July 27, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of July 27, 2007
*Opening Note: Joshua Green on What Television Means into Today's Media Environment, Part II of II
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Huma Yusuf on the Effects of Blogging on Traditional Journalism, Part II of II
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.
The opening note this week comes from C3 Research Manager Dr. Joshua Green, who provides a conclusion to his look at both the traditional understanding of television and the modern technological and cultural developments challenging those definitions. Be sure to look back at last week's opening note from Joshua if you haven't had the chance.
The closing note this week once again comes from MIT Comparative Media Studies Master's candidate and professional journalist Huma Yusuf. This week's piece primarily looks at The Boston Globe's "Override Central" blog as an example of how the "professional journalist" version of blogging sometimes misses the point.
As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.
If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at email@example.com.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
Why Do They Call It TV When It's Not on the Box?
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
Part II of II
By: Joshua Green
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
As I suggested last week, the sites I've labelled 'new television' reduce the construction of television fundamentally to 'content'. In this sense, these sites have been tacitly described as providing 'online video' services more than they do television. This description is strategically useful as it allows the contextualization of online content delivery within established institutional discourses and modes of practice. Currah (2006) describes the way the movie industry has sought to minimize the risks posed by new delivery options by attempting to make the online space conform to Pay Per View models of content publishing.
Attempting to make online delivery conform to these logics has provided Hollywood with a space to slot in new options that seeks to minimize the erosion these services may have on existing revenue streams while simultaneously allowing them to claim these options are impacting theatre going. Understanding online delivery through this framework makes it easy to argue it is inefficient (as it doesn't replicate the theatre experience, nor return the revenue of DVD sales) and to demonize online access as a strike against theatre attendance. What this approach doesn't do, however, is consider online delivery as an effective evolution of the DVD mode of content delivery, which it might well possibly offer.
Television plays in a different space, however, as online delivery would not seem to replicate the television experience but instead force a change in both how we consider television and television audienceship. The nature of this change is that it places a new and perhaps disproportionate value on television content itself. With reference to the DVD and Kompare's work, considering television primarily as content pushes it's value to the end as a consumable. The challenge this poses for networks, then, is that it removes television from the experience that has typically been sold to advertisers - namely, contextualised viewing over time. That these new television sites position themselves as alternatives to television, then, is important because it forces a reconception of the experience television offers for the audience.
The market logics of television are set up to value content is as a lure to attract audiences who sit through advertising. When the content is available outside of that model, the context of it's consumption is uncontrollable, resulting essentially, in the eradication of the audience. Ever elusive and obscured by the closed domain of the domestic viewing environment, despite what demography and market research suggest, the television viewer seems essentially invisible and therefore unknowable in this model.
Yet, and this is the sweet paradox of the situation we're facing, these online services would seem to broaden the potential reach of a television content. Online delivery options, particularly the unofficial ones, enable content to be consumed outside of the temporal and geographic locations the market is set up to capitalize on. That an American viewer can stay almost up to date, within a number of hours, with the British broadcast of Doctor Who greatly expands the potential audience of that program, rather than diminishing it by reducing the audience for a domestic US broadcast.
Playing to transnational audiences, rather than cracking down on them, would capitalize on the mixed-media ecology the internet provides. Offering timely content to geographically distanced audiences already participating in transnational discussions and community relations might mean capturing viewers at a key point of interest. It may reduce domestic viewing, but it might also encourage proselytism, building audiences through un-monetized labor practices. It might also offer new revenue streams, especially if content is in demand.
Then again, it may not dramatically reduce domestic audiences as official channels can capitalize on quality as a mark of product differentiation. Though the music industry has been slow to either learn, acknowledge, or effectively implement, quality and convenience are an effective way to compete with free and 'illicit'.
Such activity requires a reconfiguration of what it means to be a television audience member, though not necessarily in ways that are inherently new. Extensive online offerings, currently emblematized by unsanctioned sites, operate according to the logics of the Long Tail. But they do so by playing upon well established audience practices. Stream Indexer can fairly claim to be "better than a remote" because it enables the jumping between content offerings audiences have long enjoyed. The success of the TiVo on the back of time-shifting, zipping and zapping has in some ways foreshadowed the triumph of this audience practice, and could be considered an intermediary point between the logics of old television and new (I am indebted to Jason Mittell for this point). So too, the development of the DVD shines a light on these 'new' audience practices.
