NowPublic.com and Media Work, Media Practice.
Where will NowPublic be next year? Will it's members develop fatigue. My Space fatigue and Facebook fatigue have already set in, –as with all of the earlier innovative participatory media outlets, whose names we don't even remember. The following transcripts of interviews, conducted by Antony Funnell, are riveting! Listen to them on The Media Report here, on Australian radio network, ABC-RN's summer series of most popular programs of the past twelve months: Media Work, Media Practice.
I've changed the order of the on-air interviews, because I think the interview with Mark Deuze is most relevant to members of NowPublic.
Mark Deuze is an Assistant Professor of Telecommunications at Indiana University in the United States, and also a Professor of Journalism and New Media at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and an influential blogger on media trends and development.
The second interview is with Henry Jenkins, the director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose most recent focus has been on the power and rapid rise to prominence of the online participation site YouTube.
Among other things, Professor Jenkins challenges the perception that such sites are necessarily the great democratisers of public expression. And he says to fully understand the nature of new media initiatives, you need to set them in their proper historic context.
Now Mark Deuze has done research on media workplaces, analysing the way they're changing and also the way in which the values and priorities of new media users are influencing the employment conditions of traditional media practitioners, be they journalists, film and television makers, or even marketing and advertising executives.
Mark Deuze: If you look at it from the media workforce perspective, first of all you notice that your audience isn't really an audience any more, they all make their own media, but also that even if they are your audience, even if they do tune in to your broadcast, if they do read your paper, if you do go out and watch a movie, they are incredibly unpredictable, increasingly so. They've always been unpredictable but now even if they liked you last time, they're not going to necessarily like you this time, or the people who like you this time are not the same people who liked you last time. There's no loyalty to your product any more, to your brand, to your professional identity. The profession people trust the least in contemporary society tends often to be these days the profession of a journalist, and so that's impermanence on that level.
And there's also impermanence on a very sort of real everyday experience level for the media work-force which is the impermanence of their jobs. People are being fired and let go left and right, media professionals tell me in my research that they are primarily there to cost their organisations money, and that's how they feel addressed by their employers. And students who leave me their programs in universities, they all work, but the vast majority of them work without contracts, so they're not really employees in the strict sense of the word either, and nobody is taking responsibility for them for their training, for their health care, and so on and so forth. So impermanence is built in into their work lives on that very sort of real way as well.
Antony Funnell: And because the people who are coming into traditional media now, into new media, because they're being employed in that way, but they come with the attitudes of impermanence, the attitudes of modern media. Do they make themselves more vulnerable to being treated in that way?
Mark Deuze: Absolutely, and it's a bit of a paradox because if you tell somebody who's 22, 21-22, that his or her life in the media will consist of short-term jobs and contract-by-contract or project-by-project work, constantly hopping around doing lots of different things and never really sticking to anything for very long, they'll look at you and go like 'Great! I love that, the idea of 50 years at the same desk, I mean it would kill me.' And then at the same time if you talk with - and in my research I've talked with media professionals in several countries and several professions - I've yet to interview somebody over the age of 35 that didn't tell me 'I want to get out, this is crazy, this is insane'. So to some extent it explains why the media industry is a young people's industry is that young people are on the one hand yes, exploitable and vulnerable, but in a weird way they actually like it, because it sort of fits with their age and the way they enter the world at age 21, 22, but within 10, 15 years for most people that changes.
Antony Funnell: And what about media organisations, the employers of the media workforce? Obviously they are employing, as you've said, the figures show that they're employing less and less people every year, they're letting people go. But they're also putting a focus much more on user-generated content, aren't they?
Mark Deuze: Yes.
Antony Funnell: How does that user-generated content then fit into that whole equation?
Mark Deuze: Well in a best case scenario user-generated content is just a cheap way for media companies to generate volume, content. So by letting go salaried labourers and employing for free of course, users or consumers, it's a wonderful way to foster a brand loyalty and a commitment and giving people a voice in content production while not having to pay them. In the best possible scenario, user generated content can be a real cool added value to an existing media product. I mean think about it: a journalist that works together with his or her audience members in telling a story can be telling that story forever because the story will be constantly ongoing, people can constantly bring in new facts, new figures, new input, new responses, and so even the story of a local government initiative up to and including what the national government is doing with the Tokyo Accord regarding global warming, everything can become an ongoing discussion. And that's a best-case scenario, but the problem with those scenarios is however that we assume that people who generate content like users, not professionals, are a stable property, that they will keep doing that, that they will get better over time. So we attribute some kind of permanence to their behaviour and that's the whole point, that's not how people are. I mean everybody who has young kids will have that weird experience that six months ago, they were on MySpace 24 hours a day, they created elaborate fonts and they uploaded and downloaded all kinds of things; in this amazing platform for user-generated content, and now MySpace is nothing to them anymore , now they're all somewhere else.
