Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Meet Helen De Michiel
Helen De Michiel is a documentary filmmaker and producer, public policy media arts advocate and analysis, and explorer of the possibilites of new media for engagement with communities. She's had a long and vibrant career in all of these fields, with award-winning feature films and documentaries. Most recently (1996-2010), she served as codirector of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC). Her new multimedia documentary engagement project, Lunch Love Community, launched last week. Lunch Love Community explores healthy food for schools, and how documentary practice can be rewired away from preaching to communities, towards convening community involvement as a key part of the documentary project. More on Helen in my previous blog HERE.
The Interview Continues
Patricia: What are new developments in the media landscape that completely change our concepts, operations, and practices of public media?
Helen: Now, we are in a period when every citizen has a stake in defining the role of a public media sphere. Corporate media pounds us with diversionary fluff. Those narratives invade everyone’s consciousness and infect our public forms of discourse and reflection.
Public media is no longer only NPR or PBS. How can digital natives—that generation that has grown up permeated by all forms of emerging media and platforms-- build up a new concept of public media that designs meaningful spaces among all the new nodes of entry?
This movement of public media practices within new platforms is happening at the cellular level of our emerging new communications system. Hybrid forms of journalism, filmmaking, and writing are being tested. With new interfaces and applications, broadband media makers are making mistakes and test piloting their way into the future.
In fact, social media may be the most salient public media form of this current period. It is driven by engaged individuals speaking and sharing virally. The challenge, however, resides in how to create the “story” of this new public media sphere. How do we connect the nodes and protect them from being crushed or marginalized?
For example, filmmakers can now gather and organize groups of interested fans and users online before a work is completed. They can invite their feedback, enter into meaningful dialogues, and make an interactive exchange of ideas and questions part of the work’s development. This kind of open inquiry approach will completely transform our legacy ideas of public media.
Patricia: What are some projects emerging in this new public media landscape that you think open up new ways of thinking about our digital futures?
Helen: I am deeply intrigued by the multiple public media/public art projects being organized by Jon Ippolito and Joline Blais < http://www.three.org/>, who teach new media practice at the University of Maine. They work with social networks, kinship systems, indigenous peoples, and environmental issues. I don’t always understand exactly what they are doing, but when I do, I am jolted by the new connections they are making. And that’s a good thing.
Perhaps readers of this blog can share projects they know about that open up new ways of thinking about our digital futures? I welcome more interaction on this topic. Let’s discuss!
Patricia: What is unresolved in this new landscape? What are some debates we need to consider and engage in?
Helen: The idea of resolution may be a pipe dream in this landscape with new nodes for public media futures. Perhaps the game will just go on and on, changing abuptly just when resolution seems at hand.
Here are some of the questions I continue to ruminate over:
1. How can artists get interested in and more actively engaged in the huge telecommunications and cultural policy debates of our time?
2. How can we encourage gamers to change the terms of what is public media and learn new ways to play our way into common spaces for dialogue?
3. How can I connect 20th century cinema and art practice to the new media forms I see emerging?
4. How is the burgeoning “maker’s culture” changing both technology and arts communities?
5. Where will the new public media reside in the coming decades? Will it still be defined primarily by television or radio – or the next medium after Facebook and Twitter?
6. How can we bring into focus the urgent need for digital literacy? How can we recognize digital media not only as a conduit for ‘content,’ but as a creative medium itself in the process of being defined?
And finally, for me, one of the most important pieces missing in these larger debates is seeing the variety of voices of creators articulating and writing about their own experiences in the digital environment, as artists and participants.What is working? What is not working? What are some of the values or ethics we need to articulate as creators in this space? What new connections are you making in your work?
There is no excuse anymore for creators and producers to not become engaged in the rebuilding of a public media space. As designer Bruce Mau wrote in “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth" :
"Organization=Liberty: Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context.”
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Blog written by Patricia R. Zimmermann, Shaw Foundation Professor, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and professor of cinema and codirector, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, Ithaca College
I’m sitting in the back row of the banquet room on the tenth floor of the upscale M Hotel in downtown Singapore.
I’m freezing—the air conditioning is so crisp and cold it’s almost an electro-shock after the 93 degree heat and humidity of walking through the business district in Tanjong Pagar.
I’m listening to speakers from Hong Kong, Singapore, France, Germany, the United States and Malaysia describe the changing topography of journalism in Asia.
