Not a New Media but

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What are we to make of the collapsing media structures and models?

I am arguing for some new systems and maybe it’s time to set out how this might work a little more clearly.

I am looking for expecting and sometimes seeing new forms of publishing that are  Not a New Media but Better Forms of Community and Sharing Through Text, Image and Film.

This Not a New Media has several defining features which it should cling on to for dear life. It is and should be collagic, amateur, vernacular and occasional.

Before I go into all that it’s worth hopping briefly across to Stephen Sedley, who, writing in LRB on After Leveson writes:

The first thing that should be said about the current controversy is that nothing resembling press licensing – the prior authorisation of publications – is being proposed by anyone. Even in its strong form, regulation is concerned with redressing and in extreme cases penalising journalistic misconduct. Prior restraint is a matter for the courts, as the press accepted when it got constraints on the granting of injunctions written into the 1998 Human Rights Act.

The case for strong-form regulation – universal statutory oversight of all news media, which is what Lord McCluskey’s committee has just proposed for Scotland – is that it separates compensation and redress for victims of press misconduct from penalties for outrageous conduct. There is no good reason why such penalties, in the form of exemplary damages, should go into the pocket of a victim who has already been awarded proper compensatory damages, but every reason why a media outlet which casually violates people’s privacy or reputation in pursuit of circulation should find that such conduct does not pay. Yet compensatory damages for being libelled, if calibrated, as they arguably should be, to the fixed damages of just under £12,000 which are awarded by statute for the no less devastating experience of bereavement caused by someone’s negligence, could be paid out of a large media organisation’s petty cash. An independent regulator with penal powers is a perfectly reasonable solution.

Regulation is one answer but it’s a bit like a freegan solution to food waste, it assumes (and feeds off) the ongoing dysfunctionality of the system, rather than creating a different one.

Equally, Peter Geoghegan’s ideas for following a Scandic model of subsidising the media seem compelling. But with – for example  Johnston Press’s £319m debt pile, apparently reduced by £32.3m last year – what are we to do? Peter’s proposals might seem more viable for new start-up media projects but it would seem perverse to prop-up old debt-ridden failed media concerns.

5932605201_1ea58a813f_zCOLLAGIC

Currently the media landscape is dominated by huge corporate giants, it’s a land of monolithic structures. This is the land of proprietorial media where people like Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond (porn baron and owner of Daily Star and Daily Express and Channel 5 who boasts a personal fortune of some £950 million), Robert Maxwell and convicted felon Conrad Black (who for a time headed the third-largest newspaper group in the world) – control and shape information in our society.

One of the problems with the current media model: huge institutions requiring vast infrastructure to pump out a pretty much constant stream of news, is that the world doesn’t quite work like that.The 24 news cycle creates deathly-dull television.

That brings us to the idea of a collage-media whereby lots of different people create and present views and news. This is is pretty much what the new-form blogs are doing. They don’t have the resources to create a stream of content so it’s sporadic but honest. This lack of big capital is a good thing. You search about and find new sources, trust, and content creation is shared, spread, diverse and mutual. Sharing-social-media technologies make this simple.

As this evolves we will see medium sized new media outlets that have resource sustainability but aren’t beholden to or captured by specific interests grow.

AMATEUR

One of the immediate attacks on ‘citizen journalism’ from ‘real journalists’ is that it’s amateur, full of typos, lacking in rigor, without training, without sources and resources.Yet for all the ‘professionalism’ of the corporate media how much actual investigative journalism do you actually see?

When was the last piece of really great investigative journalism you saw? It’s very rare. What we see is the tropes of endless lifestyle drivel, celebrity focus or obsession with (and captivation by) parliamentary politics.

There’s a real need for a return (and defence) of amateurism in all spheres of life. The ‘expertise’ of professional journalism has long ago given way to churnalists, ‘the lobby’, and hack culture. Amateurism exemplified by the jury system, the zebra crossing, the rural firemen and Gaelic Football offers some clear models as crumbling media empires falter and fail.

The death of the expertocracy is to be celebrated.

VERNACULAR

One of the great things about online media is the explosion of diversity in language, voices and platforms for expression. This new vernacular media is a voice that has vitality and authenticity, it speaks in many languages and from multiple perspectives it refuses to impose orthodoxy, casual misogyny or repeat endless memes of cultural self-hatred or unconscious ideological memes.

