Sunday, September 27, 2009

What is wrong with a mixed media diet? (part two)

This post contains allusions I made during my previous post, and I'm mostly writing this because I'm feeling guilty about leaving it short. You see, I alluded to two separate consequences of the mixed media diet in today's society.

Doesn't that sentence just feel like it belongs in undergraduate media studies? Anyhow, alongside the consequence that people have less time and inclination to read print media, the increasing number of hours spent per day on broadcast mediums has led somewhat to a decrease in literacy.

I'm not talking a major slump. I'm talking about just little things that lead me to believe the people taking care of us in the nursing homes may not be able to read the prescription on our medicine bottles properly. Don't worry, I'm not about to engage in a teen-bashing blog posting as there's already enough of those around the place. Instead, I'm going to attempt to offer some kind of insight into the media habits of the young'uns.

Oh god, I've become a social commentator.

I'd like to think that I'm not so different from teenagers today, being 22 and all, but I find these new creatures vastly different to myself. I wrote in my last post about the customer who spoke in Internet terms in the real world. Who actually said 'OMG' instead of 'my goodness gracious' or something less wanker-y.

Of course, this is starting to sound like just another blogger trying to comprehend an entire generations using analogies and broad generalisations and I fully accept that. I know there are those who express themselves quite well and are well read, in fact, that's one of the benefits of the mixed media diet.

You see, the new generation are viewing a heck of a lot of broadcast medium, and a heck of a lot of embedded media. These are the kids cooped up on a Saturday watching Skins on DVD and youtube clips of people failing. While those habits don't exactly broaden the horizons as much as reading a book the size of your head might, it is making young people more confident with the spoken word.

Granted, sometimes the words aren't correct but is it my imagination but are the new kids on the block a lot more confident? Of course, many would begrudge these traditionally uneducated kids the right to confidence these kids are a far cry from the stoic gen X'ers. Whereas the media may portray them as shut-ins attached to a screen, while they're out of the house they're not shy about their ambitions and about speaking.

Speaking, is our primary form of communication and taught before the written word. How we learn to speak is largely by listening to those who know how to speak. These kids have been given a DVD as a babysitter and are spending their time predominately listening to other people speak on their screens. They are learning and adapting to the new forms of speech, and they are now more than ever equipped to express their views. Of course the massive downside to this is that their opinions are generally ill-informed.

I wrote in my earlier post about the advantages of print media being able to offer informed and in-depth debate and fact to flesh out said debate. Whereas TV and radio try to do this, they just don't have time to, and online news don't want their readers to get eye-strain from reading too many words and following a stream of logic.

Of course, the question now is: Where are the next generation of decision makers getting their facts from?

They certainly aren't getting their informed opinion from print media. While I'm not here to bash other mediums, I think the best broadcast mediums can do in terms of news delivery is whack on a couple of opposing voices to have a bitchfight (On the topic, did anyone see Caroline Wilson and Roy Masters on Offsiders?) without ever answering the all important 'why' question. Broadcast is caught up in the politics of the day woven into a grand narrative, whereas I see print as the wise-man able to ponder, reflect and analyse before offering an opinion (at its best anyhow).

Our kids are being drawn to these mediums, and policy makers eager to get their mugs where the people can see them will be more than happy to offer up an inflamatory opinion in the hopes of being invited back next week and ultimately being re-elected.

In short, other mediums in comparisson to print media offer a lack of insight which those who want to be seen are all to happy to pander to. Welcome to Spin City.

'Till Next Time

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What is wrong with a mixed media diet?

Today, I may have gained some sort of insight into the state of literacy in our nation today. You see, today I watched the AFL Grand Final on the television, played the FIFA 10 demo on the XBOX360, read the news on my computer as well as reading Girls with Slingshots (Mad Props).

At no point during this day did I have time or the inclination to read a newspaper or try to get back into Ulysses. As such, not only did I figure out why literacy rates are dropping but gained a frightening insight into my chosen career. Those of you who read this blog would know I have ambitions of working for print media, but how are my words going to be read when people are too busy utilising other mediums?

