About Marcus O'Donnell

a journalist, and academic, after years in the inner city he now lives by the sea

Urban Blogging

Interesting article in the NYT about urban activism around a Brooklyn real estate project that has found a focus in the blogsphere. The Atlantic Yards project, a vast residential, commercial and arena development near Downtown Brooklyn, has come in for some tough criticism:

But Atlantic Yards may well be the first large-scale urban real estate venture in New York City where opposition has coalesced most visibly in the blogosphere.

“If Jane Jacobs had the tools and technology back when she was fighting Robert Moses’ plans to bulldoze Lower Manhattan, I bet ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ would have been a blog,” said Mr. Naparstek, 35, referring to Ms. Jacobs’s seminal 1963 book criticizing the urban renewal policies in vogue among city planners of that era.

About a dozen blogs follow Atlantic Yards closely. The authors are usually Brooklynites, some of them experts in fields like urban development. But even the amateurs among them have boned up on arcane zoning provisions and planning-law quirks that can induce headaches among the less devoted.

The result is an unusual ferment of community advocacy and opinion journalism, featuring everything from manipulated caricatures of Forest City Ratner executives to technical discussions of traffic flow.

As is typical of these blogging projects the blog critics include experts in the area (architects for example) who also blog and bloggers who quickly show their aptitude in the area by coming to terms with obscure planning law. While this has always been true of urban activism, I think the public nature of blogging pushes people into doing more and better research.

The response to this project highlights the fact that blogging is a multidimensional writing/research/communication modality.

This article is in the Time’s technology section not its media section although the implications for traditional media are perhaps more important than the mere fact of the technological delivery:

Mr. Oder said he spent up to 25 hours a week on atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com, a successor to his original blog, Times Ratner Report. Hardly a hearing, community meeting or news story relating to the project escapes scrutiny.

He started blogging last September, he said, because “Brooklyn would be one of the largest cities in the country if it were a separate city.”

“Then,” he added, “it would have its own daily newspaper, which would pay a lot more attention to the largest real estate development in its history.”

Technorati Tags: ,

Creating Neutral Experts

The Revealer has a good critique of newspaper sourcing practices when quoting “experts” from think tanks. The NYT acknowledge in a story today that they were caught out in their earlier reporting of The Lincoln Group’s activities in Iraq. The Lincoln Group a PR outfit with ten million dollars worth of contracts in Iraq has been under investigation for paying to get pro-US stories in local Iraqi media and most recently paying Sunni clerics for their support.

Last month when the story broke, and again this morning, the NYT quotes “Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research organization” as an outside expert. They acknowledge this morning that Rubin may not be just a disinterested scholar:

Mr. Rubin was quoted last month in The New York Times about Lincoln’s work for the Pentagon placing articles in Iraqi publications: “I’m not surprised this goes on,” he said, without disclosing his work for Lincoln. “Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists and insurgents – replete with oil boom cash – do the same. We need an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind our backs.”

However The Revealer’s Jeff Sharlet makes the more pertinent point:

This obscures the fact that Rubin is not a “scholar” in the traditional sense of the term, but a committed neoconservative activist, a former official of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and, according to two reliable reporters in the liberal magazine Mother Jones, one of Wolfowitz’s cheerleaders in the early stages of the war.

This doesn’t mean Rubin shouldn’t be quoted in the paper, but it does mean that he should be identified as more than a “Middle East scholar.” Rubin’s an apparatchik.

And a loony one, to boot. The Times‘ ideology-erasure policy not only recasts conservatives (and in other cases, leftists) as centrists, it also gives its talking heads the appearance of reasonable detachment. You be the judge. (More about Rubin here, from the leftist International Relations Center.)

…Perspectives of people such as Rubin should be in the news — after all, he helped make the events under discussion happen — but they should not be categorized as outside “experts.” That’s like quoting a naked PETA activist as a neutral observer in an article about fur.

Technorati Tags:

Answering back

Great article in the NYT by Katherine Seelye on the way the internet is changing the relationships between sources and journalists, between the writers and those being written about. It is a great article because it does what good journalism does, it provides a range of points of view while still being pointed in its analysis. It begins with a fairly bland analysis of the phenomenon:

Unhappy subjects discovered a decade ago that they could use their Web sites to correct the record or deconstruct articles to expose what they perceived as a journalist’s bias or wrongheaded narration.

But now they are going a step further. Subjects of newspaper articles and news broadcasts now fight back with the same methods reporters use to generate articles and broadcasts – taping interviews, gathering e-mail exchanges, taking notes on phone conversations – and publish them on their own Web sites. This new weapon in the media wars is shifting the center of gravity in the way that news is gathered and presented, and it carries implications for the future of journalism.

Too many journalists would have left it at that and this would have been one of the many articles that concentrate on the mechanistic ways blogs and the internet are influencing journalism. But Seelye goes further:

The printing of transcripts, e-mail messages and conversations, and the ability to pull up information from search engines like Google, have empowered those whom Jay Rosen, a blogger and journalism professor at New York University, calls “the people formerly known as the audience.”

“In this new world, the audience and sources are publishers,” Mr. Rosen said. “They are now saying to journalists, ‘We are producers, too. So the interview lies midpoint between us. You produce things from it, and we do, too.’ From now on, in a potentially hostile interview situation, this will be the norm.”

These processes are changing both journalism paradigms and journalism practices.

Journalists now realise that they have to be extra careful in their transactions with sources and some programs are posting their own full transcripts. It is also changing formal public relations practices with businesses incorporating blogs into their publicity strategies. But the revenge of the source is not just a utopic story about reform and empowerment.

Danny Schechter, executive editor of MediaChannel.org and a former producer at ABC News and CNN, said that while the active participation by so many readers was healthy for democracy and journalism, it had allowed partisanship to mask itself as media criticism and had given rise to a new level of vitriol.

“It’s now O.K. to demonize the messenger,” he said. “This has led to a very uncivil discourse in which it seems to be O.K. to shout down, discredit, delegitimize and denigrate the people who are reporting stories and to pick at their methodology and ascribe motives to them that are often unfair.”

Seelye gives one example where a creationist group used these techniques to dispute a Nightline piece on intelligent design.

Ultimately this process is part of the broader push towards “transparency” in news media:

Reporters say that these developments are forcing them to change how they do their jobs; some are asking themselves if they can justify how they are filtering information. “We’ve got to be more transparent about the news-gathering process,” said Craig Crawford, a columnist for Congressional Quarterly and author of “Attack the Messenger: How Politicians Turn You Against the Media.” “We’ve pretended to be like priests turning water to wine, like it’s a secret process. Those days are gone.”

Some news outlets are posting transcripts of their interviews with newsmakers, and some reporters are posting their own material. Stephen Baker, a senior writer at BusinessWeek, has posted not only transcripts from his interviews but also his own notes on his Web site, saying he likes to involve his readers in the journalistic process.

“Sometimes I say to my readers, Here’s my interview. What story would you have written?” said Mr. Baker, who writes about technology. Journalism, he added, used to be a clear-cut “before and after process,” much like making a meal; the cooking was done privately in the kitchen and then the meal was served. Now, he said, “every aspect of it is scrutinized.”

One of the difficulties with this is that it is forcing a simultaneous public and professional reevaluation of news gathering processes. But it is difficult and confusing to suddenly have a public conversation about news when so much of what journalists take for granted as routine story formation is seen as a quasi alchemical process by much of the public. We have sold the myth of objectivity for so long that it has become common wisdom: whereas once upon a time this provided a protective shield it is now being used as a weapon against us.

It’s classic blowback.

Technorati Tags: ,

Revelation wrestling

From USA Today:

Tonight on ABC’s World News, correspondent Jake Tapper reports on a pro-wrestling match Saturday in Winterville, Ga., complete with body slams, men in tights and a revved-up crowd.

“Ultimate Christian Wrestling is like any other pro-wrestling bout you might see on a Saturday night in rural Georgia,” Tapper says. “Except the characters and story lines come to a dramatic climax at the end of the show straight out of the Book of Revelation: At the end of this show, dozens of folks in the audience said they were called to accept Jesus into their hearts. It was quite a thing to behold.”

Along with rock music, video games, movies and car racing, “wrestling is one of many non-traditional ways evangelicals are reaching out to Americans in what seems a very significant spiritual revival going on,” Tapper says.

From Iconculture:

Wrestling enthusiasts are a diverse group; Christian grapplers hope to tease out those eager to find God and bring them into the fold. The Lord is popping up throughout the culture, from U2 sermons to Papal text messages to Christian paintball. But pro wrestling seems a particularly powerful fit, since it’s already proven well suited for political evangelism. Hardcore piledriving fans can forget about WWE-style bloodbaths, though. Founder Rob Fields promises family-friendly, spiritually uplifting entertainment. Well, as family-friendly as a “Dr. Shock” vs. “Nightmare” grudge match can get.

Technorati Tags:

Student’s grow-up with blogs

Dennis Jerz‘ blogging project at Seton Hill is the subject of a good profile in the Pitsburg Post Gazette, which he gleefully pointed out to Kairos readers.

The anecdotal piece raises a number of key issues about blogging and higher education. The headline “Freedom of speech redefined by blogs: Words travel faster, stay around longer in the blogosphere” tells you that this isn’t going to be the standard media blog bust. The anecdotes in this article actually sum up some of the key points any introduction to blogging in higher education might like to make:

1. Student blogging can lead to dialogue with the wider academic sphere:

Jessica Prokop thought the textbook for her class at Seton Hill University was biased and that its author “seems like a bitter man.” In the annals of student rants, nothing extraordinary there.

Except she didn’t just blurt out those words in her journalism class. She blogged them. Soon, the author himself was responding all the way from England, pledging to re-examine an upcoming edition given her critique.

2. Students move from being users to being co-creators of the internet

Students find that their musings on topics from Plato to video games have been discovered by a parent back home who typed their name into a search engine such as Google. Or they’ll discover their homework was incorporated hundreds of miles away into a stranger’s Internet research.

“In another generation, these students would have simply been users of a computer,” Dr. Jerz said. “Now, they are co-creators of the Internet.”

That is both good and bad.

“I remind students that their blogs are public,” he said. “Someday, they’ll be in a job applicant pool, and a potential employer will run their name through Google, and the angry ranting Web log they wrote at age 17 will turn up.”

3. Problems can become “teachable moments” with real world grit, even though boundaries have to be found and enforced

The piece details a number of students who have been suspended at other universities for posting harmful or defamatory posts about staff, students or minority groups. But these instances can become “teachable moments”:

Those cases, and others like them, illustrate the importance of what some say is an emerging campus trend: Faculty are discussing with their students how the medium is transforming free speech.

“It’s a substantial change in how we engage in discourse, especially in this country,” said Alex Halavais, an official with the Association of Internet Researchers who teaches at the University at Buffalo, part of The State University of New York. “As such, I think universities have a duty in some ways to provide students with the tools they need to better participate in that discourse.”…

[Amy Eisman, director of writing programs with the school of communication at American University] said students were more likely to discover boundaries themselves, sometimes by a rough experience.

4. Students learn to be bloggers and this learning experience can help them position themselves as adults within the public sphere:

Jason Pugh, 20, a junior from West Mifflin, said he’d watched the level of discourse rise as freshmen come to campus and see how upperclassmen build reasoned arguments. “There’s a difference between just saying, ‘You’re wrong,’ and saying, ‘I disagree because of point one and point two,’ ” he said.

He views his own blogs as a far cry from the all-opinion rants of his freshman year. “I’ve learned to do better research, so I don’t sound like I’m someone angry at the world.”

Technorati Tags:

Blogging at the Washington Post

Harry Jaffe reports on new blogging developments at the Washington Post:

Chris Cillizza is the first person hired by Washingtonpost.com—based in Virginia—to spend most of his time in the downtown newsroom, accordin g to political editor John Harris. The Post may have found the crossover reporter to bridge the gap between its print newspaper and Internet site…..

He doesn’t mind being called a blogger: “Blogs can be news- and information-driven without opinion. I see it as real-time reporting with the ability for people to comment.” ….

In time, Cillizza’s brand of crossover reporting might be the norm at the Post. Says Harris: “Chris does represent a bridge between the Web newsroom in Arlington and the one here in DC. I have no doubt that the two operations will merge. It’s inevitable.”

Five years ago, Harris says, there was trepidation among reporters about the emergence of Washingtonpost.com: “Everybody’s gone through the stages of grief—from denial to acceptance to now when they’re competing for better play on the Web site.”

The debate here is still centered on “objectivity” with Cillizza noting he dosen’t vote and he wants to be “as objective as humanly possible.” As Jaffe comments: ” He’s got a politically monastic streak that must warm the heart of executive editor Len Downie”.

The welcome Cillizza has been given is in sharp contrast to the recent strife over web based Dan Froomkin’s White House briefing blog. WP Obudsman Deborah Howell ignited a controversy earlier this month when she wrote of “the two Washington Posts” – the paper and the web site:

Political reporters at The Post don’t like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin’s “White House Briefing,” which is highly opinionated and liberal. They’re afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter.

John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, “The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset — our credibility” as objective news reporters. Froomkin writes the kind of column “that we would never allow a White House reporter to write. I wish it could be done with a different title and display.”

Harris is right; some readers do think Froomkin is a White House reporter. But Froomkin works only for the Web site and is very popular — and Brady is not going to fool with that, though he is considering changing the column title and supplementing it with a conservative blogger.

This is partly a territorial dispute, partly about new technology and partly about the nature of journalism. As Editor and Publisher reported WP politics editor John Harris and Froomkin have diferent interpretations of what is going on. Froomkin:

“My agenda, such as it is, is accountability and
transparency,” Froomkin wrote. “I believe that the president of the
United States, no matter what his party, should be subject to the most
intense journalistic scrutiny imaginable. And he should be able to
easily withstand that scrutiny. I was prepared to take the same
approach with John Kerry, had he become president.”

Froomkin, who does some original reporting himself, is
like a blogger in the way he points to other sources of news, offers
context to the day’s political reporting and points out themes in the
mainstream media’s reporting. “Regular readers know that my column is
first and foremost a daily anthology of works by other journalists and
bloggers,” Froomkin wrote on post.blog. “The omnipresent links make it
easy for readers to assess my credibility.

And Harris:

“The first issue is whether many readers believe
Dan’s column is written by one of the Washington Post’s three White
House reporters,” he wrote. “It seems to me–based on many, many
examples–beyond any doubt that a large share of readers do believe
that. No doubt there are some who enjoy the column for precisely this
reason. If I worked outside the paper, I might presume myself that a
feature titled ‘White House Briefing’ was written by one of the
newspaper’s White House reporters.

“Given that there is such confusion, the question is
whether this is a problem. For me it is a problem. I perceive a good
bit of his commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism–or
at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions. Dan, as I
understand his position, says that his commentary is not ideologically
based, but he acknowledges it is written with a certain irreverence and
adversarial purpose. Dan does not address the main question in his
comments. He should. If he were a White House reporter for a major news
organization, would it be okay for him to write in the fashion he does?

“If the answer is yes, we have a legitimate
disagreement. If the answer is no, there is not really a debate:
washingtonpost.com should change the name of his column to more
accurately present the fact that this is Dan Froomkin’s take on the
news, not the observations of someone who is assigned by the paper to
cover the news.