It is the antidote and the opposite to the blandified freesheet-style Metro news (basically re-printed press releases). This is not the same as half-hearted and over-mediated ‘local news’ or ‘micro-local’ provided by media giants.

OCCASIONAL

Sometimes nothing much happens, sometimes it all happens at once and everybody goers mental. Under the Occasional model there’d be news days when papers just published a blank front page with a note at the bottom ‘nothing much happened today’ rather than say, a picture of Bill Roache and Jeanette Thomas making tomato quiche.

This Not a New Media but … has some fantastic challenges that confront it but it also has enormous energy, technology and soul. It’s likely to evolve into more collaborative than singular forms and will have to navigate the shark-infested waters of sustaining quality content. But there are countless examples of new publishing forms that are thriving and will help shape the future so that big corporations and very rich men don’t dominate the news agenda in the coming years.

A longer piece exploring these media model will appear in Bella Caledonia’s summer newspaper, August 2013.

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  1. It’s certainly cynical of professional journalists to dismiss all “citizen journalism” out of hand, but it’s equally cynical and blinkered of you to bad-mouth all professional journalism as nothing more than “churnalism” and therefore worthless by definition. “Investigative journalism” has always been a minority sport within the industry—and it is an industry, which best prospers when it confirms and serves its customers’ own interests.

    Your call for a return of amateurism ignores one simple question; how can professional journalists continue to earn even a meagre living when there are people out there able and willing to do it for free?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I didn’t bad-mouth all professional journalism as ‘churnalists’ I suggested it’s more prevalent. Obviously there;s a correlation between declining revenue and churnalism, lower income breeds lower standards and less investment.

      1. “The ‘expertise’ of professional journalism has long ago given way to churnalists, ‘the lobby’, and hack culture.”

        Apologies if I misunderstood you, but that seemed pretty inclusive of the whole current industry.

        You’re right, though; newspapers with fewer resources are more prone to take what they’re given and reprint it without much questioning. Its no wonder so many journalists have jumped ship into the PR industry; plenty of work and the money’s good too. Just not much objectivity.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          Clearly there’s lots of good journalists out there, my point is more about the structures they work in. Analogies with the banking or football worlds are useful. While it seemed appropriate to sign Tore Andre Flo for £12m or to run the RBS and other banks like a casino, that all now seems corrupt and useless as a model. Maybe credit unions and amateur football is a better route? It depends what the aim is. Is it to watch good football and save some money securely? Equally what is the point of the media?

    2. Doug Daniel says:

      “Your call for a return of amateurism ignores one simple question; how can professional journalists continue to earn even a meagre living when there are people out there able and willing to do it for free?”

      The question here should be “why are there so many people willing to do it for free when they could be getting paid to do it?” The answer, of course, is because people realise that sometimes (often? Usually, even?) the only way to get the truth out there is to do it themselves. There are parallels with the punk movement in the 70s, when people looked at the current musical output, saw nothing that spoke to or for them, so decided to create music that did. That’s essentially what blogging and citizen journalism is about, and it tells us that the printed press are not giving people what they need. There is a vacuum where informed debate and truth should be, and citizen journalists and bloggers are filling it.

      If professional journalism is not fulfilling its purpose, then why do we care if it dies on its arse? Who says people are entitled to be paid just because they claim to be a professional journalist rather than a citizen journalist? Perhaps the role of the professional journalist has simply ceased to be of relevance, and is ready to be consigned to history along with town criers, horseback messengers and carrier pigeons?

      (I’m not necessarily saying I agree with all that, mind – just putting it out there.)

      1. Well, I care principally because it’s what I do for a living (albeit magazine journalism, not news), and I honestly can’t think of anything else I’d want/be able to do. However, I accept your point (uncomfortable though it is) that professional journalists have no more an innate right to employment than town cryers and horseback messengers.

        But I care mostly because, despite your assertion of the punk ethos, I don’t think that the vast majority of people in Britain are either sufficiently interested or skilled enough to find out “the truth” (whatever that is). As an example, last year’s London Olympics & Paralympics were rightly termed the First Social Media Games, with an explosion of coverage, discussion and debate via Twitter, Facebook, etc, by people actually in and around the stadia. However, that didn’t stop millions more still consuming coverage from radio and television broadcasters, and print/online newspapers.

