We Are Media

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Journalism is changing. Journalist traditionally considered ‘the gatekeepers of the public sphere‘ are now forced to work within a society in which gates no longer exist. There are literally billions of internet users all over the world, who all have the ability to produce, upload and share information globally every second of everyday without any restrictions.

Citizen Journalism is rising dramatically with more and more people producing content and more and more consumers turning to amateur journalists for their primary sources of information. Thanks to citizen journalism massive caches of previously hard-to-come-by or entirely secret information can be released into the public sphere. News is now a collective of information created by a mass of individual content creators. Take the ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous for example they can be described as a community of users simultaneously existing as an anarchic, digitized global brain and together they are responsible for some of the biggest instances of information leaking ever seen on such a mass global scale.

There are some who say professional journalism and the printed media is a dying industry. Traditional media relies on the scarcity of information in order to sell it. In today’s society, however, scarcity of information is practically non-existent and consumers have the ability to pick and choose what information they want to find out about. Why would you pay for a bundle of news, when you can search the internet for niche news catered to you for free? The answer quality.

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let’s face it there is a lot of useless information floating around in cyberspace, how are we as consumers supposed to distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and opinion, important information and nonsensical gibberish? This is where the future of professional journalism still stands. Everyday people still look to legitimate news producers to distinguish news from information.  As the New York Times states its “All the news that’s fit to print“, so you see professional journalism still has an important role, this role, however, has changed.

It would be crazy to think that traditional forms of journalism, such as print media and television news networks, could compete with citizen journalism today. Its faster, citizens often producing first hand content literally moments after an event has occurred, well before news reporters even have a chance to get there. It’s cheaper, at practically zero entry costs more news content can be created than newspapers or news networks could even dream of producing. It’s easier to access, citizens can upload and share information all over the world, giving citizen journalist a greater reach, when it comes to audience, than any news media could hope to extend to. And it’s free.

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The role of the journalist now is it not to produce information but rather to sort it. They have become curators not gatekeepers.  “A curator-journalist makes sense of the chaotic digital publicity for an audience that suffers from an information overload. Curators find, digest, fact-check and repackage information that thousands of others have published on blogs and social media sites”.  The future of professional journalism hasn’t died, it has merely evolved.

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The Media and Everything In Between

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Well here we are half a semester into my first year of communication and media studies and the time has come reflect on the journey thus far.

So what have I learned?

A more appropriate question would be what haven’t I learned because I have already gained so much but if I had to sum it up into words, I’d say that the one quintessential thing that keeps asserting itself to the top of my thought patterns is that the media is complex.

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By complex I mean its dynamic, its contradictory, its undefinable, its ever changing, the list goes on and on, here allow me to explain…

In week 1 I learned that the media was powerful in the sense it has an effect on almost every aspect of your life. At the same time I learned this was not true due to the issues associated with the media effects model.

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In week 2 I learned that nothing in media was what it seemed and that everything within media operates as a sign in terms of denotation and connotation.

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In week 3 I learned that the media was controlling as it allows dominant forces, such as the Murdoch family, filter the flow of information. On the contrary to this, I also learned that the media was liberating as it allows that the opinions, viewpoints and beliefs of people everywhere to be heard all over the world.

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In week 4 I learned the media is controversial and can lead to debate within the public sphere, however, it is also enlightening and can lead to the acceptance and or understanding of issues within this same sphere.

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This week I learned that while we are watching the media, the media is also watching us.

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And through looking at the blogs of my fellow students and conversing with them about their blogs, I have found that everyone interprets the media differently. We all went to the same lectures, where given the same materials and yet no two blogs are the same. Everyone has alternating perspectives when it comes to different aspects of the media.

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So you can see what I mean by complex. The media is not just entertainment or politics but everything in between and that is one thing I have learned.

