Thursday, July 31, 2008

Journalism as Social Networking

Jason Wilson and I have just completed a paper that has been sent to Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism titled "Journalism as Social Networking: The Australian youdecide2007 project and the 2007 Federal election." The paper is available here for downloading and comments would be welcome.

This paper considers through the youdecide2007 case study on the 2007 Australian Federal election some of the work issues involved in developing and managing a citizen journalism Web site. This includes a discussion on the limits of 'crowdsourcing', as well as discussion of:

  • Content work - the role of being both a content producer and an editor of the content of others, or what we term a 'preditor';
  • Networking - building sustained linkages and contacts between your site and others, including the mainstream media;
  • Community work - how to bring people to the site as both users and contributors on a regular basis;
  • Technical work - the management of on-site and off-site arrangements that facilitate a successful site.
We conclude that publicising case studies of this nature is important because:
  • The merging of content origination and content organisation is now where journalism is at, as indicated in the Project for Excellence in Journalism study of U.S. newspapers;
  • The relationships between mainstream news media and independent online media are a lot more permeable than either Web 2.0 enthusiasts or critics of blogging acknowledge;
  • We learn from shared experiences and indeed from mistakes;
  • Journalism education remains rooted to a 20th century news production model that has to all intents and purposes collapsed and there is a desperate need for a rethink in light of how the Internet is changing news.

Friday, July 11, 2008

ANZCA08 Conference - Day 3

I am at Day 3 of the ANZCA Conference, "Power and Place" at the Duxton Hotel in Wellington, New Zealand. Keynote presentation today is by Nicky Hager on "'Communication' and Information that does not inform: Understanding Techniques of Political Manipulation".

Nicky Hager is an investigative journalist who has broken several key stories about the manipulation of political power and spin campaigns by public relations agencies around issues such as logging. He is the author of The Hollow Men, which was available at the conference. This book led to the fall of Don Brash as the leader of New Zealand's National Party.

The other main activity for me today is announcing the ANZCA09 conference to be held at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, at the Creative Industries Precinct at Kelvin Grove. No web site as yet, but I did set up a Facebook page this morning.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

ANZCA Conference - Day 2

Day 2 of ANZCA at the slightly warming up Wellington. As a member of the ANZCA Executive, and Vice-President-elect (which means hosting the conference at QUT in Brisbane next year), I have spent a lot of time in Executive meetings dealing with Constitutional changes. What fun! As I wryly observed, the Weimar Constitution of 1919 was considered the leading constitutional document of its time, yet didn't stop Hitler from coming to power in Germany 14 years later.

The keynote speaker was Professor Jennifer Craik, my PhD supervisor when at Griffith, and her presentation was titled "The Empresses' New Clothes: Dressing Women for Politics". I'm afraid to say it, but I was disappointed by Jenni's talk. It relied too much on the entertaining nature of the visuals, and the perceived frivolity of public discourse about women, power and fashion, ad in my view didn't engage with the material at a deeper level. I know that Jenni's work can do this - I just felt that the paper presented was a bit too easy to play to the punters and not intellectually tax people too much.

I caught a very good paper by Jim McNamara from the Australian Centre for Public Communication at UTS in Sydney, who did a study with his students of e-electioneering in the 2007 Australian Federal election. A lot of good stuff in this, and the report can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

ANZCA08 Conference - Power and Place, Wellington, NZ

I am in wintry Wellington in New Zealand for the Australia and New Zealand Communications Association (ANZCA) conference for 2008.

The theme of the conference is "Power and Place", and the keynote presentation this morning was by Maxwell McCombs, the pioneer of agenda-setting research. He was presenting a 40-year retrospective of the "Chapel Hill studies", as they are known, of agenda-setting in relation to the 1968 US Presidential elections.