        In a world where we still have town cryers (albeit as tourist attractions), don’t consign the professional journalist to the rubbish tip just yet. 😉

      2. Doug Daniel says:

        That’s all true as well, of course. I actually think there is space for professional journalists, if only because people – rightly or wrongly – tend to place more trust in things they pay for. Just as people would rather pay for anti-virus software than trust the free versions, even though the best free anti-virus software is miles better than most paid ones.

        Bringing up magazine journalists is an interesting point, because while I don’t buy any newspapers, I do have a subscription to Private Eye. Of course, when we talk about journalism and the media, we tend to be focussing on the daily press, and forgetting about the journalism going on in periodical publications that people still readily pay for. I think this sort of hints at something Mike mentions in the article, about ignoring the need for a constant stream of news and the necessity of having “no news today” days. If journalists were freed from the pressure to fill X pages per day, perhaps they would be more able to spend their time on more meaningful stories, leading to better output, and a more “marketable product”?

        The answer is obviously somewhere between the two extremes of corporate media vs citizen journalism. Hopefully we’ll find it fairly soon.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          I like this idea of ‘Punk Media’ and you are spot-on about anti-virus software. It’s the same with water and childcare. Most private nurseries have less regulations and standards than public ones, but people often are attracted to them because they look more glam or have better PR. waters the same, the water that comes out of your taps is (rightly) heavily regulated, less so than bottled water. One’s ‘free’ the others (sometimes) ludicrously expensive yet people buy it.

      3. Doug Daniel says:

        I’m also completely hypocritical Mike, because I use the paid version of AVG – despite being a software developer who should know better!

        Add “schools” to your list, because I know several people who went to Robert Gordon’s college, and yet I’ve always felt my education at state-funded Harlaw Academy was superior. Then again, I’ve always been a bit of a big head when it comes to academic achievement…

  2. Morag says:

    “When was the last piece of really great investigative journalism you saw?”

    Brian Deer’s evisceration of Andrew Wakefield. But did he ever see the sort of rewards that should have been his due for doing the medical authorities’ job for them? I doubt it.

    1. James Coleman says:

      Morag
      “Brian Deer’s evisceration of Andrew Wakefield”
      Thanks for that comment. I vaguely remembered the name Andrew Wakefield and went off and read up what you were on about. And I was amazed, because at the time and through the years the controversy was going on I supported Wakefield as someone who was standing up to the Government, big business and established interests. In the end I became disinterested because the controversy ran for so long and most publications stopped reporting it as big news.
      How wrong I was and how was I misled? I can only say that at the time my main source of information was the Financial Times and other financial journals. And for ideological reasons I would not read the Sunday Times or its offshoots. Also, because of all the lies and spinning that the Blair Government produced on the Iraq War and other subjects I didn’t believe a word that it said.
      All credit to Brian Deere and I can do no more than quote … “when in April 2011 he was named specialist journalist of the year in the British newspaper industry’s annual Pulitzer-style Press Awards. Judges for the Society of Editors praised what they called his “outstanding perseverance, stamina and revelation on a story of major importance”. They said of his investigation: “It was a tremendous righting of a wrong”.
      But it just shows you how the Media and the Public can be fooled. And I doubt now if there would be another Brian Deer out there.

      1. Morag says:

        If you managed to read all that in an hour, I don’t believe you! However, you seem to have got the basics. Wakefield was a charlatan and a fraud of the first water.

        Unfortunately he was protected for a long time by the medical establishment’s reluctance to seriously investigate one of their own, and the media, which lionised the anti-vaccination groups who were lionising Wakefield. Lifestyle journalists got rich lazily parroting the anti-vax line because it sold newspapers and magazines, and the BBC saw its duty of balance as requiring it to give this maverick nonsense equal weight with the huge weight of medical opinion on the other side.

        The sad thing is that Deer did an absolutely outstanding job, virtually single-handed, and got a prize for it, but in terms of his income and career he probably didn’t do as well as the luvvies who pushed the anti-vax line that killed children. I wonder if he sometimes questions whether it’s worth it, when lazy hack-work seems to pay just as well.

