Monday, April 23, 2007

What happens when traditional journalists meet 'tech savvy students'...

Am adding this link to an article in today's Guardian as a useful resource for students of citizen journalism. It's an interesting reflection on the changing roles of - and relationships between - 'citizens' and 'journalists' and also raises questions of trust when the public sphere is a digital environment.

Filed under:
Virginia Tech   public sphere   citizen journalism  journalism education

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bloggers eye view of Virginia Tech

I drove home from work today to the breaking news about the Virginia Tech shootings. You don't have to work on a campus to appreciate the awfulness of the events but mental images become very vivid of students and professors starting another day of classes before their lives abruptly change - or cease. As the story unfolded, I stayed tuned to Five Live news, hoping to gather more information to fill the gaps in the pictures forming in my mind. When I got home, Chele was glued to BBC News 24 for the same reason.

When it became clear that the gunman was dead, the story moved into a different phase. The question was no longer 'What happened?' but 'Why did it happen?' Right now I'm listening to the news conference where the University President and Chief of Campus Police are facing aggressive questions from journalists on the level of security and why classes weren't cancelled after the first shootings.

We'll be able to read the analyses at leisure in the press tomorrow and beyond, but the first phase of the story - its breaking and unfolding - highlighted the weakness and frustration of mainstream news media trying to make sense of the sparse information that was emerging and the strength of 'citizen journalism' as students and witnesses blogged their personal accounts and experiences.

We were able to read an eye-witness account of one student directly affected, and injured, by the shooting in the Madness on Campus thread of the Live Journal blog. We could also witness the tensions between the mainstream media and the bloggers. With no other sources available, various news media, including MTV News, the Boston Herald and the Guardian, invaded the bloggers' space, only to find themselves repelled by insults and cries of 'whores', 'vultures' and 'ghouls'.

We've become used to relying on the media even though we may sometimes hate their methods of gathering - and competing with each other to gather - the fresh angle, the goriest photo, the most heart-rending witness account. However, while the horrors of the events in Virginia unfolded, it became clear that the untrained, non-professional 'citizen' journalists were able to keep the world informed while the official news media could only watch helplessly from a distance before being allowed access to a news conference to cry out 'Why?'

To anyone affected by these events who happens across this blog, Chele and I send our heartfelt prayers and best wishes.

Filed under:
Virginia Tech   blogs   citizen journalism

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The truth market

Mark Borkowski offers his analysis of the debacle of Iranian hostages selling their stories to the redtops.

His basic argument presents the press as amoral; it's in the their nature to get a story and will adapt in any way they need to the circumstances and political climate to get a scoop. As for the MOD, they were naive, failing to take into account that PR - or at least media relations - is a fact of life.

Lessons, says Borkowski, can be learned from Hollywood. The media don't report the world, or reflect the world, or represent the world - they are the world.

Yes reality does exist beyond the newsroom but as any basic Media Studies textbook will confirm, media reality is systematically distorted. We're not necessarily talking about journalistic conspiracies to bend the truth. Very often the truth bends itself to jump onto the media bandwagon.

The Sun's exclusive report of 'brave Faye Turney's terror' is loaded with the assumptions of how a British servicewoman might expect to be treated by Iranian captors - potential rapists and violaters of her 'baby' (the boat, not her daughter, Molly).

Her reported reaction was that of a real trooper - 'F*** off'.

The Daily Mail's stance does at first sight present a veneer of morality. Their headline last Thursday was They won't be selling their story, minister. This comment, aimed at Defence Secretary Des Browne, appeared over a photo of a coffin of one of the British servicemen recently killed in Iraq.

Unsurprisingly, the story does not indicate how much money the Mail had itself offered for an Iranian hostage's story.

Filed under:
Mark Borkowski   Iranian Hostages   Sun  Daily Mail  Faye Turney   media relations

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Drugs, obesity and media studies

Welcome to the world of Boris Johnson, as seen through the rose-tinted windscreens of his high-performance cars.

Today's Portsmouth Today reports comments of the 'Motormouth MP' which have led to demands for an apology from 'furious city leaders'. He characterised the home of HMS Victory as 'one of the most depressed towns in southern England, a place that is arguably too full of drugs, obesity, under-achievement and Labour MPs.'

His views weren't expressed in any speech in the House, or indeed during his recent visit to the University of Portsmouth. The words appeared in that most eminent publication, GQ Magazine, as part of Boris's write-up on test driving a Maybach limousine. He combined his journalistic and political commitments by using the £340,000 vehicle for his official visit to the University on behalf of the Conservative party.

The indignant city fathers are undoubtedly still smarting from the late Spike Milligan's consignment of Portsmouth into oblivion on BBC's Room 101. But the city wasn't the only target of stereotyping in Johnson's jottings. I quote...

As soon as we pull up outside the University of Portsmouth, I can see the look of astonishment on the face of the Vice Chancellor. The streets are full of rain. Poor bedraggled students splash across the campus in search of their lectures in feminism and media studies.
Ah yes, we're in familiar territory here. And this from the Shadow Minister for Higher Education, who claimed during the last election that 'Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3'.

Somewhere in this infinite universe, there must be a parallel world in which David Cameron not only wins the next election but also allows Boris to stay in charge of the nation's universities. It hardly bears thinking about. But then perhaps in another parallel world, feminism and media studies are included in the curriculum at Eton...

Filed under:
Boris Johnson   Portsmouth  media studies