Why the media doesn’t get Brazil

June 24, 2013

In the largest anti-government demonstrations – dubbed the Tropical Spring – violent clashes broke out as people demanded improved public services and an end to corruption in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup. (Losh, 2013)

Is the world going to Hell in a handbasket? The answer probably depends which side of the class divide you stand on. For the world’s wealthy elites the protests in Brazil are another disturbing sign that the ungrateful wretches who survive on meagre table crumbs are restless, once again.

The issue is not so much whether the handbasket is being winched up or down; but rather: Why? If you were to rely only on the mainstream media for an answer you may just end up more confused than when you started.

There’s a mood for change sweeping many parts of the world today, but our understanding of its significance is not increased by most of the media coverage.

Since the Arab Spring of 2010 a wave of revolutionary struggle has erupted across parts of southern Europe and most recently it has spread to Turkey and to Brazil. However, our media tends to treat each of these uprisings as isolated events and attempts to explain them in terms of local and national issues. The global instability of neo-liberal late capitalism is hardly mentioned. Most journalists won’t even acknowledge it. Perhaps it’s too complicated; for some it is certainly too scary to think about.

Further, the news media’s debilitating fixation on the concept of balance means that these globe-shifting outbreaks of protest are reported with an even-handed ignorance. Simplistic explanations like social media equals more democracy are trotted out to give a sheen of analysis to what is actually intellectually threadbare coverage.

Protestors are routinely labelled as inchoerent, rudderless and violent; on the other hand, governments are portrayed as neutral arbiters of calm and order. This is a politically naïve representation that highlights the profound lack of real understanding on the part of journalists on the ground and of their media organisations. Simple vox pops are left to suffice for clear political commentary from the movement’s leaders and a seething mass of individuals ‘rioting’ provides the most telegenic images. It’s easier than trying to translate and understand the political tracts and speeches that inevitably accompany protest marches.

The problem is that most journalists are used to reporting politics as a game of ‘he said, she said’ in which claims and counter-claims are presented to the audience within a framework of parliamentary democracy. But you cannot report revolution within that framework. Revolutions do not follow that MSM script and most reporters, unfortunately, cannot see past their own faces to what is really going on.

Fundamental questions about the role of States and state-sponsored violence are sidelined, ignored or mis-interpreted.The history of social movements and the long-lived experience of people which finally draws them to the streets is underplayed or ignored altogether in favour of the sexy shots and simple sound bite.

It is not good enough.

The rest of this post concentrates on Brazil, but similar arguments can be made about Turkey and also the Arab Spring.

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One tweet does not a revolution make: Technological determinism, media and social change

May 11, 2013

This is my recently published piece on technological determinism and revolution – case study of the Arab Spring.

Reprinted from Global Media Journal

Abstract

This paper discusses the problematic influence of technological determinism in popular news media coverage and analysis of the Arab Spring events of 2010-11.

The purpose is to develop insights into how and why elements of a ‘soft’ technological determinism inflect both journalistic practice and news discourse in relation to the Arab Spring. In particular it discusses how the ‘bias of convenience’ and a journalistic obsession with the ‘continuous present’ connect with this determinist inflection to create a potential distortion in the journalists’ ‘first rough draft’ of history in relation to significant and complex events such as social revolution.

Debates about the significance of social media and communications technologies more broadly in generating mass outbursts of protest and even violence have raged in the popular news media for the past decade at least. A wave of interest in ‘theories’ about how and why new services like Facebook and Twitter may create or enable mass protest was generated by the revolutionary events in Iran following the June 2009 elections (Hirst, 2011). Many of the arguments then and now, in coverage of the Arab Spring, are suggestive of a form of technological determinism that is coupled with other underlying and little-investigated assumptions inherent in most forms of news practice and discourse.

The question of the influence of technological determinism within journalism studies is a far from settled debate and this paper follows Mosco’s argument and suggests that the idea of a social media revolution is a myth of the ‘digital sublime’ (Mosco, 2004). At best social media is a new battleground in the struggle for information control. At worst it can blind activists and commentators to reality (Morozov, 2011).

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Twitterville – as the name suggests

November 15, 2011

There’s something very cool and satisfying about Twitter. I actually think that as a tool for journalists it has the potential to be very valuable and I know that my colleagues (shoutout to @julieposetti) are doing some interesting work to integrate it into both newsrooms and the journalism curriculum.

But, I also know that the sound and fury of an unmoderated twitterfeed can be overwhelming and that the signal-to-noise ratio is very low.

I have written about this at some length in News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Interet? I use the example of the 2009 Iran uprising because the book was published before the Arab Spring.

I know that social media is a valuable tool for political organising, but it can be over-hyped. Revolutions are made on the street with real sweat and real blood; not in the cool vacuum of cyberspace.

I also know that, on the other side, dear old Laura Norder would like nothing better than to corral young people into a panopticon of digital surveillance and stop them from organising riots using their Blackberry and other mobile devices.