  3. Charles Patrick O'Brien says:

    I see that journalists can sway public opinion,and then take no responsibility for doing so.We have a media that aligns itself to a particular division of the Westminster party,and wont consider that their specific could be wrong,arrogance,lack of integrity no honesty? maybe all of that or maybe just bad journalists.

    1. The late, great journalist Alexander Cockburn (no relation) once wrote: “The First Law of Journalism: to confirm existing prejudice, rather than contradict it.” Or, to put it another way, people who choose to read the Daily Mail expect and want it to give them Daily Mail content, not the kind of writing you might find in The Guardian. That, I guess, is a consequence of the customer-producer business model out of which newspapers grew (their commercial survival depends on attracting and retaining readers, both as a source of cover-price income and as the audience to their advertisers). Much of this, of course, has been undermined by the internet.

      1. James Coleman says:

        paulfcockburn
        What you write is certainly true. And I have no objection to commercial Media supporting a particular point of view. However it would be good if while doing so they were honest and truthful in their reporting and dissemination of opinion. Alas, what happens nowadays is that journalists hide behind the facade of respectability given by a prestigious publication title while producing lies, misinformation and propaganda. I do object to that. And I object VERY STRONGLY to the lies, misinformation and propaganda being churned out by the BBC, a public broadcaster paid for by a mandatory TV Licence fee.

        given them

  4. thom cross says:

    We tend to focus our hate-mouse on the wicked press industry the aggressive ITC cyber-industry rides rough-shod across our personal freedoms in cyberspace. The sheer power and increasingly ideological authority of the internet owners has transformed the communication business with the dominant ITC power held by US corporations constituting a fierce cyber-hegemony over this vital resource. I would suggest that the near monopoly power of cyberspace technologies gives Washington as much global cultural power as their combined defence industry and military. This cyber-power comes embedded with ideological assumptions in a neo-liberal dominance of US based ICT industries.
    Marx (remember him) developed economic paradigms: capitalism will create its own crises by the very system of capitalism; capitalism inevitably reduces ownership into monopoly control; the demand for maximising capital accumulation creates a search for global resources and markets aka imperialism.
    So what do we find in cyber –space: techno-monopoly-capitalism creating cyber imperialism? There is the most concentrated US domination of communications technology giving the US almost absolute hegemony over this vital global sector.
    Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Blackberry, Cisco, EBay, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Intel, Logitech, Mac, MacAfee, Memorex, Microsoft, Netflix, Netscape, Oracle, Palm, PayPal, San Disk, Skype, Stumble-upon, Symantec, TiVo, Yahoo, You-tube et al

    (I have not ignored other major US global cultural media CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC plus the movie industry power players, Dream Works , 20th Century Fox, MGM , United Artists, Orion, Universal Studios, Pixar , Touchstones Pictures, Disney, Miramax, Lions Gate and many more with still further cultural power in print through Random House, Pearson, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster and more…)

    I have little understanding of the enormity of economic wealth tied up in that list of powerful players. I am trying to intelligently assess the cultural implications of such power. Yet once again the sheer enormity of the potential to shape and manipulate not just global communications but global consciousness is almost overwhelming. This cyber-hegemony has the potential of creating a new kind of totalitarianism. (See Cultural Imperialism: Essays on the Political Economy of Cultural Domination edited by Bernd Hamm and Russell Smandych.
    This techno- capitalist power to collect , collate and store the ideas expressed by millions of individuals and to use that information for political, economic, military, financial ,intelligence, marketing, cultural, commercial and illicit power manipulation is quite frankly frightening.
    It needs a Chomsky to attempt to pursue the implications of this threat to global popular democracy. Bella and its readers might help.
    There are of course paradoxes in our cyber-modernity. While we have e-growth we also have in-e-quality yet within this paradigm of cultural power there is space for popular autonomous(e) e-resistance. This takes many forms from radical writing outlets like Bella to Wiki-leaks and sites that promote cyber-democracy, reinventing a new participatory politics like the anti-Cuts & Occupy movements. Web sites are being created daily that promote social-action and equity while enabling grass-root public participation through communities of cyber-politics.
    We wait on the YES campaign to offer us their version of cyber-democracy and activism as we fight our own corner in the global struggle for civic cyber-democracy.
    Or do we create our own?