One point that McCombs emphasised was that agenda-setting methodologies have been moving beyond the news/politics/public affairs nexus. He pointed out a study (missed author) that showed how agenda-setting research illustrates the rise of the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) from a relatively minor group in the late 60s to its multi-billion $ status today. It is also being used to evaluate corporate reputations, as is occurring with the Reputation Institute in The Netherlands.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Conservatives for Obama #2

In a previous post I drew attention to the interesting phenomenon in U.S. politics of prominent conservatives switching sides this election towards Barack Obama. Whether its due to dislike of John McCain, bitterness at the Bush legacy, or a genuine interest in the Illinois senator as a new type of Democrat, this phenomenon is getting picked up in a few places:

The "Obamacans" that Sen. Barack Obama used to joke about - Republican apostates who whispered their support for his candidacy - have morphed into a new phenomenon, or syndrome, as detractors like to call it: the Obamacons.

These are conservatives who have publicly endorsed the presumptive Democratic nominee, dissidents from the brain trust of think tanks, ex-officials and policy magazines that have fueled the Republican Party since the 1960s. Scratch the surface of this elite, and one finds a profound dismay that is far more damaging to the GOP than the usual 10 percent of registered Republicans expected to switch sides during a presidential election.

See more here.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Nuttiness on the Left, Nuttiness on the Right

The question of whether the Internet can help to develop a more deliberative public sphere, or whether it promotes greater polarisation between people and groups, is a recurring one. In contrast to the optimism of many, University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein has wondered whether the Internet worsens what he term the 'law of group polarisation' and the 'echo-chamber effect', where people with right-wing views only listen and discuss issues with others with right-wing views, and people with left-wing views do the same with their own kind.

There is certainly no shortage of nuttiness on the Internet. In the US, someone like Larry Sinclair can get a gig at the National Press Club by continually posting tendentious claims about Barack Obama. Similarly, if you think that 30 years as a ZANU-PF functionary trains you to be a productive Zimbabwean farmer, and that Robert Mugabe's basically a misunderstood anti-colonialist whose policies for the country are on the right track, then the Net is the place where you have the right to say it, and keep saying it regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

But there is nuttiness that doesn't matter, and nuttiness that might. And I've come across two cases this week where nuttiness on the Net seemed to be worth commenting upon.

Clive Hamilton's recent public denunciation of 'climate change denialism' on On Line Opinion strikes me as having elements of nuttiness on the left. Like Clive, and like OLO editor Graham Young, I am not a scientist or an expert on climatology.

I may be a good citizen and download and read the Garnaut Report on Climate Change this weekend, or I may be a lazy citizen and read what everyone else says on the Net. I think there's a real issue, and I understand the 'precautionary principle', although I worry about how every instance of abnormal weather is attributed to climate change.

For example, there were a lot of storms and tornadoes when I was in the US mid-west recently, and every CNN anchor would ask whether it was evidence of climate change, even though they would be reminded that the US land-mass lends itself to wild weather in the mid-west, as there is a cold Northeast and a hot Southwest and the two fronts often collide in the middle.

But it was how Clive Hamilton announced his refusal to write for OLO that struck me as tending towards nuttiness. First of all, there is the need to noisily announce that you are no longer going to write for a publication, rather than just not publishing with them. Its like all those op-ed writers in The Australian furiously and continuously writing about how they are being silenced by the left wing chattering classes.

Second, Hamilton equates 'climate change denialists' - the word "denialist" is used in an interesting way here - with conspiracy theorists more generally:

According to the line of argument about balance, it would be perfectly acceptable for On Line Opinion to carry a series of articles repudiating the link between AIDS and the HIV virus. (Try googling AIDS denialism.)

The AIDS denialists have to account for the fact that the overwhelming weight of medical and epidemiological evidence is against them, so they must invent fanciful theories about colonialist plots and gay capture of science to compensate for the lack of hard evidence to support their beliefs.

This is exactly what the climate change denialists do, and each time On Line Opinion runs one of their pieces it is, inter alia, endorsing their view that Australia's most eminent climate scientists are frauds and liars.

