerging (global) consciousness. I am not claiming this is good or better than other ways of circulating and producing meaning, but I do feel a sense of participation is what people have come to expect from those aspects of society they wish to engage (cf. perform) in.
[to be continued...]
# posted by Mark Deuze : 5/25/2004 08:53:39 PM
Continuing ICA paper, #2
It is important to note that a sketch of characteristics common to a culture does not presuppose that all individuals located within that culture behave or act in similar ways. What I do want to suggest however, is that the actions and behaviours of peoples within digital culture can be summarized into a set of common elements, which we can use to study and understand the role of media and journalism in particular. In other words: a digital culture does not imply that everyone is or sooner or later will be online, but it assumes that the increasing computerization and digitalisation of society has consequences on a shared social level, both online as well as offline. I consider these consequences as these manifest \themselves in our current ways of thinking about journalism and internet.
In this context Lev Manovich (2001: 13) introduced the concept of an information culture as constituted through the visual language of the 20th century, incorporating several new ways in which information is presented and consumed, for example via displays in empty spaces like hotel lounges, airports, and shopping malls, the design of information carriers (varying from books to PDAs), and last but not least: computers. According to Manovich all these representations converge as shops are outfitted with computer screens and digital video displays, computers are outfitted for television and movie viewing, and paper, broadcast technologies and computer networks all merge into mobile wireless applications. This has consequences for the way we see and perceive the world around us. After traveling around the world, media historian Mitchell Stephens (1998) signaled the omnipresence of edited, manipulated and tweaked images as meaning-makers in the daily lives of people across the globe. The many scrambled, edited and converged ways in which we produce and consume information worldwide are gradually changing the way people interact and give meaning to their lives, according to such authors. But the emergence of such a manipulated and edited worldview in itself is not so much part of the digital culture I aim to describe here – it is an accelerator or amplifier of digital culture. As Jean Baudrillard foresaw in a famous essay of 1981, a hyperreal world is emerging in an age of simulation, typified by the realization that images seem to bear no relation to reality whatsoever, leading to a corresponding proliferation of second-hand truth (2001 [1981: 173-4). Scholars like Manovich, Stephens, Castells, and Baudrillard all seem to point at the same phenomenon: something is going on in the daily lives of media users worldwide that makes them (us) accept the fact that reality is constructed, assembled and subverted by media, and that the only way to make sense of that mediated world is to adjust our worldview accordingly, which in turn shapes and renews the properties of media. Media are not changing our worldview, but the ways we engage with, make use of, and produce our own media are changing our values and practices and thus are changing our culture. Or, as Douglas Rushkoff reminds us: reality is open source. As screen-based, networked and digital media proliferate and saturate our lives, we reconstitute ourselves as active agents in the process of meaning-making (we are participants); we adopt but at the same time modify and manipulate the consensual way of understanding reality (we engage in distantiation); and we assemble our own particular versions of such reality (we become bricoleurs). It is this process that is central to my synthesis, and which in my mind defines our contemporary yet still emerging digital culture.
Digital culture is by no means only connected to or spawned by the convergence and omnipresence of devices, it is also reproduced by us as our perceptions of reality (or for lack of a better concept: authenticity) are evolving. I see this digital culture as emerging from practices and communicative acts both online and offline, shaping and being shaped by artifacts, arrangements and activities in new and old media (which distinction becomes superfluous as all media are converging). Seen as such, digital culture is an emergent convergence of previous media cultures: print culture (cf. newspapers, books and magazines), visual culture (cf. broadcast media), and information culture (cf. an analog and digital combination of display and research media). This presupposes digital culture carries some or all of the properties of other media cultures, so let me emphasize that I do not claim to have found characteristics unique or particular to digital culture. I would like to suggest that a digital culture has emerged from the mid-20th century onwards, which development accelerated through the widespread global proliferation of internet. The core characteristics of this digital culture can be caught in three concepts, wh