  5. Doug Daniel says:

    Mike, you ask in one of the comments “what is the point of the media?” and I think this is the central question we need to be asking ourselves. If the point of the media is to feather the nests of a few corporate media barons and to feed the populace a non-stop stream of misinformation and lies, then let us prop up the industry as it is, because it performs both those functions extremely well.

    However, if the point of the media is to seek truth, inform debate and bolster democracy, then let us “bring the whole edifice down on their unworthy heads”, because it fails miserably. Yes, there are some gems in there who conform to the idealistic view we all have of what a journalist is, but the reality is most journalists are paid to feed us shit.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but lamenting the death of professional journalism while thinking of ways to use new media to prop up the current failed model is most certainly not it.

    The Telegraph is about to go behind a paywall, because it thinks the reason it’s losing readers is that people are consuming their news for free on the internet instead of buying the paper. The reason I don’t buy the Telegraph is because it’s shit. Meanwhile, I have recently contributed towards Bella, Wings Over Scotland and the For A’ That podcast because each gives me something I consider to be relevant and informative. None hide behind a paywall.

    I’m certainly not saying this sort of charitable “fund a journalist for a year” model is the way to go to fund journalism indefinitely, but I’d rather have a handful of truth-seeking journalists than an army of churnalists paid to do little more than reword press releases slightly.

    1. Actually, one possible reason for the Telegraph going behind a paywall is to attempt to exploit the 20% year-on-year increase in online hits to their website. Extremely short-sighted, if you ask me, but the “freemium” model they’ve opted for–a certain number of stories free per month, a regular subscription if you want more–has a small chance of actually working for them. Which is a relief to me, because I still find at least their technology/science coverage about the best in the mainstream press.

      You ask, what is the point of the media? At the risk of coming across all cynical, it’s about selling a product to an audience. In some respects, Bella Caledonia is no different; as you so ably demonstrate, you’re a Bella Caledonia reader rather than a Telegraph reader, and are willing to put your money where your mouth is.

      1. Doug Daniel says:

        Can’t argue with any of that, and I share your cynicism, at least in terms of why it currently exists. But I think it should be about more than simply selling a product to an audience, in the same way that the BBC should be about more than simply chasing audience ratings. The reality doesn’t always match the ideal, of course…

  6. Nick says:

    In contrast to this month’s news regarding Scottish newspapers, the pro-independence and left-wing Basque newspaper, GARA, announced that its daily readership reached nearly 243,000 in November 2012, representing an increase of around 90,000 in two years. These figures include readers of the print version, GARA, its online counterpart, NAIZ, as well as its Facebook and Twitter pages. Being published in Spanish and Basque, GARA’s readership is mainly in the four ‘Spanish’ Basque provinces, which have a combined population of around 2.8 million. Owned independently, GARA, in the words of one reader, ‘owes nothing to anybody except us, those who fund and support it’. GARA makes no pretence to neutrality; it represents the views of a particular, but significant, section of Basque society. In its own words, it aims to ‘help understand reality and attempt to change it’. Thus, GARA serves as a counterweight to publications which perform a similar function, either in the name of the other constituent realities of Basque society or on behalf of the organisations or individuals they are owned by. Most Basques I speak to are amazed that there is no Scottish equivalent.

    1. James Coleman says:

      “Most Basques I speak to are amazed that there is no Scottish equivalent.”

      And so am I given the number of very rich people who claim to support Independence. It’s about time some of them put their money where their mouth is and came together to produce a daily newspaper to counteract the daily propaganda machines working for the NO-Men. What about a takeover of the Scotsman.

  7. Macart says:

    Meanwhile in the land of the small local newspaper…..

    Trust me, all is doom and gloom. They don’t have huge readerships, they don’t have massive online presence, they don’t have national advertising, and they’re certainly not plugged into the pockets of the great and the good. Its pretty fair to say that none of them even crossed Leveson’s horizon and for a fairly straight forward reason. They just have jobbing journos delivering news on the courts, local cooncil meetings, hatches, matches, dispatches and a bunch of column inches to spare for the latest shock meeting of the local chamber of commerce. Backed by stressed out production staff working on kit decades out of date to bring you all the local news fit to print.

    But not many will speak out about the demise of what was once the heart of every community. However when a major title bites the dust well…….. I guess that’s news. I think its fair to say that sometimes in a period of dramatic change within an industry that something good can be lost as well as something gone bad.

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