The choice of words is interesting. Froomkin frames his work not in terms of objectivity but in terms of transparency – the term that Dan Gilmour suggest is a better contemporary motif for journalistic ideals.

Spielbergian meditations

Manohla Dargis’ review of Munich in the New York Times make’s Spielberg’s new film sound much more interesting than other reports that I have read:

“Munich” is as much a meditation on ethics as a political thriller, but it takes nothing away from the film to say that the most adrenaline-spiked part of this genre hybrid involves getaway cars, false papers and the sight of the future Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who pops up during a mission in Lebanon, mowing down terrorists while dressed in a woman’s wig and high heels. In between the cloak, dagger and drag, the telephone bombs and a veritable alphabet soup of intrigue (C.I.A., P.L.O., K.G.B.), the years pass with increasing desperation and the team’s numbers dwindle. Forced into a new kind of exodus, far from the homeland meant to provide justification for their every action, Avner and his men wander the continent that three decades earlier had been the staging ground for the extermination of European Jewry.For these wandering, bickering, argumentative Jews, every safe house and port of call becomes an occasion for yet another discussion about Israel and identity. Nothing if not conversational, “Munich” is organized around three crucial dialogues: Meir’s discussion of vengeance with her advisers, which ends with her declaration that every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values; a brief discussion between Avner and a Palestinian who predicts Israel’s defeat; and, finally, a bitter encounter between two Israelis who fail to find common ground even in that multicultural utopia known as Brooklyn. With its dead-eye view of Lower Manhattan and the twin towers, this scene makes clear (as if there was any doubt) that Mr. Spielberg is as worried about this country as he is about Israel.

This entry linked to Wikispaces page (munich)

The age of spin

This sums it all up. From a Washington Post profile on White House press sec Scott McLellan:

On the Thursday morning after his reelection in November 2004, President Bush bounded unexpectedly into the Roosevelt Room of the White House, where about 15 members of his communications team were celebrating, the room was decorated with great accessories and even candles you can see in this review online. He just wanted to thank everyone for their hard work on the campaign, he said, before singling someone out.

“Is Scotty here? Where’s Scotty?” Bush asked, half-grinning, according to two people who were in the meeting but asked not to be quoted by name because they were discussing a private event. Bush scanned the room for Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary.

“I want to especially thank Scotty,” the president said, looking at his aide. “I want to thank Scotty for saying” — and he paused for effect. . . .

” Nothing .”

At which point everyone laughed and the president left the room.

This is one of those quips that distill a certain essence of the game. In this era of on-message orthodoxy, the republic has evolved to where the leader of the free world can praise his most visible spokesman for saying nothing.

C.J. he aint!

Technorati Tags:

Blog as place and genre

Excellent piece in Kairos on “Blogging Places”. Tim Lindgren explores a range of new place blogs that are primarily concerned with locality and ecology as distinct from the global or purely personal approach of much of the blogsphere.

Some unrepresentative cherry picks:

On blogging genres:

Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd suggest, blogging is remarkable for its ability to adapt to particular rhetorical exigencies, such that “already it may no longer be accurate to think of the blog as a single genre.” In other words, it now may be less meaningful to discuss blogging in general than to examine distinct varieties of the genre such as war blogging, political blogging, academic blogging, or—for the purposes of this study—place blogging. Rather than treating place blogging as a genre of its own (or even as a subgenre), this study will primarily examine it as an adaptation, or perhaps more precisely, a localization of blogging with both generic and geographic qualities….

Anis Bawarshi’s manner of describing genre seems particularly apt in this context: in his words, a genre is “both a habit and a habitat—the conceptual habitat within which individuals perceive and experience a particular environment as well as the rhetorical habit by a through which they function within that environment” (84). In Genre and the Invention of the Writer, Bawarshi suggests that writing is by nature a form of inhabitation: “Writing takes place. It takes place socially and rhetorically. To write is to position oneself within genres–to assume and enact certain situated commitments, identities, relations, and practices” (14). Moreover, a genre possesses “ecological” qualities that enable it to “coordinate a symbiotic relationship between social habitats and rhetorical habitats” (82).

On Journalism and place blogging

The journalistic ancestry of blogging is apparent in local blogs like Simon’s Living in Dryden in which he documents the political and community life in his area of upstate New York: “At this point it’s clear that there’s more than enough going on in Dryden for stories every day. There is an incredible amount happening here, and only a fraction of it can make the paper” (“Six Months”). Simon provides an independent source of news to supplement the conventional print sources, and it is clear throughout that this role as an independent journalist is a local one—he writes as a local for a local audience. For this reason, his blog tends to serve as a growing archive of the local knowledge he considers important for responsible civic engagement in the community.

On blogging as rhetorical place

For Nicholas Burbules, the web is a “rhetorical place” rather than a “rhetorical space” because a place is “a socially or subjectively meaningful space.” In his formulation, this place has 1) “navigational and the semantic elements” such as an “objective, locational dimension: people can look for a place, find it, move within it” and a 2) “semantic dimension: it means something important to a person or group of people, and this latter dimension may or may not be communicable to others.” (78) In his mind, space “does not capture the distinctive way in which users try to make the Web familiar, to make it their space–to make it a place.” By contrast, “calling the Web a rhetorical place suggests…that it is where users come to find and make meanings, individual and collectively ” (78).

In his typification of “place blogs” Lindgren extends Miller and Shepherd’s genre analysis of blogs. Miller and Shepherd talk about the “ancestral genres” of blogs and a process they call “speciation”:

Because blogs appeared so suddenly and so recently, and because evidence about them and those who use them is so available, we have an unusual opportunity to study the evolution of a genre. In this case we can examine what the evolutionary biologist would call speciation, the development of a new genre, rather than the process of adaptative transformation,.. Jamieson’s work on early presidential oratory (1973, 1975) and Miller’s study of the Environmental Impact Statement (1984) did examine the creation of new genres, the first as precedent-setting responses to unprecedented situations, the second as a rhetorically unsuccessful but legally mandated response to a situation defined by“or brought into being by” Congress. One important way to study the rhetorical innovation of a new genre, Jamieson argued, is to look for the “chromosomal imprint of ancestral genres” (Jamieson, 1973); for example, the presidential inaugural can be fully understood as a genre only by seeing in it the imprint of the sermon (Jamieson, 1973), and the State of the Union address can be understood only by seeing it as a successor to the King’s Speech to Parliament (Jamieson, 1975). These ancestral genres should be considered part of the rhetorical situation to which the rhetor responds, constraining the perception and definition of the situation and its decorum for both the rhetor and the audience.

Lindgren uses Bolter and Grusin’s term “remediation” to describe this process. He sumarises Miller and Shepherd’s ancestral forms:

  • genres of political journalism: pamphlet or broadside, the editorial, and the opinion column.
  • personal genres: journal and the diary, along with the newer electronic genres of the home page and the webcam
  • genres of collecting and organizing information: clipping service or media monitoring service, commonplace book

He then ads to this list the specific ancestral genres of place blogs:

Personal Essays

When Chris from Bowen Island Journal describes place blogs as “collections of stories of the writer’s engagement with a place, including the land and culture of a place,” he points to the influence of the essay tradition….

Travel Writing

Traveling often enables a writer to step outside of her routine and perceive a place with new eyes, to see what appears to be natural or inevitable as something constructed…..

Ethnography and Journalism

If place blogging exhibits ancestral ties to the nature writer’s log or the field notebook, it also shares affinities with the notebook of the ethnographer or journalist.

Such a classification is very useful for thinking about many different forms of blogs and provides a useful way of inviting students to do a range of different writing within the blogging environment.

Technorati Tags:

Bigger than Jesus

Any article that begins: “How big are blogs? Bigger than Jesus. Bigger than sex” sounds like it’s going to be yet another blogsploitation spiel. However Daniel Rubin’s article in the Philadelphia Inquirer is a pretty good summary of major blogging trends.

If 2004 was the year blogs entered the language (so says Merriam-Webster), then 2005 was the year they found their voice. Mainstream media embraced blogs, corporations embraced blogs, spammers embraced blogs.

It was a time of great convergence, with indie blogs joining together to capture audience and advertising, as brand-name media shed their institutional voices to go unfiltered where the readers were.

I think it is this friction between the institutional adoption of blogs and their original independent impulse that is one of the most interesting things about the current evolution of the blogsphere. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew internet project makes the point that we are in a key transitional moment:

“The mainstream media opened its arms to bloggers in crisis moments in all sorts of ways,” Rainie says. “We have entered this melding stage of thinking… . We’ve been through anger and fighting. Now we are in the wary-embrace stage. At some point, it will be wholesale endorsement.”

The question becomes will it be endorsement of the form or endorsement of the ethos of the blogsphere.

The Sydney Morning Herald produced one of the earliest mainstream experiments with Margo Kingston’s webdiary. It was a genuine evolving space with a commitment to diversity and discussion that became a community for negotiated discussion not just a bullitedn board. For reasons that still remain unclear Kingston was shafted and had to go independent. She has now retired from the blogsphere, even though others have continued her project.

The Herald has replaced her with The Contrarian which like many mainstream media blogs is a traditional column with a comments facility

The real change will come when mainstream media realise that blogging is a new way of relating to content not just a new way of disseminating it.

Not Racist?

First the PM, and now Peter Costello and Maurice Iemma, they all say that "Australia is not a racist country." It is as if repeating the refrain will somehow transform our current grim reality.

Costello’s other claim is that the media – including Alan Jones – didn’t "whip" anything up.

"I think racism can be easily whipped up in Australia," Mr
Costello said.

"I don’t think there’s racism on the street, no, I think we’re a
very accepting country," he told ABC Radio.

Sydney talkback radio personalities, including Macquarie Radio’s
Alan Jones, have been accused of fuelling racial tensions in the
wake of the recent Cronulla riot.

Asked if he thought Jones "went too far", Mr Costello said he
did not.

"That’s not what I mean by whipping up," Mr Costello said.

"I think it can be fanned if gangs of youths come into a
neighbourhood and try and take it over. That can fan racism.

"If people, say, get down and launch an attack, a counter-attack
on gangs of youths, they can whip it up. It can be whipped up from
both sides."

So racism can "easily" be whipped up. But we are not a racist country. Racism is "fanned" if gangs of youth come into a neighbourhood and try "to take it over". It is an example of the strange political double speak that is reported constantly in the media without comment.

Apart from his claims of gangs trying to "take over" neighbourhoods, Costello’s metaphor is telling. You fan a fire only if there are simmering coals. On a day to day basis much of Australia is indeed an accepting kind of place but there are always those simmering coals waiting to be fanned by someone who doesn’t belong stepping into the wrong neighbourhood.

It seems like the public is not being hoodwinked. A poll indicates that large number agree with the PM’s statement that the recent events in Cronulla don’t reflect a racist reality in this country.

The Herald Poll reveals deep concerns about the long-term
impact of the riots: 59 per cent of respondents believe the
violence at Cronulla and other Sydney beaches would damage
Australia’s international reputation. Only 38 per cent think
Australia’s image has not been tarnished.

The results are in stark contrast to John Howard’s statement
following the Cronulla riots: "I do not accept there is underlying
racism in this country."

According to the poll, 75 per cent of respondents disagree with
Mr Howard’s statement and 22 per cent agree.

The proportion of people who believe there is an undercurrent of
racism was highest among minor party and independent voters (84 per
cent) and Labor voters (76 per cent). However, more than two-thirds
of Coalition voters – 68 per cent – also disagreed with Mr

The poll found people were more comfortable with immigration
levels than they were immediately after the Tampa crisis. Only 33
per cent polled over the weekend by ACNielsen considered the
current intake "too high" compared with 41 per cent in September

The number of people who thought immigration levels were too low
climbed by one point to 11 per cent.

The poll revealed 81 per cent backing for multiculturalism.

By the way this is what Alan Jones said when he wasn’t either whipping up or fanning. He urged a local show of force:

"A rally, a street march, call it what you will.
A community show of force," he told listeners, at one point even going
so far as to push for locals at Cronulla to get Pacific Islanders
involved because "they don’t take any nonsense".

Indeed it’s time for all of us to show that we wont be taking any nonsense.

It takes a riot

It takes a riot to get Australian news into the world media.

This week we even made SF Gate’s World Views with the unflattering headline: "Australia’s Leb Bashings" the other piece in the column this week was on the international reaction to the US torture policy – fine comapnion pieces:

War, bombings and torture in other places are the routine stuff of
headlines, but this past weekend, sun worshippers at Cronulla Beach in
Sydney, Australia, got a taste of a different kind of violence — the
homemade kind. Reportedly provoked by assaults about a week ago on two
lifeguards at the beach by youths described as being of "Middle Eastern
appearance," Sunday’s race riots involved what papers called "thousands of
drunken youths." (BBC/Daily Telegraph/Courier-Mail)

A number of commentators have compared the situation in Cronulla with the recent riots outside Paris. But Gary Sauer-Thompson makes a key distinction:

The race riots at Cronulla
on the weekend bring the Australian Right into the foreground. The
riots can be connected to what recently happened in France. I agree
with Andrew Norton over at Catallaxy
that the Cronulla violence is similar to the most recent Sydney riots
at Macquarie Fields and Redfern. In both the French and Sydney cases
the base economic issues are clear: poorly educated young people
fuelled by anger, dispossession and booze/drugs, low incomes and poor
job prospects, turning tribal.

However,what happened Cronulla is also different from the events in
France. Cronulla turned tribal and became racist, without the police or
the political authorities fueling racism, which is what happened in France.

The other key distinction is that the media in both countries have behaved very differently as the Australian Media section reported on Thursday:

French media had a rather novel ethical
approach to covering the recent Paris race riots after the images
reached saturation point: they simply stopped showing them.

Incensed critics have labelled the move censorship, accusing
the French media of political biases and an over-inflated sense of
power. Yet others have seen the move as an indication that the media –
a powerful social force — could also possess a social conscience.

"We have a unique situation in France at the moment. Because
events have been continuing for some weeks, we have the time to
consider the impact of our reporting," says Antonin Lhote, chief editor
at Canal Plus, one of France’s privately owned television stations.

"Often when we film something, we are unaware of its impact until later. Our job is simply to witness.

"But here we have the unique opportunity to consider what the images mean and whether they should be shown."

The difference, Lhote says, is that the station has decided not
to show the images it obtains for fear of spreading what he calls a
contagion through the thoughtless dissemination of the images.

"It’s not about the violence," he says. "Iraq, Tel Aviv,
Pakistan … these are all much more violent images. But they are news.
This is not news; it is a show. We know there can be a perverse
relationship between young men and the media, and they are giving us
beautiful pictures … things burning, people running around in the
night, it looks wonderful. But what we want to do is draw the
distinction between spectaculars and news."

Images of cronulla


It is interesting to look at the evolution of the press images of the Cronulla riots.

Last Saturday the Sydney Morning Herald published a very provactive image of a defiant ozzie – literally a true blue singlet wearing sufie.

This week we have an attempt to represent something of the multicultural efforts at reconcilliation.

It seems to me that last week’s image was an invitation to riot.

Hopefully this week’s image is an invitation to dialogue.

Hopefully it also reflects some growing self awareness in the media that news organisations must contribute to social cohesian not just report social unrest.