Making sense of them, however, seems to require re-imagining how audiences are brought into being. This may require a shift in the weight placed upon the aggregate-and-sell model television has relied upon. The "triumph of the logic of the niche" Rogers, Reeves, and Epstein (2002) grandly identified in the success of The Sopranos for HBO signals part of the solution. What seems like tired industry discourse about the 'fragmentation of the audience' suggests, on the flip-side, the increase of alternative audience formations. Recognising them might require re-figuring the value of current revenue streams.
Television is not a zero-sum game, despite the fact it is sometimes discussed as such. Though I'm aware new offerings may cause erosion to existing markets, the new environment requires shifted practices, and different ideas of how audiences are formulated might capitalize on the new space in which content is received. Official online television services seem currently to attempt to re-embed content within frameworks of contextualized advertising; employing 'auxillary' strategies by positioning content within glance-distance to sanctioned branding and advertising.
This might be one workable response, though the audience experience for such content will differ greatly to the audience experience for living-room viewing. Still, there are gains to be made here that would be lost if viewers ventured to unsanctioned sites. Similarly, building on the transnational communities for content might mean moving beyond the television text itself, as Ivan Askwith's work for the Consortium on the success of the Lost ARG has pointed to. The value of this proposition is that it positions television content as the anchor for broader, extended interactions for engagement. Both of these suggest a reconfiguration of what it means to be an audience member for 'television'.
Perhaps the 'solution' to this 'problem' is to see the potential television audience as multiplying, rather than dividing, and to work towards a solution that provides a matrix of metrics to gauge the success of programming. Television ratings have long existed as an "invisible fiction" as a fudged measurement that made the best of the tools at hand. The new context requires perhaps not more sophisticated measurement tools but more sophisticated conceptions of what being a viewer might mean.
Currah, A. (2006) "Hollywood versus the Internet: the media and entertainment industries in a digital and networked economy " Journal of Economic Geography 6 pp. 439-468
Rogers, M., Epstein, M., and Reeves, J. (2002) "The Sopranos as HBO Brand Equity: The Art of Commerce in the Age of Digital Reproduction", in Lavery, D. (ed.) This Thing of Ours: Investigating the Sopranos. New York, Columbia University Press.
Dr. Joshua Green is the research manager for the Convergence Culture Consortium and a Postdoctoral Associate at the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (IV of V). The fourth part of this five-part series examines several points of contest in the definition of masculinity in the pro wrestling text: brains vs. brawn, mythic vs. everyman, individualism vs. collectivism, and underdog vs. champion.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (III of V). The third part of this series looks in-depth at the star image of Mick Foley and how it was cultivated through many years and across several different companies and storylines.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (II of V). The second part of this five-part series looks at the value of wrestling as a point of academic study and the methodology used for this particular project.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (I of V). Sam Ford provides a five-part series presenting an essay that is set to be published in the upcoming Hampton University book Stars Shine Bright: Sport Stars, Globalization, and the Public Sphere.
Does Peeking Spoil the Fun? (2 of 2). In the second part of this series, Eleanor Baird looks at some overall points that can be drawn to the reaction to spoilers among the Harry Potter fan community.
Does Peeking Spoil the Fun? (1 of 2). C3's Eleanor Baird looks at the attention given to newspaper reviews of the Harry Potter book and the response from publishers, Rowling, and fan sites.
It's Not About the Technology; It's How You Use It. With DVR penetration rising and Internet technologies slowly becoming more pervasive, it's becoming abundantly clear that what matters more than the technology itself is how people are using it and how they envision it in their lives.
Changing Measurement Systems Move Even Slower than Technological Change...Sometimes, technology enthusiasts may overstate the case of how fast things are changing in the media industries, but there's little question that the matrices that the media industries run on are moving much too slowly to be relevant as much other than a currency for the industry to trade on.
Realities of the Digital Divide. More people than ever are getting online, but the projection remains only slightly more than a fifth of the world's population by 2011...and that's not measuring the quality of the connection, which is another story altogether.
Misconceptions of the Rate of Technological Change. Sometimes, those who are forward-thinking enough to know that change is coming are shocked when it doesn't get here as quickly as they had imagined. Infrastructure and the gradual adoption of technologies and new cultural processes don't happen overnight, though.
Reverse Product Placement, The Simpsons, and the Value of the 7-Eleven Brand. Some have celebrated The Simpsons' conversion of 7-Eleven stores as a great example of the "reverse product placement" David Edery and Ilya Vedrashko and others affiliated with C3 have talked about, but Grant McCracken thinks otherwise.
C3 Team Continues Analysis of Harry Potter Spoiler Controversy. In addition to Sam Ford's recent piece on the fallout from discussions of spoilers in relation to the release of the new Harry Potter book, Jason Mittell and Rob Kozinets both weigh in as well.