Would Graham Young argue that the interests of balance demand that On Line Opinion give space to the claims of creation science? Would it give space to the conspiracy theories about 9-11 being a CIA plot, or the Larouche delusions about the Royal Family being in cahoots with global Jewry to run drugs? Balanced, yes, but loopy and deceptive too.

There is a technique being used here to delegitimise contrary voices by equating their positions with the loony fringes of conspiracy theory. People on the left would be familiar with the technique of calling someone a communist in order to devalue their argument. I suspect the same is happening here.

It is worth noting that Graham Young does something similar in his reply to Hamilton, suggesting that people who disagree with him are "postmodernists", and therefore out of step with the Enlightenment tradition of rational thought:

The idea that truth is relative has taken over some areas of the humanities through postmodernism, theory and forms of Marxist analysis. That's the school that Clive's argument on global warming comes from. Reading his article, and the comments on the article thread, they really don't cut it in the outside world. We instinctively know that things do have objective reality and are not power constructs. That it doesn't matter how many people say it is true if it isn't. It's in that place in the intellectual debate that On Line Opinion fits. We're not in demise or denial. We're just starting to come into our own.
The final point to be made is that, for Clive Hamilton, the intellectual debate on climate change is over, and anyone who claims otherwise is simply proffering an excuse for inaction, or action as a shill for corporate vested interests.

The denialists have conspicuously failed to generate contrary evidence that can be published in refereed journals and instead devote themselves to creating doubt by exaggerating, exploiting and twisting the various uncertainties and unexplained phenomena that naturally characterise a body of science as complex and emergent as climate change science.
There is enough material in the history of ideas, and the sociology of knowledge, to suggest that evidence of a consensus on an issue is not the same as its being established as irrefutable fact. C. Wright Mills could barely get his argument heard about The Power Elite in 1960 when he wrote the book. Ten years later, it had become an orthodoxy of sociological thought. Milton Friedman was completely on the margins of economics in 1962 when he wrote Capitalism and Freedom. By 1976 the situation had changed dramatically. And there are many other examples of how the weight of orthodox thought in a discipline changes over time.

Given that professional journalists and journalism educators routinely claim that their profession is differentiated by what happens on line by the lack of ethics on the Internet, the Hamilton-Young debate could be a good case study in media and journalism courses on how differences of opinion play themselves out in the online environment. I think it points to what has been called the "noisy" public sphere, but this may prove Sunstein's point about the impossibility of getting consensus on the Net in light of so many conflicting opinions.

The question then is one of how do we conduct conversation in the absence of consensus. I don't think that noisily denouncing an online publication for not toeing a preferred 'party line' is the way to do it, but if that's Clive Hamilton's call, then so be it.

A more concerning example of nuttiness on the right involves the Young Liberals' "Make Education Fair" campaign. This one could be dismissed as nutty, if slightly aggressive, student politicking until:

  1. A Senate Enquiry into the matter was set up in the last days of Liberal-National Party control of the Senate;
  2. You go to the section of the Web site under 'Research' marked 'Academic Watch'.

In relation to the Senate enquiry, it would be hard to go past the observations of Andrew Norton - hardly an enemy of liberalism or the Liberal Party - on his blog that indicate why this will almost certainly generate a lot of heat but very little light. It is very hard for governments to legislate the content of university courses, and for a liberal, moving in this direction would point towards a slippery slope of government control of intellectual life. Moreover, given that the nature of the teacher-student relationship presumes that even the dumbest teacher knows more about their subject matter than the brightest student, the idea that course content is given over to a student plebiscite has a fell about it akin to Mao's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution circa 1967, particularly when it is proposed that this be extended beyond universities to secondary schools.

It is the 'Academic Watch' page that I find particularly sinister. Norton's fears that the exercise could turn into "a witch-hunt for leftist academics" is confirmed when you go to this page. The site 'outs' 18 academics as 'radical leftists', even though they would appear to have little in common with one another except that they are at odds with whoever put together this page. My real worry here is that, one you go down this path, providing email addresses and phone numbers so that disgrunted students or whoever else can harass academics (or worse) is on the cards.