Learning to become

Another fine paper from Ulises Mejias: A Nomad’s Guide to Learning and Social Software. (Thanks to Will Richardson for the link) His insights on the cultural working out of social software technology is as astute as usual and his framework is superb:

At a more fundamental level, models of learning based on social software can facilitate the shift from what Brown and Duguid (2000) call learning about to learning to be, or to give a more Deleuzian connotation, to learning as becoming. Learning about implies a passive consumption of knowledge in the form of facts. Learning to be implies the application of knowledge in the development of skills that allows us to fulfill a particular (professional or non-professional) role in society. But to highlight the fact that being is not static, I’m using learning as becoming to signify an ongoing process. Learning, as constant becoming, is the work of nomads, to use another Deleuzian image explained below by Semetsky (2004):

“Nomads must continuously readapt themselves to the open-ended world in which even the line of horizon may be affected by the changing conditions of wind, shifting sands or storms so that no single rule of knowing that [learning about] would ever assist nomads in their navigations, perhaps only knowing how [learning to be, or learning as becoming] would” (Semetsky 2004:447, italics in original; my additions in brackets).

Semetsky continues by quoting Casey. ‘The local operations of relay must be oriented by the discovery (and often continual rediscovery) of direction (Casey 1997:306)’. Becoming, as this continual rediscovery of direction, takes place in relation to the world and to others. What social software can do is to help us re-situate learning in an open-ended social context, providing opportunities for moving beyond the mere accessing of content (learning about) to the social application of knowledge in a constant process of re-orientation (learning as becoming).

Technorati Tags:

Gone Carnivalesque

I guess I’ve been buttoned down and not hanging in the blogsphere enough recently but I’ve just discovered the whole “carnival” thing (thanks Clancy here and here).

They are great peer produced collections of blog posts around a designated issue. There are some great postings in the recent Teaching Carnivals. Everything from New Kid on being the hearty professor to a great post by Scott Barnett on what he’s doing (or trying to do) when he asks students to blog:

When I finally decided to use blogs in a writing course, I did so from a position of advocate, of someone who sees great value in the act of writing as often as possible. Not to get too Dead Poets Society here, but I wanted my students to use blogging as a way to see the world differently, to walk around as I have in the past year with that strange and exhilarating Eye that not only finds in moments those ideal (and often unusual) blogging urgencies, but that takes pleasure as well in their all-around weirdness.

I too am getting my students to blog in a summer course I am taking and have been thinking about the many imperatives of blogging. It’s a media studies course for journalism students and the blog is meant to be a way of getting the students to become reflective media critics. But like Scott I am also very keen to simply get them to write. To my great delight some of them have taken to it like ducks to water and are slowly beginning to produce some wonderful stuff that has that great bloggy mix of personal tone, connectedness and insight.

I think it is in the mix of those three elements that blogging has a great role to play in education. It helps us move beyond rigid forms of academic writing which teach students to only value that which is complete and finished. I have been saying to my class that blogging is all about cumulative, linked meaning making not about conclusive arguments. It’s a form of research as well as a form of publication. It is writing as discovery.

Technorati Tags: ,

God’s wrath on Trent Lott

I was struck that in his first speech on the New Orlean’s crisis the only specific reference to damage and rebuilding by Bush was in his throw-away line about Trent Lott:

We’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do. First, we’re going to save lives and stabilize the situation. And then we’re going to help these communities rebuild. The good news is — and it’s hard for some to see it now — that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott’s house — he’s lost his entire house — there’s going to be a fantastic house. And I’m looking forward to sitting on the porch.

Of course Lott’s house will be rebuilt and of course Bush will again relax on his colleague’s porch. But this image of the resilience of the powerful and their ongoing collusion is hardly a comforting image to those who are much less well connected and much less well resourced.

It is an irony that it is the anti-gay Lott who has suffered. Perhaps Katrina was God’s wrath on the homophobia of the South!

Technorati Tags:

Bush’s photo-ops

Bush is being criticised for not acting fast enough and for a lack luster, even humorous, speech when he first addressed the plight of New Orleans. The New York Times has become increasingly strident in its editorials over the last few days:

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

Bush doesn’t seem to have either a natural sense of compassion or even a natural political instinct on these occasions when symbolic leadership is most needed. Either Clinton or Reagan would have acted immediately and made us feel that they were involved personally and politically with the crisis. This symbolic act of the leader is of such importance and has real impact on the course of actual events by creating a buoyant atmosphere for recovery. But there is a difference between a genuine act of symbolic leadership, which requires engagement, reflection and action and a staged media event. Increasingly it is difficult for both politicians and the public to distinguish between the two.

A story has just emerged about how deliberately the Bush team stage managed the tour of the crisis zone. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu has just released a statement:

“But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast – black and white, rich and poor, young and old – deserve far better from their national government.

This has been reported by the wires and some blogs but doesn’t appear to have been picked up by the mainstream press yet.

It is confirmed by at least one report from a viewer of a German news service who says the German account of Bush’s tour differed markedly from the CNN account:

There was a striking dicrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV.

ZDF News reported that the president’s visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of ‘news people’ had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.

The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF.

Technorati Tags:

Blame the gays

The floods in New Orleans has given rise to the usual discourse of balme from predictable quarters. Repent America director Michael Marcavage:

“Just days before ”Southern Decadence“, an annual homosexual celebration attracting tens of thousands of people to the French Quarters section of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina destroys the city….

”Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city…New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. From the devastation may a city full of righteousness emerge.“

What is interesting about this release is that it is not just attacking the usual suspects it is explicitly holding the whole city to blame for their permissivness in allowing these events to occur. He ends on a note of psuedo-compassion:

”We must help and pray for those ravaged by this disaster, but let us not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long. May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God.“

The symbolic violence implicit in this kind of discourse is the same as the will to violence in Governor Blanco’s invocation of the troops ability and willingness to kill. Jeff Sharlet reports:

Three hundred troops directly from Iraq have landed in the city, and ”they have M-16s, and they’re locked and loaded,“ blusters Louisiana Governor Blanco. ”These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will.“

As Sharlet also suggests on this occasion there are indeed people to blame or at least people that must be held accountable for their ”stewardship“. This whole violent erruption is undergirded by the historic and willful refusal of government and corporate powers to address the saftey of the people of New Orleans. This refusal is in itself an act of violence by the US government on its own people and has also been linked by a number of commentators to funding cuts that are the direct result of the cost of Bush’s militarised war on terror.

This event is not about the violence of God it is about the interlocking violence of man – male pronoun used deliberately because this is masculinist violence no matter the gender of the perpetrator – obvious at so many levels. It is indeed a call to righteousness but not of the type Marcavage imagines.

Technorati Tags:

The Vietnamization of Bush’s Vacation – New York Times

In another installment of blistering analysis Frank Rich writes of the Vietnamization of Bush’s Vacation. It’s an astute look at Bush’s stubborn refusal to face the reality of the dismal state of the conflict in Iraq. He’s just going to stay the course with his stay the course line, it would seem. Given he doesn’t have to get re-elected maybe he just intend to wait out the next three years. But as Rich points out the Democrats aren’t doing much better. One striking image stands out:

If there’s a moment that could stand for the Democrats’ irrelevance it came on July 14, the day Americans woke up to learn of the suicide bomber in Baghdad who killed as many as 27 people, nearly all of them children gathered around American troops. In Washington that day, the presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference vowing to protect American children from the fantasy violence of video games.

In another collusive fantasy the Pentagon is marketing the memorial of September 11:

The marketing campaign will crescendo in two weeks, on the anniversary of 9/11, when a Defense Department “Freedom Walk” will trek from the site of the Pentagon attack through Arlington National Cemetery to a country music concert on the Mall. There the false linkage of Iraq to 9/11 will be hammered in once more, this time with a beat: Clint Black will sing “I Raq and Roll,” a ditty whose lyrics focus on Saddam, not the Islamic radicals who actually attacked America. Lest any propaganda opportunity be missed, Arlington’s gravestones are being branded with the Pentagon’s slogans for military campaigns, like Operation Iraqi Freedom, The Associated Press reported last week – a historic first. If only the administration had thought of doing the same on the fallen’s coffins, it might have allowed photographs.

Technorati Tags:

News, Community Service and TV drama

Monday’s episode of 24 began with a casually dressed Kiefer Sutherland and a message for viewers:

“Hi. My name is Kiefer Sutherland. And I play counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer on Fox’s ‘24’. I would like to take a moment to talk to you about something that I think is very important. Now while terrorism is obviously one of the most critical challenges facing our nation and the world, it is important to recognize that the American Muslim community stands firmly beside their fellow Americans in denouncing and resisting all forms of terrorism. So in watching 24, please, bear that in mind.”

The episode continued the story line of an American Muslim sleeper cell who had been planning a massive attack on the nation’s nuclear power plants for years. One of the focuses of the episode was the attempt by one of the lead terrorists to find and kill his fifteen year old son who had begun to have cold feet. He says to his distraught wife: “We can allow nothing to interfere with what we have worked for. We will have time to mourn later.”

The episode was as usual punctuated with ads for the news, which concerned terrorism. This connection to wold events was firmly made with the extended “news break” that was shown at the end of the program. The lead items included: the arrest of one of the London bombers and discussion of his statements that the second attacks were only meant to scare, this was disputed by a legal expert who speculated that this was only a ploy to establish a good story for court. This was followed without a break about the case of a local muslim Qantas baggage handler who was being tried for terrorist links, he was shown handcuffed and in arabic garb. Next we were told that PM JH had contested the assertion of those on trial for the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta that the attack was payback for Australian involvement with Iraq.

Where as 24 presents its transitions between the simultaneous events being narrated with breakout frames and multiple screens, the news coverage of these three events was presented with a continuous stream of images and voice over and only verbal transitions such as: “In London/In a sydney court/in Indonesia”. One of the effects of this breathless presentation is to collapse the events into a single narrative and the narrative is not about possible motivations or the events themselves it is about the overarching story line of “Muslim Terrorists”.

The news then segued into another program: Threat Matrix, also about an elite counter-terrorism unit and in one of the early ad breaks Kiefer Sutherland was again urging us not to stereotype Muslims.

Technorati Tags:

The Bush language program of mass distraction

NYT’s Frank Rich has another great column. This time he looks at some of the issues surrounding the Plame affair. He concludes that the real scandal is the war:

The real crime here remains the sending of American men and women to Iraq on fictitious grounds. Without it, there wouldn’t have been a third-rate smear campaign against an obscure diplomat, a bungled cover-up and a scandal that – like the war itself – has no exit strategy that will not inflict pain.

But what most struck me was his pithy summary of Bush’s changing language to describe the war and its aftermath:

On May 1, 2003, Mr. Bush celebrated “Mission Accomplished.” On May 29, Mr. Bush announced that “we found the weapons of mass destruction.” On July 2, as attacks increased on American troops, Mr. Bush dared the insurgents to “bring ‘em on.” But the mission was not accomplished, the weapons were not found and the enemy kept bringing ‘em on. It was against this backdrop of mounting desperation on July 6 that Mr. Wilson went public with his incriminating claim that the most potent argument for the war in the first place, the administration’s repeated intimations of nuclear Armageddon, involved twisted intelligence.

Mr. Wilson’s charge had such force that just three days after its publication, Mr. Bush radically revised his language about W.M.D.’s. Saddam no longer had W.M.D.’s; he had a W.M.D. “program.” Right after that George Tenet suddenly decided to release a Friday-evening statement saying that the 16 errant words about African uranium “should never have been included” in the January 2003 State of the Union address – even though those 16 words could and should have been retracted months earlier. By the next State of the Union, in January 2004, Mr. Bush would retreat completely, talking not about finding W.M.D.’s or even W.M.D. programs, but about “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities.”

Technorati Tags: ,

24 Season 4

Jack Audrey Heller Driscoll

The synergy between news and entertainment was apparent in the Australian premiere of season 4 of 24 tonight.

The first episode begins with a train bombed and derailed by terrorists, then, cross to the first ad break: a news update which leads with the latest on the London subway bombing.

The double episode ended with the usual promo for next week with the announcer urging us to tune in to see “what lengths the terrorists will go to”. After the credits Seven led into an extended news update which included footage of London’s mayor Ken Livingston catching a train and a “back-to-work-we-wont-let-them-win” theme.

The dialectic between the visceral build up of tension produced by the “live” structure of 24 and its hero’s inevitable triumph is mirrored in the contrasting message of terror and hope embodied in a grim-faced Livingston boarding a train. Although 24 plays the traditional hero myth it also re-wrote the rules of this serial genre by allowing the death of key figures such as Jack’s wife in series one. We know that Jack will win but we can no longer be sure at what cost.

Similarly the news is constantly telling us that “we” will win even though we can no longer be sure “what lengths the terrorists will go to”.

Other news included John Howard’s denial that Britain was preparing a withdrawal from Iraq which would necessitate Australia sending more troops but a confirmation that Australia would be sending further troops to Afghanistan. This reminder of the nexus between Australian, British and US military operations highlighted the “reality” of the 24 terrorists claim that this was an “us” (muslim) against “you” (western nations) battle.

In this new world the best we can do is get up and get back on the train. Just like Livingston. Just like Jack.

Technorati Tags:

Reviews in on Woodward

Editor and Publisher summarises the none to glowing early reviews of Bob Woodward’s Deep Throat book, The Secret Man:

One of the leading political writers of today, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, declares: “If Bob Woodward were in journalism school, his professor might have handed back his new book, ‘The Secret Man,’ as incomplete.”

And USA Today’s chief book critic, Bob Minzesheimer, today writes: “Woodward’s book is filled with as many questions as answers. It’s more about Woodward than Felt. It’s fascinating and frustrating, revealing and disingenuous, self-critical and self-serving.”

Meanwhile, in a Time magazine item, Alicia Shepard (who is writing a biography of Woodward and Bernstein) takes this shot: “Bob Woodward’s memoir … doesn’t shed much new light on Watergate. But it does tell us a lot about how Woodward, the journalist who helped bring down a President, cowered around his secret source, W. Mark Felt.”

In his review, Ron Brownstein calls it an “intermittently engaging but ultimately slight memoir” and says Woodward “fails to answer the most important question remaining after Felt unveiled his identity in a Vanity Fair story: Why? Why did a career FBI agent who had ascended to the second-ranking position in the bureau, and who didn’t think much of the press, leak such critical information about the scandal to Woodward?

It seems to me that the answer to that question isn’t very difficult to answer. It has to do with thwarted ambition. Felt’s personal ambition to head the FBI was thwarted by Nixon but also Felt obviously thought that Nixon was thwarting the very agency that Felt had helped Hoover create. This is of course different to the traditional whistle blower’s concern for justice because the agency that Felt and Hoover had created had very little to do with justice. Felt himself only avoided jail time via a Reagan pardon over some of his dodgy practices. But for Woodward to admit or speculate about any of this would be to blow the myth of Watergate sky high. Once Felt’s ambition was showing then maybe Woodward’s own ambition would also be more carefully scrutinised.

Technorati Tags:

This entry linked to Wikispaces page (space.menu)

Project Deep Impact

Pia02132 Modest 58B101B75B05Fde4733Cb2476B0697Ae 121507Main Hri-070405-330

The NASA Deep Impact mission which has exploded a probe into an orbiting comet has released a series of impressive images. The mission named after the 1998 film has again blurred the line between popular science and popular culture. Everyone seems excited and impressed but not that clear what its all about. The pop science site Red Nova’s report is headlined: “NASA cheers probes direct hit on comet”.