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Virtual Vulnerability and Traumatic Triggers

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In March 2012 the now released Tomb Raider was torn apart by the media when it contributed to a heated debate within the mediated public sector over the controversial use of sexual violence as a plot shaping and character developing device within the context of a video game.

Before getting into this debate, let’s take a look at what sparked the controversy in the first place. It all started during an interview with Ron Rosenberg the games executive producer. Within the interview Ron stated “We did a lot of research into survival and people who survived extreme situations”. “One of the recurring themes was that people who survived had this mantra of just keep moving, you see that in the beginning of the game.” “Then towards the end we start to really hit her, and to break her down. Her best friend is kidnapped, she’s taken hostage, she’s almost raped, we put her in this position where we turned her into a cornered animal.” From those words debate spread veraciously.

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The fury unleashed by these statements was swift and condemning, which prompted Crystal Dynamics to release a clarifying statement claiming the scene was “threatening” but “Sexual assault of any kind”  was “not a theme” covered in the game. Having played the game myself I reuse to refer to it as a ‘rape’ seen as I believe that is a major misinterpretation of what the scene is about (especially due to the fact that no rape actually occurs), however I cannot deny that this scene is vividly disturbing and emotionally triggering. Take a look for yourself…

While no rape occurs there is an undeniable connotation of sexual violence and female vulnerability as well a dramatic insight into the traumatic implications of taking a life. I wonder though is this really a bad thing? I mean these  issues are real and I feel help create a realistic transformation of character, as we witness Lara evolve from a vulnerable girl to the strong, brave, gun totting heroine we know today.

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The debate was however that these issues shouldn’t have been touched upon and that it is unethical to use sexual assault or extreme acts of violence as a transformation device because they may trigger deeper emotions within people who have experienced real life trauma. Blogger and victim of real life violence Ashelia writes  “If you don’t hit the right series of buttons, she’s choked to death in front of you” “I was so taken aback by the scene, a video game had never made me feel this way in my entire life—and I wasn’t sure what I thought about that. You see, it shocked me so much because twelve years ago, my father choked me in that manner”.

I feel that although this game uses controversial and somewhat disturbing subject matter, it uses it in a way that is not inappropriate. The issue has been blown out of proportion largely due to fact that people see Lara as a victim when instead they should see her as a survivor. Ashelia later writes “Tomb Raider triggered me and that’s ok, maybe that’s even good.” It healed me”.. “It made me realise that, much like Lara Croft, I survived as well”

“I am a survivor and I am alive and so is Lara Croft”

The artists formerly known as Audience

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Convergence is changing the relationship between media technologies and audience. As Clay Shirky explains in a Ted Talks Podcast;  “Now that media is increasingly social we are starting to see a media landscape where innovation is happening everywhere and moving from one spot to another”.  The reason for this landscape is convergence,  “as media gets digitized the internet becomes the motive carriage for all other media” and as a result of this, the pattern of communication is changing. The old pattern of ‘one to many’ (ie Newspapers) is changing to a ‘many to many’ pattern (ie blogs and forums). So how does this change affect the relationship between media technologies and audience?

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Suddenly the role of the audience is developing from that of a consumer, to a prosumer. Audiences are no longer just passively consuming information, they are actively creating it. Because this has happened, the nature of media technologies have also developed. Now there is an abundance of information literally flooding these technologies and the media itself has changed from an organized stream of information created by legitimate providers, to a convergent mass of shared information created by illegitimate prosumers. This modifies the relationship between audience and media technologies as audience now rely on information sourced from all medias everywhere instead of relying on that created by industries and or governments. The internet is no longer just a source of information but a platform for innovation.