All the talk of people not liking the product that newspapers are putting out in the new millennium is missing the point entirely. People are somewhat digging what print journos are doing, it's just that they have absolutely no time to read it. I...want to go into an industry that's becoming redundant through no fault of its own? Am I insane!? Probably.

Forgive me if I'm musing over an old chestnut, but I find myself scared by the voracious media appetite I've developed and the decreasing amount of time I have to satiate that appetite. When an increased appetite combines with a lack of time people will naturally gravitate toward the medium which can get the message to the recipient at rapid speed.

Does print do this? God no. You need a good half hour to digest the daily rag, but you need about five minutes to hear the daily news bulletin. By the same logic though, online media shouldn't be so popular as it takes as much time to read an online story than a print story.

It's a good argument, but it fails to take into account the modern penchant for multi-tasking. You can't check your emails and see what people have written on your wall while you have your nose buried in newsprint, whereas the online arena allows people to multi-task like some sort of mad German (why are they always German?) timemaster.

Of course, if people are attracted to broadcast and online mediums they're missing out on the most important question journalists can ask: why.

It's my humble opinion that print media answers this question with far more regularity than other mediums. I don't begrudge other mediums or demonise them as the 'enemy', but they're concerned with playing to their strengths. Namely, that it can be consumed quickly. The funny thing is though, the truth is never a simple thing which can be answered with a couple of soundbites and talking heads. Truth isn't simple, and requires analysis to bring out.

So why is it then, that newspapers haven't yet significantly changed? Why aren't they obsessed with answering 'why'? Why are they still merely reporting the facts and engaging in tabloid journalism instead of playing to the medium's strengths?

In some respects, the war between the mediums are the imaginings of journos wanting something to gabble on about (and for bloggers to spew over). If all mediums play to their strengths instead of playing follow the leader, all mediums will achieve their niche. Of course, the news has become a business, and businesses will always compete for a bigger market share. The best way to do that, as they see it, is to follow the leader.

It's going to take guts for someone to innovate when jobs are on the line and outlets are shutting down left right and centre, but an informed democracy is at stake. A literate one too.

You see, as part of my job which I'm working in an effort to fund my job search (huh?), I converse with a lot of teenagers. I listen as they play social pop-media commentator, using garbled English and trite catch-phrases in an efforty to impress their equally vaccous friends. I swear to the various deities I once heard someone used the phrase "OMG, that show is so fail".

The OMG in that sentence isn't abbreviated for the ease of the reader, it's a direct quote.

'Till next time

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What is wrong with prerecognition?

I've been thinking about the role social media is playing in our daily lives (to borrow a tried and true cliche) lately. It's not like I have a job of susbstance to think about...or a relationship...or a social life....Okay, I'll stop now before this becomes a whiny 13 year old's blog.

I've had the astounding thought that social networking is making forming true interpersoanl relationships evcen harder than it was during the days of dial-up and blocky porn. Why is that while we're always on, we're perpetually disconnected?

This is just my crazy theory, but I think it's becuase we've started to know too much about eachother. Do me a favour, go to your Facebook account and click on a few friend's accounts. There, you're more than likely find profile information ranging from favourite books to the minutae of their daily lives on Twitter.

So, if we already have this information before we meet a person, aren't we better equipped to make a lasting connection with someone? In my humble opinion, no.

You see, we've basically given over the process of getting to know someone to the intersplice of our digital lives and that experience is what makes the connection. You can know all you want about a person and what they like, but it's the mutual shared experience of getting to know someone which will build the interpersonal relationship.

It's about sitting down, and talking (le gasp!) face-to-face about eachother's likes and dislikes which will enivitably build that relationship. Or am I completely wrong? Is knowing all this surface information about a person helping forge relationships more quickly?


Sunday, September 13, 2009

What is wrong with playing up close?