It sounded like science fiction – NASA scientists used a space probe to chase down a speeding comet 83 million miles away and slammed it into the frozen ball of dirty ice and debris in a mission to learn how the solar system was formed.

The unmanned probe of the Deep Impact mission collided with Tempel 1, a pickle-shaped comet half the size of Manhattan, late Sunday as thousands of people across the country fixed their eyes to the southwestern sky for a glimpse.

The impact at 10:52 p.m. PDT was cause for celebration not only to scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, but also for the more than 10,000 people camped out at Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach to watch it on a giant movie screen.

“It’s almost like one of those science fiction movies,” said Steve Lin, a Honolulu physician.

The cosmic smash-up did not significantly alter the comet’s orbit around the sun and NASA said the experiment does not pose any danger to Earth – unlike the scary comet headed for Earth in the 1998 movie, “Deep Impact.”

So much for the spectacle, and the science…

Rough images by the mothership that released the probe on its suicide mission 24 hours earlier showed a bright white flash from the comet upon impact, which hurled a cloud of debris into space. When the dust settles, scientists hope to peek inside the comet’s frozen core – a composite of ice and rock left over from the early solar system.

Technorati Tags:

New Keanu Film

I’ve just been reading about the new Keanu Reeve’s film: A Scanner Darkly. It’s an adaption of a Philip K Dick novel set in the not too distant future where “we have lost the war on drugs” and Keanu plays an undercover cop/addict in a junkie squat on the track of “Substance D”.

Hopes are high for the film in the sci-fi community. And the Philip K Dick family trust have given it the thumbs up. As one sci-fi site proclaims:

It’s Keanu Reeves in one of author Philip K. Dick’s greatest novels. Whoa!

Even though Philip K. Dick’s work inspired some of the best-known and most beloved sci-fi movies there are (such as Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall) the truth is that the true Dick-ian (don’t snigger you!) movie — reflecting the author’s metaphysical obsession with what reality is and what makes one human — has yet to be made.

The movie version of A Scanner Darkly might just be that movie.

For starters, it is based on one of Dick’s best works, one informed by Dick’s own painful experiences in the drug culture of California in the 1970s. It neatly balances Dick’s own autobiographical experiences, the narrative’s plot requirements and infuses it with Dick’s customary black humour. Yes, despite its bleak subject matter it is also quite funny.

What makes it particularly interesting to me is that it extends Keanu’s sci-fi/metaphysical hero journey begun with Johnny Mnemonic and continued into the Matrix and Constantine. But not only that, like the Matrix it also extends the mythology of technology in and of film-making with its innovative techniques.

Keanuscanner1-1 Keanuscanner3 Keanuscanner2

It has been written and directed by Richard Linklater with his trademark combo of live acting overlaid with animation. Linklater used this technique in his 2001 feature Waking Life which was also a metaphysical tale about dream and reality. The trailer looks startling translating what I take to be the character’s hallucinatory engagement with reality into realistic images that have a literal fluidity on the screen. This combination of new high-tech method to translate a vision of the future is an interesting example of what I am calling a “multi-media mythic cluster” where the lineage, the medium(s) and the narrative all combine to proclaim a mythic message.

Here we have an interesting lineage with the ouvres of Dick, Linklater and Reeves all contributing to the underlying discourse about technology, the future and the hallucinatory self. The filmic technique – which of course is always integral to any cinematic narrative – also foregrounds notions of technology and “the new”. The official site describes it like this:

Like a graphic novel come to life, “A Scanner Darkly” will use live action photography overlaid with an advanced animation process (interpolated rotoscoping) to create a haunting, highly stylized vision of the future. The technology, first employed in Richard Linklater’s 2001 film “Waking Life,” has evolved to produce even more emotional impact and detail.

In an interview with the Austin Chronicle one of main animators talks about the task as following the actor’s elasticity:

“With A Scanner Darkly, we’re trying to be much more cohesive, because we’ve got A-list actors and those guys need to be recognizable. If you’ve got somebody like Robert Downey Jr., who is made of elastic – there is nothing on him that is stationary at any time – capturing all of his expressions and doing justice to someone that great an actor is a real challenge. It’s interesting to see him in particular, because you never really notice how much goes into acting until you see a guy who is going into the scene that way and you see every little nuance that goes into each little piece of his performance. It’s incredibly complex and detailed, and we’ve really got to capture that in the animation.”

There is clearly a fascinating multilayered construction going on here and from the little that I have seen on the trailer the mirroring that occurs back and forth between texts – script/actor/animator/viewer – is quite powerful.

Technorati Tags: ,

War of the Worlds

With the Australian media preview of War of the Worlds last night SMH film writer Gary Maddox has an intriguing little piece in today’s paper. It’s not really a review, it’s not really a comment piece, it’s a short reflection on post 9/11 culture and the new film:

Panicking crowds fleeing down streets. Buildings collapsing. A coat of grey dust on Tom Cruise’s face. A crashed passenger jet. And the first thought when the explosions and killing starts: is it a terrorist attack?….

Other War of the Worlds adaptations tapped into fears about Nazis and the Soviets. While remembering the past, Spielberg has tapped into the new fears about terrorist attacks.

The strength of the movie is the resonances with other wars on humanity, including the Holocaust and Hiroshima. Spielberg is reminding us there have been many threats over the generations, but humanity can survive.

It’s not the first time this connection has been made. In fact Spielberg has been drawing people’s attention to it in many of his publicity interviews. He seems most articulate in this interview with the Chicago Sun Times:

“In my mind, there is that image of everyone fleeing from Manhattan across the bridge after the Sept. 11 attack,” Spielberg says. “That’s a searing image that will never leave our minds.

”This movie is also about people being attacked for no reason. They don’t know why they’re being attacked. We certainly went to great lengths in the movie not to explain any reason for these attackers.“

His screen writer David Koepp says in the same piece that although the reference was explicit they worked hard to make sure the politics were not:

”Certainly, there are a lot of political undertones and overtones,“ Koepp says. ”But we tried consciously to never lead with the politics. That’s a guaranteed way to make a piece of crap.

“The political tones of this movie will emerge for themselves. In the ’50s, ‘War of the Worlds’ was, ‘My God, the commies are coming to get us.’ Now it’s about fear of terrorism. In other parts of the world, the new movie will be fear of American invasion. It will be clearly about the Iraq war for them,” says the screenwriter.

Koepp and Spielberg also makes some interesting comments about the visual and plotting choices that were made:

Spielberg was clear about what film he wanted to make with “War of the Worlds” and what film he refused to do. The rules included: No U.S. landmarks in flames, no beating up on New York City, and no politicians, scientists or generals leading the way to victory. There would also be no shots of world capitals.

There could be airplanes crashing into houses, alien tripods sending a ferry boat the way of the Titanic and dead bodies floating sadly down a river and seen through the eyes of a child (Fanning), who comes across the horrifying site in the woods.

I’ll wait to see how successfully he avoided some of those easy cliches – or rather if he did what others he replaced them with – the frustrating thing about Spielberg is that he is a bleeding heart liberal with an overtly American mythical view of family and nation. His rule about no generals/scientists leading the way to victory will undoubtedly be matched by a parable about the heroic little guy protecting his family. Of course neither point of view really comes to terms with the complex issues of individual and communal agency in the face of disaster.

Technorati Tags:

Blogs versus Discussion Boards

I’ve been thinking again about blogs versus discussion boards. I have always been very anti-discussion boards because personally I don’t like them as a reader or user. I find them aesthetically uninviting and their folded in structure always makes me want to give up. But last semester I had students who responded quite enthusiastically to an assigned online discussion group. The usual problems arose in many groups and much of the valuable content consisted of fairly isolated postings but in a couple of groups the dynamic really worked. I think this was helped by the fact that for part of the semester I used the same groups in tutorial discussions so the message board discussion became a continuation of the face to face work. A few students noted this in the evaluation session.

While thinking about this I stumbled across this posting by Lee Lefever (via Seblogging) which provides an interesting set of metaphoric differentiations that get passed some of the usual technical distinctions:

  • A blog post says "Here it is, dig it"
  • A message board post says "your turn"
  • Comment implies "if you want, not required"
  • Reply implies "I’m not done until you do."
  • A blog is my back yard
  • A message board is a park
  • A blog has readers
  • A message board has lurkers
  • A blog is all about ME
  • A message board is all about US
  • When things go quiet on a blog, the onus is on one person
  • When things go quite on a message board, the onus is on everyone

Sebastian Fielder goes on to make the comments:

Discussion forums and message boards require a consistent effort of a group to work. They fall apart if people sign off and go quiet or if somebody starts to get outright destructive.

Networks of Weblog authors are much more robust. If one goes quiet or produces rubbish nothing major happens to the collective or a single Weblog authoring project which can quite happily stand on its own and develop new connections… and cut off old ties that seem to have lost its value anymore.

None of this gets around the fact that in an educational setting facilitation and modelling is key to helping students get the most out of these types of projects. But I think that Fiedler and Lefever’s distinctions point to the fact that blogging is potentially more adapatable – although there is a definite me/us bias across the two technologies, blogging accomodates social networking more readily than message boards accommodate construction of individuated prescence.

This reminds me of the discussion at Blogtalk Downunder about comments: a number of people, but primarily Mark Bernstein, made the point that comments are not the real facilitator of dialogue, they can in fact be quite destructive and often are trivial. The real communicative element of the blogsphere – what Fiedler calls the "robust" nature of blog newtorks – lies in the linked communication that occurs between blogs.

Fascinatingly transperent

The Washington Post’s report of a Bush press conference reports the president absolutely on-message with his chorus of “we will not surrender”. It begins:

President Bush said yesterday that “cold-blooded” killers will fail in their attempt to drive the United States out of Iraq prematurely, as he defended the administration’s war strategy and its policies for secretly detaining hundreds of alleged terrorists around the world.

But the war strategy is not really the subject of the report. As with much political reporting it is a fascinating mix of obsequious stenography, adversarial murmurs and transparent reflection on political process. The key paragraph is not about what is happening in Iraq it is about what is happening in Washington:

The president’s short-term solution to ease the public anxiety is to spend more time talking about the mission and his vision for victory, aides say.

While this seems to carry an implicit criticism, the demands of objective journalism demands that the journalists give him a platform to do exactly that.

The press conference was held after Bush met with a delegation from the European Union and the report moves back and forth between issues relating to the war and issues such as world poverty discussed with the delegation. The final question concerns Guantanamo Bay.

Pressed by a European reporter, Bush showed no signs of backing away from his policy of detaining alleged terrorists at a U.S. military installation in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at secret facilities in other countries. “The fundamental question facing our government is, what do you do with these people?” he said. Bush, who recently raised the possibility of shutting down the prison in Cuba, shifted gears somewhat yesterday when he staunchly defended the detention center and repeatedly urged reporters to view conditions there firsthand.

“We want to learn as much as we can in this new kind of war about the intention, and about the methods, and about how these people operate,” Bush said. “And they’re dangerous, and they’re still around, and they’ll kill in a moment’s notice.”

It is of course instructive that it was a “European reporter” who asked the question. But what is equally instructive is that the report ends just as it began with choice examples of Bush’s dehumanising rhetoric which is undoubtedly a key part of his “short-term solution to ease the public anxiety”.

The report’s lead opens with reference to “cold-blooded killers” and wraps with “these people” who will “kill in a moment’s notice.” Both statements are rhetorically strong and have a natural attraction as “lead” material but the continual reporting of these kind of statements ends up giving Bush a free ride.

It could be argued that the reporter by foregrounding the strategy issue and by noting that Bush is facing criticism has done his best to temper the statements. But in this “new kind of war” where politicians are deft at delivering rhetoric rather than content journalism needs to rethink its rules of engagement.

Billy Jack Is Ready to Fight the Good Fight Again – New York Times

In a fascinating interview with the New York Times Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor, the husband and wife team that brought us Billy Jack – the classic outsider hero of the 60s/70s – says they are going to make a new film. They are looking at combining the film with political activism around the Iraq war:

“We despise both political parties, really loathe them,” he said. (“We” might be Mr. Laughlin and his alter ego, or it might include his wife, Delores Taylor, who played Billy Jack’s pacifist partner, Jean; but one doesn’t interrupt the man lightly.)

“We the people have no representative of any kind,” he continued. “It’s now the multinationals. They’ve taken over. It’s no different than the 70′s, but it’s gotten worse. And if you use words like ‘impeachment’ or ‘fascist’ you’re a nut on a soapbox.”

So Mr. Laughlin and Ms. Taylor are planning to bring their characters back to the big screen with a new $12 million sequel, raising money from individuals just as they did to make their films three decades ago.

In this new film, they say, they will take on social scourges like drugs, and power players like the religious right. They say they will also outline a way to end the current war and launch a political campaign for a third-party presidential candidate.

They have already formed a 527 nonprofit committee with the aim of ending the war, and say they will run full-page ads in major newspapers beginning next month explaining their plan to withdraw from Iraq. (Money raised for that committee is separate from the film project.)

There is a sense that they are “Billy Jack” lots of talk about thier triumph outside the studio system and Taylor concludes:

“This is something we have to do. We don’t know if it will be successful, but we’re committed. We have to do it. Just like ‘Billy Jack.’ ”

Robert Sklar, professor of cinema studies at New York University notes the seminal importance of the Billy Jack films both in terms of the genre and in terms of the self-releasing model:

“He was the model for Rambo, for ‘Walking Tall,’ When you think of what ‘Rocky’ meant for the culture – Laughlin was ahead of all that. He represented the indomitable outsider, and he was the first one in that era. It was also true in the sense in which he fought to make the film, and fought to get it distributed with this terrific idea of self-releasing.”

We see here an early example of fusion between outsider hero character and outsider hero actor coming together as a political and business statement. A model that has been developed very differently by Arnold Schwazenneger and Mel Gibson.

Bush Season 4

A report from Reuters.com that Bush’s popularity has dropped from 51% to 42% since his election last November, has a summary of recent events that reads like the story arc from a season of West Wing:

Bush began his second term in January with an ambitious plan to overhaul the Social Security retirement program but it has failed to gain traction on Capitol Hill and many Americans are skeptical. The preoccupation over Social Security figured in the delay of his promised attempt to overhaul the tax code.

At the same time, he got caught up — some Republicans say sidetracked — in a battle on Capitol Hill over whether a brain-damaged Florida woman, Terri Schiavo, should be kept alive.

Then came a fight in the Senate over arcane rules about filibusters involving Bush’s judicial nominees, and a protracted fight over his nominee to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

Some Republicans believe those issues proved to be a distraction from Bush’s agenda and showed he was out of touch.

The theatrics of the midnight signing of the Terri Schiavo bill show that this is not just because West Wing is a deft imitation of “real” politics but that presidential politics is more like a television serial. In fact it is a television serial or a reality TV program covered live by CNN and Fox News.

Dark Knight Returns

Batman begins today and all the reviews have been glowing. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times hones in on the characterisation in a way that mirrors much of the discussion on the human/superhero duality that was explored at last weekend’s conference:

What Mr. Nolan gets, and gets better than any other previous director, is that without Bruce Wayne, Batman is just a rich wacko with illusions of grandeur and a terrific pair of support hose. Without his suave alter ego, this weird bat man is a superhero without humanity, an avenger without a conscience, an id without a superego. Which is why, working from his and David S. Goyer’s very fine screenplay, Mr. Nolan more or less begins at the beginning, taking Batman back to his original trauma and the death of his parents. With narrative economy and tangible feeling, he stages that terrible, defining moment when young Master Wayne watched a criminal shoot his parents to death in a Gotham City alley, thereby setting into motion his long, strange journey into the self.