Summary: the future of journalism is…business and marketing on 24/7 social media platforms.
This gathering is an intense two day working conference for news organizations and news professionals called The Future of Journalism and News Media, sponsored by the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers (WAN IFRA), Nanyang Technological University and the Asian Journalism Fellowship.
Go to Where the People Are
“Media are no longer about a brand and people coming to you,” asserted Jeff Jarvis, director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York graduate school of journalism . “Now you have to go where the people are—media are more distributed than centralized.” On vacation in Florida, Jarvis was skyped into the conference.
Over 100 journalists from Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bhutan, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, France, Germany and the United States crowd the round tables. I talked to a lot of them at the cocktail party, which featured copious amounts of satay and sashimi. I really liked and admired the people I met.
The q and a sessions after each session feel more like press conferences where journalists drill into undeveloped points for clarification and exposure. It’s a long way from academics in the US who often start their questions with “let me make an intervention” or “I’d like to problematize your position a bit.”
I like their agility in cutting to the bone of ideas. A spirit of harmony and collegiality pervades this conference.
Malaysiakini, Passion and the Internet
Malaysiakini.com is a website that pushed the boundaries of press freedom in Malaysia, explained Premesh Chandran, one of its founders. The Malaysian government loosened press censorship on the internet in the late 1990s when it was pushing its multimedia corridor—Malaysiakini took advantage of this opening and launched in 1999.
With passion and commitment to breaking stories on government and business scandals, Malaysiakini focused on fast news underrepresented in the mainstream and offered diverse viewpoints.
Chandran contends that where you publish is irrelevant now. Brand name and credibility are Malaysiakini’s number one asset. By 2004, the website was profitable. By 2008, it was ranked #1 for news in Malaysia.
A lot of the questions volleyed here seem to pivot around how news organizations in Thailand or Indonesia can steer through the swift-moving rapids of multiplatformed social media. J
Journalists here wonder out loud how their jobs will change from doing stories to branding themselves as specialists across blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.
Old Dead Tree Journalism and New Social Media Journalism
I’m jamming my notebook with percentages on everything from who reads newspapers (older people) to who uses Twitter (younger people), aphorisms about social media engagement strategies (twitter and blog and post 24/7) and exhortations to invent a new business model for journalism (make money by branding and sponsoring meet ups and trainings).
The old journalism (what some here call dead tree journalism) of a daily newspaper, loyal readers, and highly trained journalists with authority is extinct.
The new journalism (an endlessly swirling concoction of citizen journalism, blogs, Twitter, engagement strategies, branding, mobile interfaces and aggregation) is in Darwinian ascendance. But it doesn’t yet have a viable business model for what many speakers call “monetization.”
Some Facts and Observations on the New Landscape
Consider the following facts and arguments offered at this conference about the future of journalism:
* Journalism is not a product but a process, and journalists must adopt an “entrepreneurial spirit” to capitalize on low cost platforms, according to Jeff Jarvis
* The South China Morning Post, a major high prestige Asian newspaper, is now competing with blogs, contends Reginald Chua, editor in chief of the Hong Kong-based paper. Large organizations may, as a result, be handicapped in this new landscape.
* In Singapore, 1 out of 2 people trust blogs. Chew Ming, editor of the Singapore-based, user-generated site Stomp, pointed out that citizen journalism captures news as it is happening—a much different timeline than traditional journalism. But it’s better at who , what, when, and where, than why and how.
* Creation is aggregation—use people as our agents to spread our brand, claimed Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review.
* Listen, plan, engage, amplify, optimize, urged Thomas Crampton, a former New York Times and International Herald Tribune journalist now Asia Pacific director fo 360 Digital Influence, Ogilvy, Hong Kong. Journalism is a “three legged stool” of online, in person, and in print.
* People will pay for quality journalism, argued Premesh Chandran from Malaysiakini.com
* “Leisurization” is a growing market for online news. 91% of people in a recent survey think the internet is the most effective way to get leisure information. People want and need to escape, and these desires can be “monetized” online, according to Jerome Doncieux, co-CEO of AFP Relaxnews in France.
Where do nonprofit news/public affairs organizations fit in?
Walter Lim, who helped launch the imaginative, compelling and useful Singapore heritage project Yesterday.sg, and I are the only speakers from the nonprofit realm. His user-generated historical archive--which had several fans and users in this esteemed audience--is funded by the National Heritage Board of Singapore.
