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Media140 Sydney « Previous | |Next »
November 5, 2009

There is a Media 140 event happening in Sydney over the next two days, with a live stream, live blogging, and real time twitter. Though the concern is with the impact of social media on journalism the focus is on twitter. The conference format is a mixture of keynote speeches and panels with speeches plus questions at the end. It was all text based journalism with no mention of photographers.

There is still a fear of, and disdain for, the social media being expressed by various media conservatives (eg., the ABC's Chris Uhlman and Robyn Williams from the ABC Radio National’s Science Show) but the bashers of Bloggers/Facebookers/Twitterers were in a minority. There were constant references back to objectivity and the essence of journalism (the truth?), journalism as a profession, and journalism in the grand investigative style. However, the emphasis was more on the new social media. Malcolm Turnbull was the only politician to speak and he spoke about getting the message out across all platforms. That challenges McLuhan.

Mark Scott,, managing director of the ABC, kicked things off this morning by saying that the ABC is reinventing itself from a rigid institution based around a static collection of platforms to becoming a generator, commissioner, distributor and enabler. So it is interpreting the social media as "consumer" empowerment, social interaction, dialogic ethics and ongoing conversations.

Scott, who comes across as an industry leader, spelt this out in two ways. Firstly, the development of the digital townhall concept (now the ABC Open Project) that was connected to 50 digital media producers stationed in ABC centres with a brief to work with local communities to help them create their own media. This depends upon the development of high speed broadband through the National Broadband Network.

Secondly, there will be the launch of “ABC Widgets” that will allow anyone to run ABC news feeds on websites and social networking pages. This will position the innovative ABC in the centre of the digital mediascape, and probably as the key player. This was the only substantive mention of "the audience" for most of the day. What was never addressed was deciding what does and does not legitimately belong within the national debate was a political act.

The context of this reinvention of the ABC is that the economics of the internet is impacting heavily on the industrial age media factories--it is pushing the financially threatened Fairfax media o the edge, and is forcing News Ltd to go behind the pay wall with its product linked to a Kindle or Apple Tablet type platform. Both these media factories miss the consumer empowerment of the internet, in that this new technology enables people to have "human to human" conversations, which have the potential to transform traditional business practices radically.

Jason Wilson, one of the morning panelists, deflates the signifance of Twitter "revolution":

There are some fallacies of futurology that recur when new media arrive. New media are always seen as superseding their predecessors, but very few media technologies disappear from use in any simple way. They persist alongside emerging ones, because they still have applications. New media are always seen as more transparent, but when we settle down we usually realise that no medium is a pure avenue of information; each one is used to select and frame events in specific ways. New media are often seen as democratising, but what do we mean by that exactly, beyond a normative endorsement? In fact, new media tend to gather unique publics, and there's enough research about social networks now to suggest that they have specific audiences, and are capable of exclusion as well as inclusion.

The key here is not the technology per se, but the way the social practice of journalism is being changed by the new social participatory media, and how it gives rise to different forms of writing (images and text) across a variety of media platforms. These forms of writing are expressing our content and our stories. These are narratives from below, and they are the democratising bit.

Media conservatives, of course, reject this. Thus Ben Macintyre in The Times says:

Click, tweet, e-mail, twitter, skim, browse, scan, blog, text: the jargon of the digital age describes how we now read, reflecting the way that the very act of reading, and the nature of literacy itself, is changing.... The internet, while it communicates so much information so very effectively, does not really “do” narrative. The blog is a soap box, not a story. Facebook is a place for tell-tales perhaps, but not for telling tales. The long-form narrative still does sit easily on the screen, although the e-reader is slowly edging into the mainstream. Very few stories of more than 1,000 words achieve viral status on the internet.....Narrative is not dead, merely obscured by a blizzard of byte-sized information.

Surely there will be new opportunities for storytellers to work with each other and share their tales with broader audiences online. Isn't that what the "passive audience" becoming user generators means in the context of the social media?

Telling our stories means challenging the way the media maintains boundaries around the sphere of legitimate debate; undermining the way that what Jay Rosen calls the “ground” of consensus is established by the professional political class in Canberra, and then offering that tightly bounded consensus to the country as if it were the country’s own.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:44 PM | | Comments (10)


the ABC is an expansionist mode according to the Age:

ABC chief Mark Scott will tonight launch his plans for global domination, arguing for a massive expansion in the broadcaster's overseas services in an effort to rival the BBC, CNN and the emerging Chinese media offensive.