This notion of the “strange journey into the self” ties in with much of my new thinking about my thesis which I am now conceiving as about the “remediation” of both apocalypse and self. This is not merely the traditional story line of self discovery of inner strength in moments of crisis. New modes of fragmented or plurivocal selfhood – the nomadic self – are archetypally appropriate for the apocalyptic moment. This self is always in danger of fragmentation but survives in a dance with apocalyptic forces which are always potent but always di(a)verted.

The Governator

One of the fascinating sessions in the Superheroes conference was the keynote by Louise Krasniewicz about the Arnie factor (check out her Arnie hypertext project). Titled “True Lies Superhero: Do we really want our icons to come to life?” it rehearsed many of the themes from her great book Why Arnold Matters?

She made the point that even the serious media was obsessed with merging the movie characters Arnold has played, his movie star persona and his emergence as a politician in coverage of his campaign in the Californian recall election. They did this by relying on easy recourse to “Governator” imagery and commentary. This is still the case, as she showed with a recent clip from a California daily on the governor’s falling poll ratings. After 12 months in office this story – which has nothing to do with movie star Arnold – is still illustrated by a Terminator still.

An article in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald showed this very clearly and even imposes the action man figure into local NSW politics.

What can NSW learn from Arnold Schwarzenegger? When it comes to energy it may be a fair bit. After booting out the Democrat governor Gray Davis for taking California’s energy system to near collapse, The Governator stormed in and has begun the essential rebuilding of the state’s electricity system….With the focus and vigour of his most famous screen character, Schwarzenegger recently made public a 10-point plan for a modern 21st century energy system. Some in the old guard urged him to focus only on supply oriented alternatives for keeping the lights on in the country’s biggest state. However, his plan relies on a combination of new and old, of supply and demand.

The story is actually about the success of sophisticated multiple rate devices which encourage consumers to use cheaper energy during off peak periods but what is fascinating about the piece is the portrayal of governor Schwarzenegger as an action hero: it’s all about his kinesthetic body: he “booted out” Gray Davis then he “stormed in” and started “rebuilding”. The inescapable paradox of this language comes in the next sentence which explicitly references “the focus and vigour of his most famous screen character”. What was the result of this Terminator like vigour: a ten point plan, which is not an action response but a typical bureaucratic response. So while we are treated to an image of the heroic Schwarzenegger doing something new this action sequence masks his actual response which is typically cautious and orderly.

The other fascinating thing is that this op-ed piece is written by someone who has an interesting pedigree herself: “Cathy Zoi is group executive director of Bayard Capital, a private investment group. She was previously chief executive of the NSW Sustainable Energy Development Authority and chief of staff of Environmental Policy in the Clinton White House.” The Bayard group is now running a trial of the metering devices in NSW. So while this is situated as an op-ed piece on policy options from a former government policy advisor it is essentially using the Arnie factor as a celebrity endorsement for a scheme her company hopes to convince the NSW government to take-up.

Both Zoi’s position with the group and Bayard’s involvement in NSW are mentioned in the article and the connection is there to be made by careful readers. But like the contradiction between the imagery of the governator and the reality of his political actions, the blur between Zoi as policy wonk and policy salesperson are also blurred by this kind of journalism


I have just finished up at the Just Men In Tights: Superheroes Conference. It’s been a very stimulating weekend and just what I needed to get my head back into myth, popular culture and the apocalypse.

Lots of interesting talks on everything from traditional superheroes such as Superman and Batman to readings of Queer as Folk. The good think for me has been that it has given me lots of references to follow up and even some new shows to look at. A number of sessions on the Superman prequel Smallville have piqued my interest.

Some notes:

In the opening keynote by Scott Bukatman talked about the superhero as characterised by four performative qualities: visual, kinetic, improvisational and linguistic. His connection to the everyday was an interesting one, like musical stars before them – he showed the singing in the rain scene from Singing in the Rain – the superhero makes improvisational use of everyday props and his heroics are embodied in his expressive choreography. Bukatman said that the Superhero improvises survival strategies using everyday objects: a form of “riffing off the objects of the world”.

The linguistic performance in the superhero genre was not immediately obvious but many superheros are brought to life in their slogans (“This is a job for superman..”.“is it a bird is it a plane”etc:) “an egotistical, flamboyant means of writing himself onto the world”. He made the interesting point that it is in this area that Buffy excels and that it is the first time that the linguistic is choreographed so closely with the kinesthetic since the days of musical.

Peter Coogan from Fontabonne University in St Louis created discussion with his definition of the Superhero:

Su.per.he.ro (soo’per hîr’o) n., pl. -roes. 1. A heroic character with a selfless, pro-social mission; who possesses superpowers, advanced technology, or highly developed physical and/or mental skills; who has a superidentity and iconic costume, which typically express his biography or character, powers, and origin (transformation from ordinary person to superhero); and is generically distinct, i.e. can be distinguished from characters of related genres (fantasy, science fiction, detective, etc.) by a preponderance of generic conventions. Typically superheroes have dual identities, the ordinary one of which is kept secret. -superheroic, adj. Also super hero, super-hero (Trademark).

Coogan maintained against some objections that Buffy for instance doesn’t fit the definition because she doesn’t have the dual/secret identity or iconic costume. He places her in the horror vampire tradition but admits the show draws heavily on the Superhero genre. He’s probably right in strict genre terms but one of the interesting things about contemporary practice that became very clear during the conference was that most examples of the current superhero are definitely hybrid constructions.

More on hybridity and the “neo-baroque” tomorrow.

The corporate-religious-complex

Interesting quote from a Sunfell post on Daily Kos that I picked up via Jesus Politics, a good blog that I just discovered which seems to be collecting lots of stufff about religion and American politics/culture:

Rev. Rod Parsley, a pastor of the World Harvest megachurch in Ohio…declared, “We’re not Democrats. We’re not Republicans. We’re Christocrats!”

“Christocrats”. Straight out of the preacher’s mouth. That might also lead to another term that seems to be percolating under the surface of the metasphere: the idea-meme of the corporate-religious complex- that synergistic, and potentially fatal (to our country) blend of Gilded Age corporate greed and hard right religious fervor. The corporate-religious complex has replaced the military-industrial complex as the driving force behind our government. If we plan to keep our country, this complex must be derailed, the synergy spoiled and the perpetrators sent off chasing their own tails.

Shorting the corporations to ground will take some brave lawmaking, and a lot of time- one giant at a time. They have to return to being responsible citizens. Doing the same to the Christocrats will require a lot of deep study of what makes them tick. Someone mentioned the ‘flock mentality’. That needs to be understood, but the followers are not sheep, or stupid. But they are intellectually lazy, since they accept the pap fed to them by their leaders. We must understand that they have a monstrous persecution complex and a deeply held belief that they/we are living in the “End Times” and that the Bible- particularly “Revalation”, is literally true. We must also understand that their leaders have fed them gigantic lies and are the embodiment of the ‘wolves in sheeps clothing’ warned about in the very Scriptures they believe are literally true.

It’s a tough nut to crack, but it is crackable. They’re human beings, with a huge cross-shaped chip on their shoulder. If that wood could be used for something useful, to build a bridge, perhaps, we could find a way to talk them down from their Apocalyptic treehouse.


Technorati Tags:

From saving the soul to reinventing the self

A fascinating article in the NYT about the rise of evangelical ministries at Ivy League colleges in America. They are a deliberate attempt to reach and influence those who will hold key culturally influential positions.

Some interesting data about the rise of evangelicals in class terms:

As late as 1965, for example, a white mainline Protestant was two and a half times as likely to have a college degree as a white evangelical, according to an analysis by Prof. Corwin E. Smidt, a political scientist at Calvin College, an evangelical institution in Grand Rapids, Mich. But by 2000, a mainline Protestant was only 65 percent more likely to have the same degree. And since 1985, the percentage of incoming freshmen at highly selective private universities who said they were born-again also rose by half, to 11 or 12 percent each year from 7.3 percent, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A range of forces were at work here:

There were also demographic forces at work, beginning with the G.I. Bill, which sent a pioneering generation of evangelicals to college. Probably the greatest boost to the prosperity of evangelicals as a group came with the Sun Belt expansion of the 1970′s and the Texas oil boom, which brought new wealth and businesses to the regions where evangelical churches had been most heavily concentrated.

And the evolution of the Assemblies of God is particularly interesting. Founded in 1914 they were originally shunned as a sect of outsiders speaking in tounges and against movies and dancing. They gradually changed and became one of the first groups to preach a prosperity christianity

Assemblies preachers began speaking not only of heavenly rewards but also of the material blessings God might provide in this world. The notion was controversial in some evangelical circles but became widespread nonetheless, and it made the Assemblies’ faith more compatible with an upwardly mobile middle class.

By the 1970′s, Assemblies churches were sprouting up in affluent suburbs across the country. Recent surveys by Margaret Poloma, a historian at the University of Akron in Ohio, found Assemblies members more educated and better off than the general public.

As they flourished, evangelical entrepreneurs and strivers built a distinctly evangelical business culture of prayer meetings, self-help books and business associations. In some cities outside the Northeast, evangelical business owners list their names in Christian yellow pages.

The rise of evangelicals has also coincided with the gradual shift of most of them from the Democratic Party to the Republican and their growing political activism. The conservative Christian political movement seldom developed in poor, rural Bible Belt towns. Instead, its wellsprings were places like the Rev. Ed Young’s booming mega-church in suburban Houston or the Rev. Timothy LaHaye’s in Orange County, Calif., where evangelical professionals and businessmen had the wherewithal to push back against the secular culture by organizing boycotts, electing school board members and lobbying for conservative judicial appointments.

The complex interrealationship between class, geography, religion and subculture is fascinatingly apparent. As is the move from a notion of saving the soul to saving or reinventing the self which ironically is a modernist concept arising out of decidedly anti-modernist movement.


Blog Talk: Sebastian Fieldler

Sebastian Fieldler in the final keynote contrasted two ideas: innovation/revolution and renaissance.

He noted Carl Bereiter’s work that innovations in education are often taken up with great enthusiasm but that most often they do not tgake root, they are not sustained because the resources and frameworks are not built or made available.

He contrasted this with Douglas Rushkoff’s notion of a renaissance as a “recontextualisation” Rushkoff writes:

I prefer to think of the proliferation of interactive media as an opportunity for renaissance: a moment when we have the opportunity to step out of the story, altogether. Renaissances are historical instances of widespread recontextualization. People in a variety of different arts, philosophies, and sciences have the ability to reframe their reality. Quite literally, renaissance means “rebirth.” It is the rebirth of old ideas in a new context. A renaissance is a dimensional leap, when our perspective shifts so dramatically that our understanding of the oldest, most fundamental elements of existence changes.

Blogs wikis web feeds are a “reconquista” of the web built over the static web. It is a reinvigoration of the early internet pioneers of the two way web. Now the prototypical tools are authoring or networking tools not just browsing tools.

But there are still problems in the educational domain:

  • We are focusing on introducing novices to blogs but not documenting onging long term usage
  • We are attempting to squeeze blogging into existing educational practices
  • Educational blogging rarely transcends temporal (semester) boundaries of educational institutions.


Technorati Tags:

Blogtalk: Storybox

Ben Hoh talked about a project using blogs with young refugeesA lot of “digital storytelling” follows the traditional narrative arc of problem/process/enlightenment in thier life story project with refugees Ben and his colleagues deliberately chose to use blogs with the idea that they are a more aggregative model that builds narrative idiosyncratically.Also explicitly talked about the project in terms of “narrative therapy” it reminded me of Marc’s comment this morning that it is ok if it’s only your mother who reads your blog – also OK if your blog is therapy, even though this is a well voiced criticism of blogs.Ben has developed a very interesting textual analysis of some of the emerging hybrid vernaculars that traverse the traumatic and the mundane and has come up with a very interesting notion of “neveryday” life:

So it is not really a matter of what these new vernaculars “actually mean” in a representational sense, but what they enable: a reconception of what used to be the spheres of everyday life and the political, into something else — into whatever space that can be apprehended with such a vocabulary. Call it “the neveryday” — an alternative platform upon which de Certeau’s model of “textual poaching” (de Certeau 1984) can be modified; in de Certeau’s model, the poacher is forever destined to be guerilla-as-loyal-opposition to “the writer”, but a “neveryday” mode of enunciation is more waywardly “queer” and less heroic, and yet also seems necessarily based on a transgressive, sometimes incomprehensibly extreme platform of an underwriting trauma, a crack in subjectivity. And while the embodied specificities of the refugee experience are irreducible, this crack is not — the coherent subject is an impossibility, and that this inevitably involves trauma; I would therefore suggest that the Storyboxers’ “neveryday”, with its underwriting trauma, could be a useful model for how both casual mundanity and affectual extremities are often modulated through each other in the blogging of the self.

Technorati: Technorati Tags:

BlogTalk Downudner: Conversation and reflection

Ian McColl from UQ gave a very interesting paper on blogging in their studio based IT design course.

Lots of interesting things about studio practice (the architecture model) that could have relevance to a journalism course.

The studio stream is the defining feature of the two degrees, and students complete a studio course each semester with similar characteristics to those outlined above for Kapor’s course. There are two temporal cycles that operate through our degrees: one within each year, and the other through the three years of the degrees. Generally speaking, first semester studios (Studios 1, 3 and 5) are more divergent, emphasising designing and conceptualising, while second semester studios (Studios 2, 4 and 6) tend to be more convergent, emphasising building and resolving. There is also a progression through the years of the degree: first-year studios tend to focus on single-machine, screen-based work, second-year studios focus on distributed non-screen-based work, and third-year studios focus on socially-based work with opportunities for student-generated and student-selected projects working with academic and/or industry advisors.

Good stuff on “converstaion” from Fiedler and Schon:

Fiedler is concerned with externalising the learner’s internal conversation, and formalising the learner’s external conversation with a learning coach. In the studio process, the conversations are between the participants in the process (Schön 1987), and also between individual and groups of participants and the materials of the design (Schön 1992).



Day two, I’m a bit more relaxed today as I presented yesterday.

Mark Bernstien led a very interesting discussion to start off the day on the value of comments. He essentially suggested that comments – which are often either brief or harshly negative or hit and run – are not all they are cracked up to be. He emphasised that commentary and dialogue can occur between weblogs and this is a slower more dispersed dialogue but just as valuable or even more valuable. This proved very contentious.

Other points:

At this moment of blog triumphalism we must begin to think about “saving” the blogsphere…we could wreck the blogsphere by accident by ways we didn’t even know were harmful

Its ok if only your mother reads your weblog…it’s a better way to write home!

Many blogs are in the tail of the graph that shows the spread of blogs against blog readership: a group of A-list bloggers with big readers and then a tailing off to a big group who have few readers.

Keep the tail healthy – the people who are only ready by 5 or six are critical to the health of the blogsphere

The notion of professional journalists versus amateur bloggers rests on a misconception that journalism is a profession. It is a craft/trade. (I’d of course disagree with this!!)