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Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/.
--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
Not a Case of Either/Or: Journalism and Blogging, Part II of II
By: Huma Yusuf
Take the example of 'Override Central', which has the format, though none of the flavor, of a blog.
One of boston.com's most touted blogs, 'Override Central' features contributions from five current reporters and editors on The Boston Globe staff. Like some of the best independent blogs, 'Override Central' is focused on covering one issue -- property tax overrides in the Greater Boston area -- with greater depth and consistency than the column inches of the newspaper's print version will allow.
As such, the blog has evolved as a repository of coverage of events, both significant and minor, that are related to the overrides issue. All aspects of the issue -- from override protestors' efforts to official constraints -- are addressed. David Dahl, the regional editor of The Boston Globe and an 'Override Central' blogger, explains that the blog was started to "give readers a chance to learn about an issue that is of great interest and allow us to get our reporting out there without having to wait until our bi-weekly sections were published."
Unfortunately, that's where 'Override Central' ceases resembling a blog. The entries on the site echo the style and content of regular Globe news reports. Frequently, they do not reference other materials, and if external links are provided, they usually point to news reports on the topic published in the print version of The Boston Globe. Readers and community members who may be affected by the overrides are not allowed to post original content to the site, nor can they comment on reporters' entries.
Even more significant, though, is the fact that the blog refuses to take a stance on the issue. As Dahl elaborates, "I [seek] to be objective and neutral...as a political editor, I [cannot] venture into punditry or opinion. The tax increases are contentious and financially important to our readers; I'm overseeing coverage of those increases, and have not expressed my opinions in the blogs." Since it does not take a stand on the overrides issue or explicitly help readers shape their opinions on the tax increases, Gillmor and other independent bloggers would probably not consider 'Override Central' a blog. Such examples suggest that rhetoric about the union of blogging and journalism may be overstated.
There are several reasons why journalistic blogs end up looking like traditional news reporting. First and foremost is the issue of objectivity, understood here to mean a reporter's responsibility to represent all relevant viewpoints and provide all available information without expressing a personal opinion or participating in advocacy. While journalism thrives on neutrality, blogs rely on the informed and unvarnished opinion of the blogger along with the consent of the collective to shape the argument. Meanwhile, practical considerations and ground realities of the newsroom explain why most journalistic blogs seem insipid. After all, journalists who blog are caught between a rock and a hard place, left to contend with a conflict of interests.
Until blogging offers separate economic benefits, journalists' first loyalties will remain with the newspapers that help them pay their bills. A journalist cannot break a great story on his or her blog because the best content will be reserved for the print edition of the newspaper where it can help boost sales. Indeed, a journalist's blog continually risks becoming an online dumping ground for material that the paper's print edition chooses not to accommodate.
And while some complicated stories can benefit from extra contextualization and blow-by-blow updates, excessive information does not necessarily translate into quality journalism. Chris Allbritton's example is particularly telling in this regard. A former reporter for the Associated Press and the New York Daily News, Allbritton shot to fame when he became the first independent, journalistic blogger to be sponsored by his readers. Through his 'back-to-iraq' blog, Allbritton raised enough money to provide on-the-ground coverage of the war in Iraq. Eventually, he was hired by Time and appointed as the magazine's Baghdad correspondent.
Since becoming a professional journalist with a leading publication, though, Allbritton has felt the quality of his blog declining and repeatedly considers shutting it down. In an interview with Wired magazine, he explained that he has become more "miserly in parceling out my opinion. I place a whole lot more emphasis on the reporting on the blog, rather than taking a stance."
Unfortunately, even the quality of that reporting is dubious, since Allbritton cannot scoop Time on his blog. The end result is a watered-down site offering otherwise widely available updates on politics and policies in Iraq. If journalism were to embrace the appeal of the amateurs and allow reporters such as Allbritton to continue doing what they do best, not only would newspapers boost sales, but the American public would also stay better informed.
Huma Yusuf is a graduate student in the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT. After graduating from Harvard University in 2002 with a Bachelor's degree in English and American literature, Yusuf has worked as a journalist in Pakistan, winning the UNESCO/Pakistan Press Foundation 'Gender in Journalism 2005' Award and the European Commission's 2006 Natali Lorenzo Prize for Human Rights Journalism. With the support of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, she is currently launching a first-of-its kind webzine, the goal of which is to provide an alternate forum where journalists, academics, and media students can examine and critique the Pakistani media industry at large.
Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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