I should preface this post by saying that I have just watched a so-so doco about gamers and their problems named 'Second Skin', but I do recommend checking it out if you're a gamer in search of a doco which doesn't condescend. Watching this construction about gaming and gamers, I started to realise that I wasn't a gamer simply because I have always looked at the subculture of gaming at an arms-length - just as this doco does.

Even though I have written for gaming sites such as The Escapist, I don't consider myself to be a gamer. Having an artsy-fartsy background (I have a 16,000 dollar arts degree) I tend to be engaged with the world of videogames from an arms length intellectual curiosity standpoint rather than being a hardcore WoW grinder.

That being said of course, I certainly don't consider myself to be a casual gamer who only surfaces for air when it comes to a latest release of Bejewelled or Peggle. From this curious distance, I can view the subculture of gaming from a stance which allows me to take in a broader view of said culture. This becomes an ethical consideration from which all journalists can learn.

It is a widely held tenant of journalistic integrity that the best sort of journalism is the 'why'-school of journalism. The type of journalism that tells you not only that there's been a terrorist attack in Mumbai, but the type of journalism which sheds light on the political instability and corruption which gives rise to these acts of terrorism in surrounding regions. It's the type of journalism which doesn't just look at surface facts but goes deeper in search of reasons.

But how does one go deeper in searching for those reasons without becoming so attached to the subject matter that it becomes a risk of becoming unbalanced? More to the point, can you ever produce quality journalism without being totally biased?

The problem is that journalism is a medium wherein truth is filtered through conventions such as narrative and scoop. No news story is simple and unequivocal truth, it's the same principle as documentary suscribes to (you see what I did there?). In short, there's a reason they're called news stories.

I can rant all night about narrative constructions and how we're programmed to see things through binary oppositions and what have you, but I'm not going to bore you with a 10,000 word thesis. Instead, I'm going to attempt to condense my argument in a pleasing and coherent fashion using words and a train of logic (you see what I did there?).

Think about the truth of your life. Your actual reality. You just live your life and try not to think about all this stuff too deeply. Now, how would that reality look if produced for the 10PM news bulletin? How would that reality look if up on the silver screen? Heaven forbid, how would that reality look if the fat guy from Michigan got his hands on it?

All of a sudden, you uniterrupted reality would have been put through a wringer of narrative and convention until it looked like something very, very different. Your overbearing landlord may become the bad guy on your noble quest toward financial freedom, your boss the villain in the piece. Sure, this logic may apply to more artistic mediums such as documentary but how does it apply to journalism?

The example I always use to explain narrative's role in journalism is a week of question time. For those of you who have watched a session of question time in it's entirety, you'd know that it's mostly a dull affair with prepared questions answered for maximum political gain. All the answers are fashioned as such that the speeches being made contain no less than buzzwords, key phrases and policy spin. Why?

Because only 60 seconds of the best jabs of the day make it onto the evening news (if that...god help them if there's a kitty stuck in a drain) wherein an entire day's policy debate is condensed into "oh no he didn't!". So, is it our goal as working journalists to reflect the reality of any given situation?


Think back to my Mumbai example earlier. How does one go about explaining the why of the situation? How does one explain the why of the terrorists' actions? One would assume you ask them questions. Questions after all are our tools of trade (unless you're from News of the World then it's hidden cameras), and at the end of the day it's all we really have to solicit answers from people.

Of course, the flaw in that plan is that terrorists generally don't talk to western journo's all that often, unless to tell them to get into the van. So, what do you have instead? You have talking heads telling the journo how the terrorist's operate (hint: the people talking to the journo's generally aren't associated with the terror groups). So in fact, for all the hard work on the journos part, by the time you've filtered these opinions through the narrative machine and come up with binary oppositions such as 'terrorist BAD, democracy GOOD' and all that jazz, your report to find the why becomes just another story with the tagline 'reporting from Mumbai'.

So, for all my jumled mess of words are we any closer to an answer about objectivity? No, my words are just filling space. There's your moment of journalistic downer-zen for the night.