Help bloggers to write better notes and make better links: make it easy to do the right thing. We can’t help the tail by regulation

Things don’t start in order we don’t put them in order because we are changing all the time

Don’t blogroll A-list blogs, cycle your blogroll.

Don’t stop linking to the tail because its easier to link to the NYT. If you link to a weblog that no one has heard of it’s a better service to your reader.

Ten tips for writing the living web


New survey: blogs and journalism

A new survey (another report here) of journalists and members of the public just released by University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy shows a wide divergence of views between journos and the GP on a range of key issues about freedom of the press and trust in the media.

On blogging:

Perhaps the widest gap of all: 8 in 10 journalists said they read blogs, while less than 1 in 10 others do so. Still, a majority of the news pros do not believe bloggers deserve to be called journalists….

Blogs showed their growing influence among those polled, as 83% of journalists reported the use of blogs, with four out of 10 saying they use them at least once a week. Among those who use them, 55% said they do so to support their news-gathering work. And even though 85% believe bloggers should enjoy First Amendment protections, 75% say bloggers are not real journalists because they don’t adhere to “commonly held ethical standards.”

Overall, 61% of the news pros say that the emergence of the Internet has made journalism better.

I think this set of contradictions is indicative of the fragile emergence of blogging into the journalism field as a part of standard practice. There is a lag here between belief/rhetoric and practice. Usage seems to indicate that journalists are accepting blogs as apart of a standard repertoire of tools, they acknowledge First Amendment rights but still can’t bring themselves to say outright that bloggers are journalists. Part of this problem is the refusal to accept that there are in fact a range of journalisms with a range of ethical practices and that “the journalist” is no longer a monolithic category.

The debate over adherence to ethical standards needs to be seen in the light of the general public’s views about bias and accuracy in news media:

While 72 percent of the journalists said their profession did a good or excellent job of reporting information accurately, only 39 percent of the public felt the same way. At the same time, 61 percent of the citizen respondents said they disagreed with the statement that ”the news media tries to report the news without bias.“

The journalists’ refusal to accept bloggers as journalists is part of boundary control/paradigm repair. It is a process of ”othering“ ethical lapses and rhetorically affirming the high-minded standards of traditional journalism. It is a new version of the tabloidisation debates or the attempts to draw distinctions between television and print journalism.

Bush and Star Wars

Word from Cannes is that the final installment in the Star Wars saga: Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is making the links between the Empire and the Empire.

The last episode rounding out the seminal sci-fi saga Star Wars screened at the Cannes film festival today, capping a six-part series that remains a major part of popular culture – and delivering a galactic jab to US President George W Bush….

Reaction at advance screenings was effusive, with festival-goers, critics and journalists at Cannes applauding at the moment the infamous Darth Vader came into being. But there were also murmurs at the parallels being drawn between Bush’s administration and the birth of the space opera’s evil Empire.

Baddies’ dialogue about bloodshed and despicable acts being needed to bring “peace and stability” to the movie’s universe, mainly through a fabricated war, set the scene. And then came the zinger, with the protagonist, Anakin Skywalker, saying just before becoming Darth Vader: “You are either with me – or you are my enemy.”

To the Cannes audience, often sympathetic to anti-Bush messages in cinema as last year’s triumph here of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 attested, that immediately recalled Bush’s 2001 ultimatum, “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.”

Blogtalk Downunder

For various reasons I haven’t posted here for a while but I have been busy preparing a paper for Blogtalk Downunder our first homegrown blogger confest. My abstract is below, readers of this blog will recognise some of the thoughts from previous postings!

Much of the published discussion and research on blogs and teaching and learning in higher education focuses on evaluation of blogging as a communicative technique. This type of discussion largely assumes that successful integration of blogging into course delivery should be judged against a pre-existing and unchallenged pedagogical model. This paper argues that to leverage its full educational potential blogging must be understood not just as an isolated phenomena, but as part of a broad palette of “cybercultural” practices which provide us with both new ways of doing and new ways of thinking. The paper looks at the ways broader theoretical models associated with the development of the blogsphere might challenge or enhance current theories of teaching and learning. Spatial metaphors inherent in network models of blogging will be contrasted with the surface/depth model of student learning. The paper will argue that blogs should not be seen merely as a technological tool for teaching and learning but as a situated practice that must be brought into appropriate alignment with particular pedagogical and disciplinary practices. A model of blogging as a networked approach to learning suggests that blogging might achieve best results across the curriculum not through isolated use in individual units.

I draw on lots of wonderful work by other people but I found Martin Jacobsen’s notion of “cyberdiscursivity very useful as a way of drawing out some of the new dimensions of blogging as a practice situated within a wider cyberculture. Here’s the key quote from Jacobsen:

Where oral rhetoric is embodied and literacy is disembodied, a cyberdiscursive rhetoric is virtual, characterized by remotely centred interactivity and instantaneousness…the concrete rhetoric of orality and abstract rhetoric of literacy become dynamic in cyberdiscursivity via the continuous, productive nature created by virtuality and user agency…oral rhetoric’s aggregative structure and literacy’s hierarchical structure give way to an emergent structure in CMC, pieced together by a user who does not recognize a structure until it develops before her through a random choice of fragments which seldom, if ever, remain cohesive, and which usually become impossible to trace…the communal nature of oral rhetoric and the individual nature of literacy move toward an idiosyncratic rhetoric in which reader/user agency transforms the textual experience into an epistemologically challenging game which shatters rules as basic to print texts as one word following another.

I was led to Jacobsen from Ulises A. Mejias’ excelent paper on online discourse

If you are interested in reading the whole paper download this pdf

The Revealer: Written on the Body

The Revealer’s Jeff Sharlet, breaks through all the media hype on the Pope with an intriguing reflection:

There is another form of religious media to consider with the pope’s death, that of the body. More widely read than any of his books were the images of the suffering, dying man; a message, many believe, that was the pope’s final teaching. The pope wrote his theology on his own broken body, and reproduced it by means of millions of images carried by secular media. And yet, this suffering is not a text that should be too glibly read; we should not assume to immediately understand its meaning. If we take John Paul seriously as an intellectual — and we should — then we should take his last statement seriously, too, as a set of ideas. Those who’d reduce the pope’s suffering to an easily-translated political program are, literally, fools, clowning on a dead man’s body. Those who find in the image of the man a message as banal as “the triumph of the spirit” inadvertently make a humanist out of John Paul. And those who turned away from what they perceived as grotesque, whispering about vanished dignity, choose for themselves a kind of illiteracy.

I think there is a wider application of this insight as well. I have been puzzling about what the Pope means. I know what he did. I can retrace his actions that were divisive and his actions which brought people together. Politically I can sum up his effect both inside and outside the church in ways that I don’t think the mainstream media is exploring. But still the question remains: what does the big slavic man in the long white gown mean?

I think there are millions who have noted his image, have taken heart in his presence, without knowing or caring much about his message, except to acknowledge that it is spiritual. Karol Wojytla through the mediation of television cameras and photojournalists became the bodily imprint of this message of spirituality.

His smile, his apparent gentleness, his hulking stooped body came to mean something in direct contradiction, and unrelated, to his appalling attacks on the dignity of women, gays, lesbians and dissidents within his own church. To those who took note only of his image, and this group was perhaps his largest congregation, he stood for a different vision of the world: resistance, possibility, hope. That image brought comfort, insight, pause, to many who didn’t really know or care about the details of his theological positions. They were pleased that he was there. In this sense he was undoubtedly an innovative force for spirit and change in the confusion of the late 20th century.

But two cautions: there are those, his victims, (and throughout his authoritarian rule he most definitely collected victims) who are forever and only confronted with the image of an oppressor, and the ubiquity of his lauded image is a reinforcement of their own victimisation. Secondly: more than anything else his image is that of “Holy Father” and while he has managed to imprint on this masculine holiness an image of gentleness and a certain humility, the bodily spiritual image he projects is necessarily at some level an unhelpful reinforcement of dominant patriarchal religion.

I am not wanting to reduce Wojytal to any of these images or storylines. Sharlet is right about the complexity of images and the literacy of storytelling. Part of the power of images is their simultaneity, their ability to tell many tales at once.

JP II the accolades begin

When deeply conservative politicians like Australian PM John Howard start describing the Pope with loaded accolades you know immediately how to place JP II in the current political ecology. Howard told a Melbourne dinner last night:

“This wonderful man who has been not only an inspiring leading of the Catholic church, but he’s been a wonderful warrior for freedom and democracy.”

This of course is not the experience of those who have dared dissent within the church. Hans Kung summed it up well a number of years ago:

Instead of a modernization in the evangelic spirit, one has gone back to the traditional fundamental Catholic lessons – rigorous moral encyclicals, traditionalist-imperialist world catechism. Instead of a collegiality between the pope and the bishops, there is an authoritarian Roman centralism expressed in the nomination of bishops and the attribution of theological seats over the interests of local churches.

Instead of an opening to the modern world, there are complaints and scoldings about a supposed adaptation to it and the encouragement of traditional forms of piety. Instead of dialogue, there is more inquisition and a rejection of freedom of thought and teaching in the Church. Instead of ecumenism there is again emphasis on everything narrowly Roman Catholic.

In a look at the pope’s achievement prepared by CNN in 1999 to mark the JP II’s 20 years as pope one unnamed source noted that this pope grew up in Poland with a church under siege and he has never grown out of that siege mentality:

Part of his problem is also his strength: He grew up in Poland where the church was persecuted by the Nazis and then by communism. The church was always under attack, and he developed a siege mentality. He has never really lived in a pluralistic, democratic society.

So even after the fall of communism, the model of the church is still one that is under siege. But now it’s by secularism, critics in the church, consumerism or relativism. And he responds with this kind of siege mentality, where the church is at war over these issues. And when you’re at war, you don’t have democracy. You don’t debate what you’re going to do.

It’s that very experience that made him so good at helping the church’s suffering from persecution and gave him such a strong backbone in saying what he thinks. But it makes it very difficult to see the grays and the ambiguities, and that there might be a place within the church for (those who disagree).

Images of the papal passion

Similar to the images of Terri Schiavo, the circulation of images of Pope John Paul, who has been described as “increasingly frail” for years now, are stimulating a range of mythic possibilities from conspiratorial narratives of the propped-up puppet to sanctifying stories of the ecstatic martyr. This extraordinary set of images from his appearance at the easter ceremonies was published in the Telegraph.


Interestingly for a story so focused on the visual it begins: “The Pope struggled hard to find his voice to address pilgrims assembled in Rome yesterday for the traditional Easter Mass.” This pope, who has used his papacy as a bully-pulpit, now finally reduced to silence still some how turns this very silence into a perverse vocalisation of courage.

Is he yawning? Is he in pain? Is he angry and out of control? It appears from the report that in the final frame he is not hitting himself in frustration but merely making the sign of the cross. But what are we seeing here? Through the eyes of the faithful there is another story:

“Oh no!” said Maria Romero, from Peru, as the Pope’s aide took away the microphone. “The poor man can’t speak,” she said, tears streaming down her face.

However it is not just the eyes of the faithful who are constructing these images in this way. According to the Telegraph report, Italian state television called yesterday’s appearance the “most moving and poignant of his pontificate”. We are we embroiled here not just in the pope’s private passion play but in an on going story of western culture that is reified and retold by a range of institutions: journalistic, medical, political and religious.

These images of the distressed pope are not really new we can take other images from much earlier in his pontificate in which his devotional posture creates an other worldly sense of ecstatic martyred pain. This is very clear in an image from the PBS series on “the millennial pope” where his prayerfully contorted faith is propped against his ceremonial cross.


These images are stock images of our christian culture but it is fascinating to see them played out in such a widely diverse and mediated way.

Frank Rich on “The God Racket”

In his farewell column in the arts section, The New York Times’ Frank Rich provides a seething analysis of the “theatrics” of the Schiavo case in which he argues convincingly that the government signed on to a “full-scale jihad” last weekend with their congressional intervention. He quotes constitutional lawyer Lawrence Tribe to the effect that not even Joe McCarthy went as far as Congress and Bush have in this case, in conspiring to “try to undo the processes of a state court.” But as usual his analysis goes beyond rhetoric with a fine contextual analysis of the place of this drama in the broader sphere of public culture

Culture is often a more reliable prophecy than religion of where the country is going, and our culture has been screaming its theocratic inclinations for months now. The anti-indecency campaign, already a roaring success, has just yielded a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J. Martin, who had been endorsed by the Parents Television Council and other avatars of the religious right. The push for the sanctity of marriage (or all marriages except Terri and Michael Schiavo’s) has led to the banishment of lesbian moms on public television. The Armageddon-fueled worldview of the “Left Behind” books extends its spell by the day, soon to surface in a new NBC prime-time mini-series, “Revelations,” being sold with the slogan “The End is Near.”…

That bullying, stoked by politicians in power, has become omnipresent, leading television stations to practice self-censorship and high school teachers to avoid mentioning “the E word,” evolution, in their classrooms, lest they arouse fundamentalist rancor. The president is on record as saying that the jury is still out on evolution, so perhaps it’s no surprise that The Los Angeles Times has uncovered a three-year-old “religious rights” unit in the Justice Department that investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech because he refused to write letters of recommendation for students who do not accept evolution as “the central, unifying principle of biology.” Cornelia Dean of The New York Times broke the story last weekend that some Imax theaters, even those in science centers, are now refusing to show documentaries like “Galápagos” or “Volcanoes of the Deep Sea” because their references to Darwin and the Big Bang theory might antagonize some audiences. Soon such films will disappear along with biology textbooks that don’t give equal time to creationism.

James Cameron, producer of “Volcanoes” (and, more famously, the director of “Titanic”), called this development “obviously symptomatic of our shift away from empiricism in science to faith-based science.” Faith-based science has in turn begat faith-based medicine that impedes stem-cell research, not to mention faith-based abstinence-only health policy that impedes the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and diseases like AIDS.

He also points to the peculiarities of “faith-based news” in recent months and the propensity of journalism – particularly American journalism – to embrace and amplify positive stories of the “miraculous” but leave unexamined the dark side of religious faith:

Ashley Smith, the 26-year-old woman who was held hostage by Brian Nichols, the accused Atlanta courthouse killer, has been canonized by virtually every American news organization as God’s messenger because she inspired Mr. Nichols to surrender by talking about her faith and reading him a chapter from Rick Warren’s best seller, “The Purpose-Driven Life.” But if she’s speaking for God, what does that make Dennis Rader, the church council president arrested in Wichita’s B.T.K. serial killer case? Was God instructing Terry Ratzmann, the devoted member of the Living Church of God who this month murdered his pastor, an elderly man, two teenagers and two others before killing himself at a weekly church service in Wisconsin? The religious elements of these stories, including the role played by the end-of-times fatalism of Mr. Ratzmann’s church, are left largely unexamined by the same news outlets that serve up Ashley Smith’s tale as an inspirational parable for profit.

Rich is right to point to these three stories as indicative of “something” however I am not completely convinced that his analysis is spot-on. I took note of the Ratzman and Rader cases and certainly wondered at the role of end-times fatalism in these events but I am not convinced that the connections are as direct as Rich implies they might be. There are all sorts of complex cultural interactions going on here and Rich is right that these stories remain unexamined. But none of these stories may be as religious as they sound – including Smith’s story of triumph, which relies on the interaction between new-age self help philosophies and religion not just a traditional Christianity. These stories are puzzling ciphers that need to be looked at.