So, we have a long way to go before these issues are finally resolved. I call this the techno-legal time-gap: the dissonance between applications and regulation.

And no, I’m not calling for more regulation or laws to stop us using social media.

However, as the name suggests: there are some twits in the twitterverse.

I came across one today. And he/she confirms, for me anyway, my argument that sometimes people think that freedom of speech and expression is just the freedom to be insulting, rude or offensive.

May I introduce one of Twitterville’s many village idiots: @PropheticKleenx

Now this could be a really clever kid with a wicked sense of irony and humour: “Location: Roman controlled Australia”

But I don’t think so.

Anyway @PropheticKleenx sent me a series of unsolicited tweets today using my @ethicalmartini handle. Obviously, I’ve done something to upset this person.

You’d never guess what that might be!

I must admit I didn’t know that ‘history’ had proved Joe McCarthy was right about anything except that pink lipstick with a canary slip is so not right.

I am gob-smacked to hear that Crikey is a Jesuit publication; I thought it was home to fun-loving Trotsky-in-the-closet raggamuffins.

Nor was I across the news that ‘catholicism created communism’; I thought the term “Godless Communist” meant something entirely different.

But I get the drift: @PropheticKleenx doesn’t like me.

I get that. I’m no saint, but I’m not the ‘nadia comanice of casuistry’ either; and I’m not always proud of what I’ve done.

I did actually ‘tweet while tipsy’ a couple of weeks ago.

I am sorry @Joe_Hildebrand, but I did enjoy the ensuing verbal tennis.

But what can you do when someone wants to exercise their freedom of speech by bombarding you with almost unintelligible tweets?

Thankfully they’re only 140 characters.

And, as  I’m sure Kerry Packer used to say when people criticised the crap showing on his television station.

“If you don’t fucking like it, just turn the fucking thing off.”

He did that once to his own network in the middle of a program he didn’t like.

You can do the same with Twitterville; there’s a very useful ‘off’ switch that can stop serial pests from pestering you.

To take advantage of this very social social media function, simply go to the person’s Twitter profile and click on the’block’ button. You find it under the dropdown menu that looks like a head with an arrow down.

I just used it on @PropheticKleenx and it seems that I am not the only one s/he’s been harrassing.

Coincidentally, my mate @julieposetti had to do the same thing last week.

This really is a coincidence. I did not know about this when I started this post. I saw the block tweet from Julie only after I had completed the last step (blocking @PropheticKleenx myself)

I also recommend the same tactic for the witches of Facebook.


Am I paranoid?

March 22, 2010

The last time I visited those great United States, in September 2008, I flew all the way from LA to NYC with a couple of stops on the way and didn’t really have too much trouble. The time before that in 2007 the locks on my bags were broken open by the Transport Safety Authority and Moac & I had to de-shoe in St Louis one time.

But on my way out of the US in the first week of October 2008 – British Airways to London – I was told that my name had appeared on a US Government “watch list”.

Nothing came of it really. I was allowed to travel and the woman who told me really played it down.

But today I got a notification that the United States Embassy in Wellington is following my blog via Twitter.

USA out of my Tweets

I  sent a polite message asking why the embassy wants to follow me and also seeking to know who the embassy staffer is who’s charged with keeping tabs on my blog.

I will block them tomorrow  if they don’t reply.

Am I paranoid?

I really am egotistical enough to think my words are pearls**, but unless there’s some closet radical working in the Embassy mailroom, I don’t think my brand of commentary would be to the Ambassador’s tastes.

This unwelcome attention comes on the first business day after I published my post supporting the Waihopai three.

We should all be self-aware enough to know that our electronic lives are not secure or private, but I do find this a little weird and sinister.

**Dribblejaws alert: That’s a joke, calm down


Updating #media140 day two under way

November 6, 2009

An update from the Media140 conference in Sydney where I’ve been for the past two days.

Interesting ideas and discussion and for me very pleasing to see that some journalists and media organisations  actually get “it”, without going overboard to claim that journalism is dead – but doesn’t know it’s a corpse – in the way that many social media evangelists twitter on about.

This is just a holding post with some highlights and a link to Jay Rosen’s speaking notes.

Jay Rosen is a professor at NYU and one of the world’s leading social media evangelists (IMHO). He’s just about to start on a feed via Skype, so I’ll be back with a review when he’s finished.

Rebooting the News System in the Age of Social Media

Here are the ten key ideas I plan to share with the Media140/Sydney conference underway right now in Sydney, Australia. I will be speaking to the conference via Skype in a few hours.  The theme of the event is “the future of journalism in the social media age.”  These ten Twitter-able ideas are my contribution to that puzzle.