I guess I represented what we in the US call “public media,” that range of works that open up concerns and debates about civil society. I asked the audience to consider shifting from considering business models to the conceptual, philosophical and ethical models of this new social media landscape—all of which are unresolved and thorny issues despite the euphoria over twittering in Iran.
My colleague Cherian George, himself a former Singapore Straits Times journalist who is now a professor at NTU with a Ph.D., invited me to speak about an on-going research and theoretical project I am collaborating on with filmmaker , writer and non profit arts administrator Helen de Michiel called the Open Space Project, a theoretical model of collaborative, participatory relational practice that pulls in community rather than pushes out ideas.
I must admit, I wasn’t quite sure how this model for nonprofit social media mobilization might mesh with the rhetorics of business models, entrepreneurialism, branding, and pushing out ideas to capture eyeballs for advertizers.
I didn't want to alienate the audience, but to invite them into a slightly different conversation. Open Space media, in our model, is where technology meets people meets places.
Social Media in Asia and the US: Similiar and Different
In the end, I’m struck by how the pumped-up-pitch-man rhetoric, the engagement strategies, the euphoria about new media, the multiplatforming, the evangelism that the old forms are dead and the new forms need our embrace, and even the adoption of the “indie rock model” to commoditize ancillary products at live events, is almost identical to what I heard from the nonprofit social media pundits at the National Alliance of Media Arts and Culture Commonwealth Conference last August in Boston.
The only difference was that the nonprofit NAMAC crowd shuffled around the term sustainability, while the for-profit WAN IFRA group lobbed the term monetization. An uncritical optimism about social media coupled with horror-film like warnings about ignoring it pervaded both the WAN IFRA and NAMAC gatherings.
At NAMAC after hours, at the hotel bar, nonprofit administrators described how they spent most of their time chained to laptops sending out Tweets and being clever on Facebook updates and pumping out e-blasts and building dynamic websites. They shared they were exhausted by it all and missed the days of engaging audiences and ideas more directly.
At a WAN IFRA luncheon where I ate lamb laksa and fish curry, I listened to seasoned journalists from four different countries in southeast Asia worry that younger journalists never leave the newsroom or make phone calls—they google and surf the internet and then remix what they find. They have not done the “death knock”—where someone dies and you interview their family or friends.
The Future Needs Restructuring
Both conversations give me pause.
It seems like social media is actually not social—in the Habermasian sense—at all.
Perhaps it has created a cordon sanitaire around ideas and news that matter, trapping nonprofits, for-profits, and entrepreneurial freelancers from both sectors in a digital quarantine. As a result, the traumas, pain, messiness, and conflicts of the powerful and the powerless--defining features of journalism, public affairs, documentary, and nonprofit public media around the globe for at least two centuries--are cordoned off, outside, far away, unnecessary, neutralized.
So maybe the future of journalism and nonprofit media in Asia and the United States are the same: a tectonic restructuring of the relationships between producers, users, institutions, technological platforms, labor, and business models .
And maybe the future of journalism and nonprofit media everywhere should also include some vigorous discussion of the whys and hows of ethics.
And what it means to get away from your iPhone and into the streets again, interacting with, uh, that old platform which is always new, called real people.
Friday, September 11, 2009
It’s not a transformation of the media ecology. It’s a total inversion.
In Baroque music, an inversion turns the melody upside down, flips chords, exchanges vocal registers, reorganizes intervals.
At this year’s National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture ( NAMAC ) conference, the outside jumped inside, and the inside hopped outside.
CommonWealth was not about transitions. It was about jacking conferees into a series of inversions. In the ladies room following a plenary, one conferee confided "This conference is beyond my comfort zone." I probed if that was good or bad. She said, "I’m somewhere else. I am not sure yet."
It’s a heady, confusing time when the tectonic plates of new technologies, changing public policies, economic collapse, job uncertainty, a new president, and enormous challenges in figuring out strategies in a multiplatformed environment are crashing together and disturbing the geographies of public media.
The ground is unsteady beneath our feet. The foundations from our public media past are loosened and wobbly, swaying under the pressures of new business models, emerging technologies, hemorrhaging audiences, depleted funding.
The questions are complex, the technologies confusing, the survival strategies unclear, the technologies proliferating, and the allies shifting.CommonWealth functioned like a primer on telecommunications policy challenges like net neutrality , low power, broadband, and arts stimulus packages while it provided navigational systems and clear mappings of digital media, social media, and new ways to think about outcomes in media arts funding.