I Furled a couple of reports about the cases with some vague thought that I must come back to them for my thesis. It seems to me that they are in some senses cipher’s of the apocalyptic breaking through into the everyday. It is precisely in their strangeness, their evocation of the unheimlich that they are interesting, not as easy equations of religiosity/crazyness/murder.

Myth and passion in the Schiavo case


As many commentators have noted (see the Howard Kurtz round-up) the battle over Terri Schiavo’s life, death and consciousness is the latest episode in the culture wars. An interesting article in USATODAY surveys some of the opinion in European newspapers. The European newspapers point out the startling contrasts in the the US right’s theology of life:

A cartoon in Tuesday’s edition of The Times of London, captioned “Funny Old World,” shows a caricature of President Bush signing a document titled “War on Iraq.” The panel reads: “Bush signs bill to kill thousands.” In the cartoon’s second panel, the Bush character signs a document titled “Schiavo Case.” The caption: “Bush signs bill to keep woman alive. …”

In another Times opinion the linkage is with the death penalty:

“The Terri Schiavo case shows just how emphatically the U.S. and Europe are moving on different paths on the ‘right-to-life’ — or in this case, the right to die,” starts one opinion piece in The Times. Later in the article: “The U.S., so impassioned about the right to life in the case of abortion and euthanasia, appears wedded to the right of the state to execute criminals.”

One of the fascinating things about the political dance around Schiavo’s hospital bed is that it is not just the European’s, with the perspective of distance, who see through the theatricality of Bush’s quick flight back to Washington for a 1.15am signing of the Congressional bill to “save” Schiavo. The Washingon Post reported a CBS survey that found that 82 percent of Americans – including 68 percent of people who identify themselves as evangelical Christians – think Congress’s intervention was wrong. Both ABC and CBS have also released polls which show that the overwhelming majority (74% in the CBS data) see congress’s action as motivated by “political expediency” (Kevin Drum via Kurtz). The Needlenose website has an interesting post on the media’s surprisingly up-front labeling of all this as political theatre.

However, in the same WP piece Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia makes the point that the minority that does back congressional action probably supports it intensely, while the majority that disagrees “won’t remember this woman’s name in a few months.”

I think this is largely true but I suspect that the case will hold some continuing mythic impact just as many people will remember the name Karen Quinlan even if they cannot quite place it.

The mythic import of the case is highlighted for many players and media commentators by the proximity of the Easter weekend, and the metaphor of the “Terri Schiavo passion play” has been used repeatedly. However the play of passions isn’t as simple as it seems American Prospect’s Terence Samuel in one of the best pieces I have seen on the case points out that “a close reading of this case suggests that it is about many things (including politics, religion, modern medicine, aggressive weight loss, fertility treatments, medical malpractice awards, and deep moral and ideological beliefs)”. That is of course why it has been taken up by everyone from media commentators, bloggers, the Pope, Bush, Congress and even a 10 year old boy who was arrested yesterday because he was trying (with his father and sisters) to bring Schiavo some water.

Samuel notes how congress majority leader Tom DeLay constantly used the brain dead woman’s first name “Terri” in his congressional speech and referred with haunting effect to her “parched” mouth and “throbbing” hunger. Another aspect of the rhetorical construction of the weak innocent Terri, that I haven’t seen anyone comment on, is the haunting pictures that have been reused constantly in media reports.


In these images Schiavo looks imploringly and lovingly towards the camera or towards her mother but she also has the look of a mystic or mad woman. Her consciousness – which is at the heart of this whole drama – is at once affirmed and elided by these images and Terri Schiavo once again enters the realm of the symbolic, transfixed and transformed by both her condition and her representation. This is all made very explicit by a right to life poster which merges the image of Schiavo and Christ, both lost in their own passions.

Bloggers and the First Amendment

San Francsico Chronicle reports on the Apple versus bloggers case currently before a local court: Net buzzing on bloggers’ status / First Amendment issues become hot topic in chat rooms.

The case could affect the future of bloggers and Web site publishers because lawyers defending the sites have asked Judge James Kleinberg to rule that the sites should be granted the same First Amendment protections afforded to traditional journalists. Kleinberg has told lawyers for both sides he was leaning toward ruling in Apple’s favor.

"Boy, if Apple wins this case, rumors will dry up faster than a puddle in the Mojave,” said one comment posted anonymously on MacDailyNews.com.

One blogger named "LoomisBoy” found Kleinberg’s tentative ruling "a troubling development, but most likely only a temporary setback for First Amendment rights.”

"Every new form of media in the last 200 years has gone through a similar rite of passage. Blogs (like mine) are as valid a form of ‘press’ as the pamphlet was during the American Revolution," the blogger continued.

"Citizen journalism via Web logs is every bit as protected by the First Amendment as the work of the New York Times and CBS. If the current judge in the Apple Computer case doesn’t recognize that, someone higher up the appeal chain will.

"If Apple is upset that someone within its organization leaked confidential information, they should peruse internal means to stop the leaks and to deal with the offenders. But, in attacking the college student who writes PowerPage (and others), they exhibit a sad lack of appreciation for a free press.”

All sorts of illustrious precedents are being evoked including the Pentagon papers. It’s an interesting case. The general question about blogger’s first ammendment status is pretty much a slam dunk from my perspective but I think there are also complex issues which complicate this particular case.

In what sense is revealing Apple’s latest plans "in the public interest" and in what sense does it hurt its commercial interests? In what sense are these techno rumour sites any different to Drudge and his political/celebrity rumours? Does Drudge or any of these sites really come under the auspice of "citizen journalism"? Drudge is constrained by defamation and privacy laws, what laws should or do protect commercial information. Do these laws over-ride source protection claims?

I think we are comming to a really interesting stage in the evolution of blogger journalism. Blogging can certainly be a form of journalism but in claiming to be a form – even a new form – of journalism there must be some questions about standards of practice. Citizen journalist bloggers may actually develop their own code of practice that is different in some ways to the ethical constraints of mainstream journalists. But there must be a framework for the everyday decision making that goes on in the practice of blogging, a framework that goes beyond I am doing this because I can.

It appears that this case is inspiring this debate to take place. Even in the blogging community there are different perspectives on whether this information should have been published and whether Apple has the right to demand the identity of the source. These are of course two slightly different questions that could well have different answers.

Pew Finds Surge for Web as Source of Political News, As Newspapers Sink

Link: Editor and Publisher report on pew survey

NEW YORK A Pew Center study released today found that using the Internet to get news of politics during the 2004 presidential contest grew sixfold from 1996, while the influence of newspapers sank.

In 1996, only 3% of those surveyed called the Web one of their two leading sources of campaign news. In 2004, the figure was 18%. Reliance on TV rose slightly from 72% to 78% but prime use of newspapers plunged from 60% to 39%.

Four in ten of the heavy Web said they found it an important tool in helping them make a voting choice.

The telephone-based survey of more than 2,000 Americans was conducted for the Pew Research Center for The People and the Press and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

For full report: Pew internet & American Life Project

Blogging as disseminator

CJR Daily has an interesting example of the way blogs can take an ignored mainstream news story and create a buzz. Peter G. Gosselin, who covers the economy for the Los Angeles Times, wrote three articles examining “an American paradox”: Why do so many families report less financial security than ever, even as many benchmarks indicate a nation grown more prosperous?

In spite of Gosselin’s extensive research and the extensive readership of LA Times the story seemed to sink pretty quickly. Enter stage left the bloggers:

Gosselin, who works in the Times‘ Washington bureau, spent a year gathering data and speaking with economists, statisticians, benefits experts, and workers and their families who unexpectedly had the financial rug pulled out from under them. Their stories provided a starkly different picture of an “ownership society” than the portrait drawn by President Bush.

By Gosselin’s own account, despite the Los Angeles Times‘ daily circulation of over one million, the stories generated almost no response for months. That is, until he recently sent out a link to them to a handful of liberal bloggers, including Kevin Drum, who writes the widely read “Political Animal” blog on WashingtonMonthly.com. Drum’s post, in turn, generated several other blog mentions, including one from J. Bradford DeLong.

I got wind of this from Howard Kurtz column in the Washington Post. So I guess in a sense the information has come full circle. Its a fascinating example of the way that blogs and MSM can work in synergy and helps take us beyond the hype over blogger led reporting.

Bush on good and evil

Howard Kurtz has an interview with Bush’s former press secretary, Ari Fleischer about his memoir Taking the Heat. Mostly a critique of the “liberal media” but one interesting insider insight on Bush:

“Taking Heat” makes clear that Fleischer is a true believer who got a thrill from such things as playing catch with the president on the South Lawn. The book does contain one hint of disagreement with the boss, though, when Fleischer, two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, told the president during a limo ride that the issue of terrorism “was more complicated than ‘good versus evil.’ ”

“If this isn’t good versus evil, what is?” Bush replied, adding that Ronald Reagan didn’t go to Berlin and tell Mikhail Gorbachev to take a few bricks out of that wall.

“The president has a morally declarative speaking style that makes millions of people nervous,” Fleischer says. “It also makes millions of people inspired.”

Although this is clearly reflective of the Bush approach, another comment in the interview also rings very true and shows this dichotomising approach is reinforced by the theatrical adversariality of contemporary press/politics relations:

Pressed about his penchant for robotic spin, Fleischer says both he and White House reporters have become performers since the White House began allowing the daily sessions to be televised: “The modern-day briefing room has lost a lot of its value. The press is playing its aggressive role and the press secretary is playing a defensive role. The press focuses on, ‘Isn’t everything wrong?’ and the press secretary, myself included, focuses on, ‘Isn’t everything good?’ “

Blogs and the post-press era

The controversy over “Jeff Gannon’s” access to the White House press room (catch up here and here) has raised yet more interesting questions about alternative versus mainstream media and the role of blogs.

Gannon it turns out is really James Dale Guckert and gained his press pass under a false name. He was known for lobbing “softball” questions and he wrote for a small GOP supporter funded web mag Talon News (which this week announced it was closing for renovations!). Bloggers started investigating him when he asked President Bush how he could work with Democrats who had “divorced themselves from reality”. Turns out the false name wasn’t the only controversy lurking behind the facade. Bloggers quickly revealed that he had registered a number of websites that appear to offer his services as a “military style” gay prostitute. At first glance it all seems pretty juicy and pretty clear cut.

But the Nation’s David Corn raises some very interesting questions in a recent analysis of the story. His first point is bloggers need to be careful about critiquing standards for awarding White House press passes. It might come back to bite them:

Let me stipulate that how Gannon/Guckert came to be permitted into the White House press room is a worthy topic of inquiry. But his pursuers ought to be careful on this point. Talon News was a fly-by-night (or phony) news operation with a political agenda. But White House daily briefings should be open to as diverse a group as possible. There is a need for professional accreditation; space is limited. Yet there is nothing inherently wrong with allowing journalists with identifiable biases to pose questions to the White House press secretary and even the president. And if such a reporter asks a dumb question–as did Gannon/Guckert (which triggered this scandal)–the best response is scorn and further debate. Bloggers should think hard when they complain about standards for passes for White House press briefings. Last year, political bloggers–many of whom have their own biases and sometimes function as activists–sought credentials to the Democratic and Republican conventions. That was a good thing. Why shouldn’t Josh Marshall, Glenn Reynolds, John Aravosis, or Markos Moulitsas (DailyKos) be allowed to question Scott McClellan or George W. Bush? Do we want only the MSMers to have this privilege?

The other slightly more complex issue is the newsworthiness of his sexuality and his sex sites. There is a pretty straight up assumption in some reports that someone who has worked as a hooker is simply an unworthy recipient of a White House press pass. Many of the liberal bloggers of course framed it differently. Outing him as gay and a male prostitute was relevant under the “hypocrisy” rule because of his negative reporting on gay marriage. But Corn and his assistant have shown pretty convincingly that although Gannon’s reports – written for a conservative audience – primarily quote the views of Republican same sex marriage opponents, they fall a long way short of gay baiting.

Gannon/Guckert clearly was writing for a conservative audience. But he was hardly a flame-thrower on gay issues. His observation about Kerry was clumsy but not homophobic. Sure, he worked for an organization that supported an administration and party opposed to gay rights, and he was a Bush-backer. But does that automatically qualify him for outing? Should a lesbian reporter who works at the Wall Street Journal or at any metropolitan daily that editorializes against gay marriage be outed? Reporters are not elected officials. They do not legislate the behavior of others. Once Gannon/Guckert became an issue, his past–or present–as a male hooker was newsworthy, at least in a descriptive sense. But as a line of attack against him, it may be too much. I recognize this distinction might be hard to draw. But he has been hounded for being a gay male hooker. Should we even care if a reporter is moonlighting on the side in this fashion? I don’t–let Helen Thomas be a professional dominatrix in her free time–unless that reporter explicitly claims to be a person of family values or publicly decries homosexuality or prostitution. I have not seen evidence that Gannon/Guckert struck such a stance.

The other interesting perspective on this whole affair comes from Jay Rosen who contextualises the story under his rubric of the “post-press” era. If the Bush administration was deliberately using Gannon to seed easy questions, or even if they just credentialed him with too little care, it reflects their broader view on the role of the press in the political process.

Rosen shows that Bush and his associates have made their views crystal clear in recent statements. He quotes Bush’s chief of staff on the role of the press:

“They don’t represent the public any more than other people do. In our democracy, the people who represent the public stood for election,” said Card. “I don’t believe you have a check-and-balance function.”

Rosen calls “Gannon” a “replacement press, a fake journalist with a fake name working for a fake news organization, asking fake questions at a real press event.”

Creating “Jeff Gannon” as a credible White House correspondent, and creating radical doubt about the intentions of mainstream journalists (in order to de-certify the traditional press) are two parts of the same effort, which stretches beyond the Bush team itself to allies in Republican Party politics, and new actors like Sinclair Broadcasting, or FreeRepublic.com…

It is this larger picture that accounts for a professional tribe of journalists who, as Lemann said, “collectively felt both more harshly attacked and less important” in 2004. The more harshly attacked part comes from the Culture War rumbling below, while the message “you’re unimportant” is sent directly from the top.

There are some interesting contradictions in this. Rosen is right to point out that the Bush team are seeking to undermine the press through a series of overt and covert methods. However the destablising of the mainstream press is a process that started long before Bush took office and many would argue that the press itself must share a large part of the blame.

I re-watched Absence of Malice last night. Made in 1981 it clearly articulates the perceived problems with press power. “You don’t print the truth,” the Paul Newman character says, ” you print what other people say. You print what you overhear. The truth isn’t that easy to come by.”

If All the President’s Men was the standard bearer for journalists as triumphant fourth estate warriors, Absence of Malice, made only five years later, shows how tenuously that view sits in the public imagination.

The other side of all this is the very movement, that Rosen himself has been behind, which calls for a democratic grassroots media that reinvents fourth estate theory. Blogs are one part of this movement but the movement will never flower if blogs themselves simply become addicted to blogger identified political scandal. I don’t know how many more “gates” I can stand.