That expansion depends on funds from Canberra.

The ABC is positioning itself well for the new digital mediascape. Under Scott the emphasis is on audience participation. They look like becoming the central player and they are not restricting their staff members’ rights to use social media.They are encouraging it.

News Ltd and Fairfax are on the defensive, struggling to make the social media work within the old top down control model of the media. They will probably go to with an "iTunes model" with an iPod type platform---an Apple tablet.

So it comes back to the content being sold in that model as Murdoch will have less and less control of news reporting in the future - witness the phone-camera-wielding news reporters in Tehran. Secondly, the brand name itself, while certainly relevant still, does not carry the weight it did fifteen years ago. Thirdly, there’s a perception that people who run print sides can easily run the Web side despite it being a very different medium with a very different relationship with readers.

you could say that the ABC is building a Web-friendly culture.They are building to innovate and to build a newsroom that views the Web as not this annoying add-on, but as a central part of its future.

The medium is already sold there. they are tapping into social media, tapping into relationship-building with bloggers who drive the most traffic in specific niches, while maintaining relationships with the broader aggregators, and building in technology strategies to help surface content that’s interesting to Australian readers.

Margaret Simmons has a good post on the Media140 Sydney conference on her Content makers blog. It explores the differences between platform and process, objectivity and integrity, that are often confused by mainstream journalists in their response to social media.

"Narrative is not dead, merely obscured by a blizzard of byte-sized information."

You don't have to spend a lot of time around social media to know that's a misunderstanding. Narratives go on and on and on. They're just built by many contributors over a long period in diverse places. Centralised control of narrative is wobbling, but narrative is healthier than it's ever been.

Laurel Papworth has a great take on the narrative

I'd thought before that journalism is someone else telling our stories, but she also makes the point that from here on in, history can't be lost or misinterpreted or twisted to suit a purpose. so much for the end of narrative.

I'm not sure that we'd want the ABC to be the only place we get our news and commentary from. On the other hand, we need the ABC for our news because of the shift behind paywalls by News Ltd and Fairfax.

Tricky issue. It was raised by Caroline Overington in the political journalists who blog panel, who spoke from a NEWS Ltd perspective. That perspective is antagonistic to the ABC because it is a public broadcaster.

However, it was Chris Uhlman, the ABC's Canberra Press Gallery journo who does the 7.30 Report, who had the least informed rant of the day. He had no critical perspective on the Canberra Press Gallery.

I agree. For instance you can have a narrative embedded in an ongoing conversation that is distinct from the narrative of the Canberra Press Gallery. It is a counter narrative--eg., on the significance of social media. Laurel Papworth's talk was a highlight. I was much taken by her speaking from the perspective of a blogger and this insight:

It’s not YOUR content. It’s our content. Our stories. We didn’t give you the Human Story we loaned it to you, and now we’re taking it back. Feel free to retire your press card and pick up a keyboard – the sooner you become part of the Community and not outside of it, the more likely you will be to survive. Indeed, thrive.

It was so refreshing after listening to so many of the journos talk about themselves whilst assuming that they were the centre of the universe.

If its our content our stories then what do journalists do that we would pay for?

A defence of journalism. This involves journalists skills such as

investigation, fact-checking, objective standards of accuracy, background, context. Not to mention a trained editorial hand to bring you the best writing and pictures.. Not to mention a trained editorial hand to bring you the best writing and pictures.

I think we need more journalists.I think more bloggers (and god forbid twitterers) should be embracing the skills of journalism. I vote for excellence. And truth. I don’t want the ‘global mind hive’.It sounds ugly and dystopian to me.

the bottoms up conversation that is happening on social media is a mind hive.This just continues the New vs Old media journalism debate.Twitter is not killing journalism.

The narrative thing is an interesting thing to ponder.

Personalised narratives happening on Facebook status updates. There's a Facebook group called something along the lines of When I'm Dead I give My Friends Permission to Update my Status With, Is Dead. Some of us will record our entire lives online.

The broader narratives like the one running through the traditional vs social news media thing. The poll wars was a landmark event in what is a relationship with a complicated history.

People posting family videos on Youtube, to bands like the Arctic Monkeys with their entire trajectory online.

The narrative of social media itself and how it became folded into our everyday lives.

On the idea that news tells our stories, so true. If we didn't have accidents, win lotto, get on the wrong side of the law, watch our houses burn down or get horrible illnesses, what would media report? Journalists would be left with the weather and not much else.