Depending on where you stood at the NAMAC conference, you might see something completely different. Telecommunications public policy or creative arts. Social media marketing or questions of real live audiences. Grant funding or business models. Digital possibility or digital divide. The euphoria of the Democratic administration or the fear and panic of a bone-crushing, hope-smashing recession. User-generated content or business models for institutional survival.
But a smaller spatial configuration also emerged: open space sessions. The CommonWealth NAMAC conference might be the first public media conference to deploy this process of sitting in a circle with like-minded people unpacking a topic of mutual, pressing concern through focused conversation, a brainstorming strategy growing out of the open source community.
These open space sessions pulsed with urgency and new-found community around unresolved issues such as digital exhibition, disabilities, building audiences for events, youth media, boards, film festivals, youth media, volunteers, art house challenges, gaming. I sat in on two on film festivals. They energized me. I left with new ideas and new allies.
A range of panels on social media, social networking and digital technologies mapped significant inversions of our conceptual frameworks about public media. The audience is now a participant. Building audiences is now going to where audiences are. Limited access to media works is now dispersed unlimited access. A precious curatorial zone is now a user-centric community. Finished works that premiere have shifted into works continually in process and in public.
Engage, aggregate, collaborate, amplify, transform: that’s the new public media mantra for this recession-infected, panic-stricken digital age.
This strategy displaces the older independent media strategy of what I would call "the wedding model," where the big day is planned and fantasized for years with every detail from flowers to gowns in place and every guest and seating chart carefully considered.
Now, the new model resides more in what I might term "the cooking with friends model." Projects continually roll out in various states of completion, invite audiences in, change incessantly, and get served up across different platforms and in different iterations depending on the ingredients at hand. Temporality in public media changes forever: no longer discrete, it is continuous, fluid, open, and malleable.
Now for my own set of inversions on CommonWealth.
I was utterly engaged and stimulated throughout the conference.
I noticed that plenaries, panels and open space sessions were jammed with people obsessively taking notes on their netbooks, iPhones, and laptops. People seem to crave clarity and community.
However, I must share that I departed both clearer and more confused.
Questions about politics, ethics, and live humans pressed into me in more and more intense ways as the days progressed.
As someone who has been involved in pitched debates about public media for over three decades, I could not get my head around the lack of vigorous critique at the CommonWealth conference—it felt like my fellow conferees were installing the information like neutral, virus-free downloaded files on a USB drive.
I am struggling with the euphoria of digital technologies when 40% of Americans don’t have access to broadband and when governments around the world—and the US military in Iraq-- can shut down open networks with the flick of a switch.
I am still perplexed by the ethical questions of circulating images of other people’s suffering on YouTube and other user-generated sites—particularly if circulating their image means that some repressive regime might jail or beat them.
I’m disturbed by what I deconstruct as the vaudevillian spaces of the user-generated world, which sport lots of room for fun but not many spaces for more serious, gnarly, and chaotic social and political issues.
I am troubled by the reduction of everything to the digital simplicities of 140 character Tweets when the questions we must ask and the politics we must engage in around race, nation, gender, sexualities, disabilities, empire, war only get more and more complex.
I worry that in the brave new world of user-generated, social networked digitality, the only images and media that can travel the toll-free viral superhighways are ones that are fun, cute, clever, ironic, silly, inane, or mean.
I am really uncomfortable by proponents of social media slapping old fashioned capitalist economic models of acquisition and consumerism onto new digital technologies as they discuss monetizing content and growing "fans" and "followers."
I’m disturbed by hip social media practitioners selling me a push out model of media participation that seems recycled from the manipulative practices of commercial media buzz production rather than a pull in model of engagement and open space community building.
I am nervous when arts funding consultants and funders look for outcomes in audience numbers and programmers shift to more popular programming at the expense of more challenging experimental and political art forms.
I can’t get my head around public television entities working with producers in China and imposing an unexamined epistemological imperialism through their installation of a narrative model of character development and story arcs imported from the classical Hollywood studio system that effectively neutralizes cultural differences.
Boot camp and strategy session, CommonWealth superimposed telecommunication policy on creativity, technologies on arts organizations, and public media on cultural policy.
Pushing beyond the comfort zones, CommonWealth hurled out a 21st century public media game plan.
And… it contained a series of necessary and urgent inversions that still need to be plotted—and critiqued.