More extreme weather

Another article, this time from Mother Jones, on the apocalyptics of weather: “Dropping in on the Apocalypse,” by Tom Engelhardt. Its a great piece with lots of links to studies and other articles that I will come back to. For now a brief extract about media coverage:

Our media, of course, adores Xtreme weather events. Dan Rather’s CBS prime-time news show, for instance, never saw an El Nino effect, a hurricane, a major flood, or an onslaught of snow that it didn’t rush right to the top of the news; while those once Weather-Channel-restricted scenes of reporters, their bodies oddly angled, shouting into mics and staring into water-smeared lenses in the pelting rain of an onrushing storm are now commonplaces of the national news; and yet you can search the television news and our mainstream press almost in vain for anyone even willing to speculate that the increase in Xtreme weather events which has brought us multiple massive hurricanes in Florida, a prolonged drought in the southwest, Europe’s burning summers, Brazil’s first South Atlantic hurricane ever, the storm of the century on Canada’s east coast, and Japan’s worst season of typhoons in memory might have anything to do with global warming.

This kind of reporting normalises disaster and it becomes difficult to distinguish between Day After Tomorrow and CBS/CNN/The weather channel. Its classic “straight” reporting that does nothing to draw connections or ask questions: just the facts ma’m.

Checking Crichton’s footnotes

It must be the day for finding articles on the environmental debate. Here’s an interesting article from Boston Globe Ideas on Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. It appears that a number of scientists are none too happy about being used by Crichton in his footnotes.

Toward the end of the novel, Kenner lectures another character on the futility of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires participating nations to adopt binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. ”The effect of Kyoto would be to reduce warming by .04 degrees Celsius in the year 2100,” he says. ”Four hundredths of a degree.” When another character disputes this claim, Kenner promises, ”I can give you the references.”

Tom Wigley, author of a 1998 article Crichton cites to back up this point, has complained previously that others have misused his research to undermine Kyoto. While that paper did indeed find that the treaty would have a relatively small long-term effect, Wigley has subsequently warned that his analysis ”assumed that Kyoto was followed to 2010, and that there were no subsequent climate mitigation policies.” The point of the paper was not to bash Kyoto (which goes into effect internationally on February 16) but rather to demonstrate that it represents only a first step toward climate stabilization. ”Once we’ve done Kyoto we’re obviously going to do other things,” says Wigley.

Chris Mooney the author of the piece makes the very pertinent point that Crichton’s veneer of objectivity is a deceptive political ploy.

In Crichton’s defense, those seeking to counter
consensus scientific conclusions on climate change–and to use
published evidence to support their own views–face an uphill battle.
Naomi Oreskes, a science studies scholar at the University of
California, San Diego, recently analyzed more than 900 scientific
articles listed with the keywords ”global climate change,” and failed
to find a single study that explicitly disagreed with the consensus
view that humans are contributing to global warming. While such
literature may exist, it appears minimal.

That hasn’t stopped Crichton from expounding his views in recent
speeches, including a talk on ”Science Policy in the 21st Century”
held late last month at the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings
Institution’s Joint Center for Regulatory Studies in Washington, D.C.
In an appendix to ”State of Fear,” Crichton frets about ”Why
Politicized Science is Dangerous.” But he may himself have provided a
case study.

Catholics vote Bush

Interesting new poll data from a Pew survey about religious affiliation and voting patterns:

non-Hispanic Catholics, Kerry won the support of 69 percent with those
with liberal or "modernist" beliefs, while 72 percent of
"traditionalists" favored Bush. But importantly, 55 percent of the key
swing group of "centrists" picked Bush over Kerry, who was criticized
by bishops for his support of abortion rights.

The upshot: A one-time Democratic mainstay, Catholics gave Bush an overall edge of 53 percent to Kerry’s 47 percent.

Overall, the mainline Protestant vote split evenly, the poll found,
with a Bush decline of 10 percent from 2000 and the best showing for a
Democrat since the 1960s; results before then are unclear.

Divisions between religious liberals and conservatives were even more stark than they were four years ago.

"The American religious landscape was strongly polarized in the 2004
presidential vote and more so than in 2000," concluded the team of four
political scientists, led by Akron’s John C. Green.


The scholars said Bush’s religious constituency included Christian
traditionalists in all categories, Mormons, Hispanic Protestants and
religious centrists among Catholics and mainline Protestants.

This last point is the interesting one. "Traditionalists" may now form
a broad category that stretches across specific faiths and links
theological traditionalism witgh political conservatism

Climate Apocalypse

With the Kyoto Protocol coming into effect and the shock of the Tsunami, climate change has been big news over the last few months. It seems to be taking the place of the "nuclear threat" as the front line in contemporary apocalyptic thinking.

This weekend’s Independent published an interesting analysis of the recent meeting of climate scientists that makes this connection:

But it was last
week at the Met Office’s futuristic glass headquarters, incongruously
set in a dreary industrial estate on the outskirts of Exeter, that it
all came together. The conference had been called by the Prime Minister
to advise him on how to "avoid dangerous climate change". He needed
help in persuading the world to prioritize the issue this year during
Britain’s presidencies of the EU and the G8 group of economic powers….

About halfway
through I realized that I had been here before. In the summer of 1986
the world’s leading nuclear experts gathered in Vienna for an inquest
into the accident at Chernobyl. The head of the Russian delegation
showed a film shot from a helicopter, and we suddenly found ourselves
gazing down on the red-hot exposed reactor core.

It was all, of
course, much less dramatic at Exeter. But as paper followed learned
paper, once again a group of world authorities were staring at a crisis
they had devoted their lives to trying to avoid.

The consensus of scientists seems even clearer than ever in spite of all the neo-con crowing about a great liberal conspiracy typified by Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear. What is interesting about the Independent article from a media analysis point of view is the dramatic list of possible catastrophies that ends the article. Each possibility is outlined in brief in a three part format:

  • What could
  • How would this
    come about?
  • How likely is it?

While this provides great capsule information the creation of lists like this is likely to increase both the sense of crisis and passivity in the face of the seemingly inevitable. the independent’s cxatageories include:


These kinds of lists end up functioning as a kind of secular version of the biblical "signs of the times."


James Farmer posts an interesting comment about Steve Krause’s When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Emailing Lists, Discussion, and Interaction. Krause concludes that email lists were a more efficient and direct way of encouraging discussion in his class. This was largely the product of the directness of the “in-box” contact. Farmer makes the critical point:

Blogs can be like email too though (and much more effective in many ways) through aggregation and I think that had, for example, a combination of the public aggregator facility in Drupal been used alongside individual aggregators like Bloglines then things might have turned out very differently.

Of course, people might not have used them (aggregators are hardly ubiquitous) but had they been used, even in very small numbers, I think that the results of his experiment might have been quite different. Blogging without aggregation is pointless (and I might also say that aggregation without blogging is equally lost…)

I’ve been having some discussions about using blogs at UTS and the usual advice is use Blogger. But it seems to me this is using about 30% of the potential of blogs. Firstly Blogger doesn’t easily accommodate categories and so you loose part of the knowledge management function. Secondly they do not easily aggregate (you could use Bloglines but I think this is clumsy) so you loose the community of practice aspect of blogging.

As Lilia Efimova and Aldo de Moor have recently pointed out in a very interesting analysis of weblog conversations:

Unlike other tools that support conversations, weblogs provide their authors with a personal space simultaneously with a community space. As a result, at any given time a blogger is involved in two types of conversations: (1) conversations with self and (2) conversations with others.

In the simplest case, a weblog post is fully and only embedded into “a conversation with self”, a personal narrative used to articulate and to organise one’s own thinking. A single blogger could have several of such conversations simultaneously, returning to ideas over time. Next, each of the posts can trigger a conversation with others that can take several rounds of discussions as well.

While in an active blogging community this communal conversation flows backwards and forwards between individual blogs in a course context, particularly with students using blogs for the first time, a series of individual blogs which aggregate to a common front page would assist the development of both conversations.

This also points to the advantage that blogs have over Blackboard threaded discussion. It could be argued that this facilitates better communal conversation. However there is really no sense of a developing personal publication in a series of scattered discussion posts.

Cataclysm and moral sentiment

Excellent reflection from Susan Neiman in the NYT Magazine on the response to the Tsunami. Neiman begins by comparing our reaction to that of Europeans in the 18th century to the earthquake and Tsunami that destroyed Lisbon 250 years ago.

But Enlightenment thinkers took broader perspectives. Though many denied the existence of a personal Creator, most believed in the wonder of Creation, which was beginning to seem intelligible. Lisbon was no worse than London or Paris. Why smash the one and spare the others? Shattered babies were inert reproaches, not only to anyone wanting to call this world the best of all possible worlds, but to anyone wanting to make sense of it at all. Lisbon rubbed people’s noses in meaninglessness, and a savvier Enlightenment emerged. No longer did nature reflect moral order. The Lisbon earthquake left a breach between humankind and its planet that has been with us ever since. Nature and reason are different in kind, and any meeting they have will be accidental. This is one idea that makes us modern.

Or so we like to think. Reactions to the recent tsunami make me wonder. Everybody who has seen it describes the wrecked expanse as a war zone. (In 1755, there were no weapons of mass destruction; only a natural catastrophe could create that much disaster in such a short time.) True, the numbers of people committed to the Enlightenment seem to get smaller by the day. They face growing competition from fundamentalist Christians who view every disaster as a harbinger of the apocalypse and from radical Islamists who find any flood that washes the beaches clean of half-nude tourists to be divine. But even modernist observers are searching for sense. Some see it as nature’s revenge for the way we have ignored her fragile balance. The tourists are not at fault for being half-naked, but for being rapacious. According to some environmentalists, cheap beachside construction, built to satisfy Europeans’ search for exotic spots in which to spend their long vacations, wrecked the coastal forests and coral reefs that might have broken the tsunami…..

But it would be wrong to reject moral sentiment just because it can be misused, and we should remember Lisbon’s major lesson: if there is to be meaning in the world, we need to put it there. Contrary to cliche, no major Enlightenment thinker thought progress was inevitable. The picture of the future was often dark. Kant’s evidence of our progress was minimalist: not the French Revolution, whose outcome was uncertain, but the hopefulness observers felt when thinking of it — that was sign enough that we had made progress and might make some more. The signs coming out of the tsunami are better than that. Suddenly observers across the globe, in the face of the relief efforts, express sentiments they would very recently have been ashamed to reveal.

Blogs and the tsunami

I thought John Schwartz’s article in the NYT: “Myths Run Wild in Blog Tsunami Debate” was going to be the inevitable snow job following on from some fairly positive coverage of the role of bogs in the disaster. And it certainly starts that way.

But the blogosphere’s tendency toward crackpot theorizing and political smack down could not be suppressed for long.

“It’s so much of what they feed on, so much of what they are,” said James Surowiecki, the author of “The Wisdom of Crowds.”

However Schwartz then moves into a really interesting discussion about the “self correcting” nature of blogs through the direct comments and feedback to posts.

Online discussion can evolve toward truth, said Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in the interactive telecommunications program at New York University and a blogger. One result is a process that can be more reliable than many new media, where corrections are often late and small, if they appear at all.

Dr. Shirky said the key to reasonable discussion was to get beyond flames and the “echo chamber” effect of like-minded people simply reinforcing the opinions of one another and to let the self-correcting mechanisms do their job in a civil way. “You hope the echo chamber effect and the fact-checking effect will balance out into a better and more nuanced set of narratives, and a more rigorously checked set of facts,” he said. But in such a sharply contentious world, “The risk is it will largely divide itself into competing narratives where what even constitutes a fact is different in different camps.”

On a completely different level and left unanalysed are the “myths” of Schwartz’s title. He quotes from posts on www.democraticunderground.com:

“Since we know that the atmosphere has become contaminated by all the atomic testing, space stuff, electronic stuff, earth pollutants, etc., is it logical to wonder if: Perhaps the ‘bones’ of our earth where this earthquake spawned have also been affected?”

The cause of the earthquake and resulting killer wave, the writer said, could be the war in Iraq. “You know, we’ve exploded many millions of tons of ordnance upon this poor planet,” the writer said. “All that ‘shock and awe’ stuff we’ve just dumped onto the Asian part of this earth – could we have fractured something? Perhaps the earth was just reacting to something that man has done to injure it. The earth is organic, you know. It can be hurt.”

While Schwartz and his commentators are interested in the truth or otherwise of these comments it would be more interesting to ask what the comments actually reveal. I think the posts are indicative of several prevalent myths – and here I use the term not as Schwartz does as a synonym for misconception but as meaning ritual story or narrative belief.

Just as many of the news stories about the disaster have emphasised the connectedness of the world in a time of tragedy these posts arise out of a similar metaphysics of connectedness. However they simultaneously appeal to a range of apocalyptic beliefs about the environment, the destructiveness of “man” and the covert or irresponsible actions of “government”. They are indicative of what Timothy Melley has called “agency panic” in the face of seemingly expanding conspiratorial actors (I have posted about this on my other blog).

It is interesting to note also that the post is a series of questions and tentative propositions (“could we have fractured something? Perhaps the earth was just reacting”). Although it seems that the current disaster is unrelated to any of the events mentioned in the democratic underground post, the tentatively expressed underlying belief system, that human actions have environmental consequences and that we are all connected through this consequential chain, is by no means a misconception even in scientific terms.

Year of the blog

A basic, but interesting, article on the evolution of blog influence over the last year on BBC Online.

Andrew Nachison, Director of the Media Center, a US-based “nonprofit think tank committed to building a better-informed society in a connected world,” points to the US presidential election as a turning point for the blogsphere:

“You could look at that as a moment when audiences exercised a new form of power, to choose among many more sources of information than they have never had before,” he says.

“And blogs were a key part of that transformation.”

Among them were blogs carrying picture messages, saying “we are sorry” for George W Bush’s victory and the responses from his supporters.

Mr Nachison argues blogs have become independent sources for images and ideas that circumvent traditional sources of news and information such as newspapers, TV and radio.

“We have to acknowledge that in all of these cases, mainstream media actually plays a role in the discussion and the distribution of these ideas,” he told the BBC News website.

“But they followed the story, they didn’t lead it.”

The example of the “we are sorry” picture blog is a very interesting example because it represents an entirely new form of symbolic politics. It may seem to lack any real political clout, certainly it will not change the way the new Bush administration implements its agenda, but at another level it is an important healing gesture that gives witness to another public sphere.

The term blogsphere is bandied about very freely but I don’t think we have even begun to come to terms with what it actually is and what it actually means. I am not only interested in the way blogging produces independent or alternative space, although this is vital, I am even more interested in what will eventually happen as the blogsphere begins to interact and transform other spheres of public discourse. This has certainly begun but it is an interaction that is still evolving in surprising and unpredictable ways. And I think it is the emergence of a preliminary understanding about this process that is the big news of blogging in 2004.

Talking about the conflicted relationship between blogging and journalism Nachison talks of transition rather than threat.

“I don’t think the mission and role of journalism is threatened. It is in transition, as society itself is in transition,” says Mr Nachison.

However, he agrees with other experts like the linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky, that mainstream media has lost the traditional role of news gatekeeper.

“The one-to-many road of traditional journalism, yes, it is threatened. And professional journalists need to acclimate themselves to an environment in which there are many more contributors to the discourse,” says Mr Nachison.

“The notion of a gatekeeper who filters and decides what’s acceptable for public consumption and what isn’t, that’s gone forever.”

“With people now walking around with information devices in their pockets, like camera or video phones, we are going to see more instances of ordinary citizens breaking stories.”