Given that the Liberal Party of Australia is not a minority Trotskyist sect, but rather seeks to govern on behalf of all Australians, such pogromic and quasi-McCathyist behaviour would seem to me to be very much at odds with the 'academic freedom' they ostensibly seek to champion. I would imagine that quite a few Liberals would be deeply embarrassed by the behaviour they see happening in their name on the 'Make Education Fair' Web site.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


A lively little debate has started on Larvatus Prodeo about the mythical or real status of a creature known as "ute-man".

The debate was started by Canberra press gallery commentator Glenn Milne's observations in The Australian that (and I will use quotes here) the "shock result" of the Nationals' holding the seat of Gippsland in a by-election - which they have held since 1923 - was due to the "genius of Brendan Nelson's uber-populist post-budget announcement that he would introduce a 5c a litre cut in the fuel excise", combined with "a backlash against Labor's "alcopops" tax grab by its own "ute man" mixed-drinks base".

I'm not sure whether the base Glenn Milne is referring to here is the Labor Party voting base or the base spirit Bundy or Johnnie Walker that gets mixed with the coke. I can only hope that, wherever it was that Mr. Milne was mixing this base with his "Liberal strategists", he did not mix it with the headache medication that led to problems at the Walkley Awards in 2006 or else this might have happened.

Anyway, if you really want to understand "ute-man", go not to Glenn Milne but to Glen Fuller and his Event Mechanics blog. I'll just throw in a few quick observations on this one:

  1. As someone who has worked at a university campus that also doubles as a perpetual building site, I can assure you that "ute-man" does exist, at least in Brisbane. He is notable for having a considerably newer and better car than the academics (let alone the students), and for having a lot of bumper stickers on it.
  2. The "ute-men" really, really hated Work Choices. Whatever they thought about just about anything else, they had well and truly decided to vote out the government that gave them Work Choices.
  3. As "ute man" does not read The Australian, Glenn Milne's new found love for him is likely to remain purely Platonic. He is also unlikely to be a Brendan Nelson fan, no matter how many guitars he owns, tho' he may knock down a bevvy with Belinda Neal if she's shouting (the drinks, that is, not at him).
  4. He is also unlikely to read the Garnaut Report on climate change, so there is lot of scope to explain what it really means for aspiring pundits and politicians. He may instead be reading The Tradie, so there's a thought.
  5. The "what to do about ute man" question is a variant of the age-old question that troubles advertisers, marketers and political campaigners everywhere, which is what to do about the young male, who may inherit the earth if he can get off the couch.
As Homer Simpson famously put it, "I'm a white male aged 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Creative Industries, Culture and Policy

My reason for being on leave from QUT at present is to complete a book for Sage. The book will be called Creative Industries, Culture and Policy, and is to be published in 2009.

In order to solicit feedback in advance of publication, I am making draft chapters available for comment. These are not to be reproduced, and only to be quoted with permission. I would, however, welcome comment on the blog.

Chapter One deals with the development of creative industries policy in Britain from the mid 1990s to the present. I argue that it has its origin in the 'local socialism' initiatives of various UK local councils in the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the question of what may constitute a 'post-industrial' Britain after the economic changes of the Thatcher-Major years.

The chapter look at the original Department of Culture, Media and Sport 'list-based' approach to the creative industries and the criticisms of it. It look at further issues arising, such as regionalisation, the role of the arts, and the significance attached to design in the 2006 Cox Report.

It concludes with a consideration of the approaches taken by NESTA and The Work foundation to capacity building in the creative industries sectors.

If you are interested in downloading the draft chapter, it can be found here.

I would welcome feedback on the chapter. In particular, it does not at this stage have a conclusion, as I am thinking through the relationship of creative industries policy to the current, and seemingly terminal, electoral malaise of Gordon Brown's Labour government, and the question of whether this would continue to be a priority policy area under a future Conservative government.