1. Audience atomization has been overcome. (Link)

2. Open systems don’t work like closed systems. (Link)

3. The sources go direct.  (Dave Winer)

4. When the people formerly known as the audience use the press tools they have to inform one another— that’s citizen journalism. (Link)

5. “There’s no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure.” (Clay Shirky)

6. “Do what you do best and link to the rest.” (Jeff Jarvis)

7. “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; I just don’t know which half.” (John Wanamaker)

8. “Here’s where we’re coming from’ is more likely to be trusted than the View from Nowhere. (Link)

9. The hybrid forms will be the strongest forms. (Link)

10. “My readers know more than I do.” (Dan Gillmor)

Bonus notion: You gotta grok it before you can rock it. (Link)

 

Media140  Blog – background on conference & upcoming events

Mark Colvin’s speech about Twitter and Iran

ABC News report

Barry Saunders’ blog on Malcolm Turnbull’s presentation


Some interesting thoughts on social media for legacy giants

November 5, 2009

I’m at #media140 in Sydney, the keynote this morning was ABC managing director Mark Scott. He outlined some interesting innovations for legacy media wanting to get on the Twitterverse bandwagon.

 

He started with the 4Ts: Telegraph, Telephone, Typewriter, Twitter. An interesting geneaology of communications technologies.

Scott noted that the 4Ts have always been about short, sharp reports of breaking news; particularly the generation of good headlines. He talked about how the ABC is moving quickly to embrace social media with the appointment of a coordinator of social media to formalise the ABC’s presence across all social networking sites.

The ABC is also today releasing its guidelines for staff using social media. The four guiding principles are really about brand protection and like the NYT are designed not to give guidance for journalists using social media as  tool, but more about social media as a distribution network:

  1. Don’t mix professional and personal social media views in a way that will bring the ABC into disrepute
  2. Don’t undermine your effectiveness as work
  3. Don’t imply ABC endorsement for personal views
  4. Do not disclose confidential information

Nothing here about journalistic ethics.

Scott made a good point about sharing information and allowing audiences to distribute ABC content. Setting up a number of widgets for people to embed on Facebook and blogs etc is obviously good business sense.

The ABC’s also launching ABC Open as a “digital town square” and part of this is training UGC providers in 50 locations to generate content.

This is the pro-am model and as Scott mentioned there has to be journalistic leadership, but also recognising that the audience is often closer to the story – at least in the initial stages.

The catchphrases are collaboration; conversation, communication and partnerships.

More later when I’ve had time to digest this and get my hands on some more notes.

Julie Posetti also argued that this is a revolution, not a war, but no doubt there will be casualties.


Twitter for the “peeps”: Celebs keepin’ it real?

October 18, 2009

Well, that’s nice, Miley Cyrus / Hannah Montana is leaving the Twitersphere; now maybe we’ll get some peace.

I think we should all tweet our favourite celebs (or their peeps) and suggest they follow Miley’s unselfish example.

I never could understand why there’s such crush on following the rich and fatuous on Twitter, not even Stephen Fry, though sometimes his jokes are pretty good.

Apparently, Miley and some of her celeb peers have been dissing and bitchin’ each other via tweets, so she’s pulled out along with Courtney Love and her daughter.

Nowhere is safe, it seems, from celebrinfection; I’m all in favour of disinfecelebritizing social media.

“Hey you, get out of MySpace!”

More at Stuff.co.nz


Media empires, the fall of Rome and the digital sublime

October 14, 2009

But now, anyone can instantly publish on the web. And as long as they have content people want to see and read they will reach millions. The extent of the revolution could not have been seen – the extent of the transformation.

Mark Scott, The Fall of Rome: Media after Empire, 14 October 2009

A nice thought isn’t it? Anyone can now reach an audience of millions if they have content that people want. It’s pleasant to imagine this world; a place free of the media barons, where simple souls like us can wield the once unassailable power of the moguls.

Too bad it’s just a digital myth at this point.

It is an aspect of what Vincent Mosco calls the “digital sublime”. a mythology that he says is sustained by the “collective belief that cyberspace was opening a new world by transcending what we once knew about time, space and economics” (2004: 3).

It is this mythology that leads many commentators to suggest that citizen journalism, or what I prefer to call “user-generated news-like content” is going to transcend and eventually replace the news industry of the 20th century.

But you know what, the media empire is an adaptive beast and while Rome wasn’t built in a day, it didn’t collapse overnight either.

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The revolution will not be Twitter-ized

June 18, 2009

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

Revolutionary black musician Gil Scott Heron released “The revolution will not be televised” in 1971. It was the first track on side 1 of Pieces of Man.

I put it out there because I think it’s important to reign in a little the “Twitter Triumphalism” around events in Iran over the past few days.

I want to paraphrase GSH: The revolution will not be twitter-ized”

I was on TVNZ this morning discussing the Iran-media/Twitter Revolution stuff.
Posted with VodPod

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No free speech in New Zealand?

May 22, 2008

An interesting media release on the Scoop site today.

At the opening of the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ) annual conference, former newspaper owner Matthew Horton made some interesting comments about freedom of speech in Aotearoa. There are elements of anti-political correctness and pro-National bias present in the quoted comments and a demonstrable lack of understanding of the power of social media. Read the rest of this entry »


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