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The Mobile phone for example is a convergent media technology that allows information to be spread freely and rapidly. As a result of this, information becomes readily available that may not have previously been able to exist. During the devastating Shichuan earthquake of 2008, people were actually able to report the earthquake as it was happening. They were taking photos sending texts, even uploading footage. People all over the world were able to access this news literally moments after earthquake had happened and within half a day donations sites were already up and running. Similarly with the London Bombings first hand information was shared freely without editing or filtration, giving audiences a full scope of the situation, not just a mediated snapshot. “In both cases there was a reluctance or inability for the authorities who had any knowledge of what was happening to inform the public”…. “mobile phones were then, relied on to exchange information, as there was little in the public domain” (The Mobile Phone and the Public Sphere, Janey Gordon).

The influx of news being created by illegitimate prosumers is taking a toll on the gaming industry as it is becoming harder and harder for companies to keep aspects of their games a secret and maintain a sense of control. Convergent platforms, such as GameSpot, allow people to share viral information within the public sphere. The ability to do this affects the relationship between media technology and audience because suddenly audiences are able to interact with media technologies in a new way. Now audiences are able to gain access to viral information before they are supposed to as well as upload their own information as they please. No longer is there a mass, one way, communication stream between audiences and media but a dynamic web of collective communication.

I’ll Tell You What You Want… What You Really Really Want

“We define everything that is on the phone. . . . You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers.”  Steve Jobs, at the launch of the iPhone.

Steve Jobs makes a valid argument, many of us grow tired of the constant threat of viruses, the complicated layout of different operating systems and the gripping fear of making a mistake that renders our phone utterly useless. However, when I say ‘many of us’ I am actually primarily referring to those of the ‘technologically unequipped’ persuasion. So what about the rest of us? Why should we (in the eyes of Steve Jobs) fall into this category and why does he feel he has the power to determine what we as consumers do and do not want?

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This is were the concept of open and closed medias comes in. Open Medias being any platform that is completely unblocked to consumer discretion and closed medias being platforms that restrict users to the limits set by the platforms creator. With an open platform users have the option to change anything from layout down to the core of the operating system. A closed system takes this away from consumers giving the creator complete control over platform, content and user.

You would think that people would be all for an open system, when you take into consideration the fact that convergent media platforms today are bigger than the sum of their parts. A phone is no longer just a phone but an interface for the internet, a medium of mass convergence and at times an extension of yourself. Wouldn’t you want something that you can change to suit your own personal needs? At the same time though, an open platform is also open to errors and there truly are people out there who just want their phone to be a phone. And so the question remains, is the promise of security and simplicity enough of a reason for people to give up their freedom?… Apple thinks yes, Android thinks no.

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I don’t know about anyone else but I personally get the sense that Apple is like The Matrix, its users are completely restricted within the limits of what Apple defines, they can not get apps from anywhere other than the app store, they cant change anything on the phone, not even the appearance of the layout. I also find that apple users blissfully exist within this matrix without the knowledge that a freedom of choice exists. Steve jobs believes that consumers should not have a choice when it comes to their phones as apple knows what they do and do not want. All I want is the ability to download things for free, to be able to drop and drag things onto my phone without the hassle of sinking through iTunes and to be free to use my phone how i want to use it. I refuse to be a slave to apple law no longer.

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what if

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So how does the concept of open and closed Medias relate to my chosen media GameSpot?

GameSpot co-exists as both an open and a closed media. It is open in the sense that users are able to upload what they want and start discussion forums of their choosing, it is closed however as all content is monitored and GameSpot holds the right to remove any content at will. While users start their own threads and discussions are open to anyone, users can’t actually alter the website in any way, this makes it more of a closed media than an open one. Is this necessarily a bad thing though?
The fact that GameSpot can’t be hacked and altered, allows for the website to function as it’s supposed to, without the fear of user error or corruption. This allows people to use the site safely and securely knowing they are not being hacked themselves. Due to the monitoring and filtration of the forums and comments, there is strong quality control of information, which again is a good thing because it allows users to find useful and accurate information quickly without the need for self filtering. So you can see that closed medias are not necessarily a bad thing, it is really up to context of the medium and the idea of consumer choice. Should consumers have the option to alter the mediums of communication they use to suit themselves? The answer is debatable.