So that user that generates content is not a stable or permanent property either. So to build your new business model around it, is in a way understandable in the short term, but in the long term, it makes your entire business model impermanent, and I don't think media organisations are realising this at this time.
Antony Funnell: And that's a frustration for them, isn't it, because even Rupert Murdoch came out and expressed his frustration about the fact that Facebook was doing much better in terms of the numbers of people that used it, than his own service, MySpace.
Mark Deuze: Yes, but again, that is also temporary. I've heard several people talk about Facebook fatigue and it's inevitable that a couple of years from now we'll think about Facebook as just another relic, and if not, that's fine too. I guess the point that I'm trying to make with all of this is that the problem a media organisation has when it prepares itself for the future, is that it inevitably because that's the way it's always operated, it looks for permanence, for structural factors, that it can then translate into a creative approach, a business model, and my argument is that whatever is happening out there, what people are doing with their media, it has a couple of fundamental conditions or properties; none of them is permanent or structural. So how are you going to build a business model? Your business models must be I think much more flexible, and they should be much more based on the real talent, the real added value that the people you employ bring to your organisation, and that's right now something that doesn't seem to be happening.
Antony Funnell: And there's going to be a lot more hit and miss then in that isn't there? And uncertainty then in terms of the finances that underpin those investments. I mean it's one thing to say to a major media organisation they've got to be fluid in their approach to what might come along, but getting people to put their money on the table to back that up to support that, that's going to be a difficult thing for them, isn't it?
Mark Deuze: Sure, but in a way that's not that different from in the past. The only difference is that a lot of media organisations up until one or two decades ago, never actually actively considered about how they were going to make money because they grew up in a mass media environment where people were dependent on mass media, and I guess what I'm trying to say is that that phase, which lasted let's say from the 1950s to the early 1990s, is an anomaly, it's sort of like an accident that that happened. The information environment before that and after that is much more unpredictable and messy, where everybody has stories to tell and everybody is sort of running around, finding their own sources of information whether it's the Town Hall or the pub on the corner, or the market or the town crier. And now we see the same behaviour online. And in this brief intermission, there were mass media, and nothing in the business models of mass media has any success for the future I think. You're right, there has to be a new financing model, but it will never be the same as the model that existed in that brief moment in time in the 20th century, and yet that's very disconcerting, and uncertain, but in a way I'm kind of hopeful that it'll also generate a lot of creative opportunities and new ways of thinking about building relationships with people rather than telling them what they need to know.
Antony Funnell: Mark Deuze, a Dutch academic who's now based at Indiana University in the United States.
Henry Jenkins: The fact that web 2.0 has taken off as quickly as it has, is a product of the fact that there are a large number of communities aren't in place that have been fighting for a long time to get to this point, so we could...for example, science fiction fans could trace their participatory culture back to the 1920s.
We talk about the do-it-yourself video movements of the 1960s and the counter-culture; we could talk about the riot girls and the punk rock movement and teen culture, all being part of a much larger history of people's desire to take media in their own hands and to produce content that reflect their own perspective, their own experience.
Antony Funnell: Now a lot of those earlier things though were small-scale, they were cult, really, followings, or small groupings of people with a similar interest. What is it about the internet and web 2.0 that takes it that further step, you know, aside from just obviously the technology?
Henry Jenkins: Well I think what's striking about YouTube is that it is a shared portal where all of these groups come together. Even as recently as a decade ago, people were predicting that online video would result in millions of individualised networks, small networks where people distributed video. No-one predicted I think that it would be the shared portal, that all these groups would come together. And as they come together, they're learning from each other: ideas cross pollinate across these various sub-cultures, educational groups, activist groups, citizen journalist, governmental groups are all learning from each other, they're beginning to collaborate with each other, and the result is a much more integrated public sphere through the communication and video than I think we saw before.
But any given group has its own history leading up to that, and many of those groups have had to make conscious decisions about whether they want to use YouTube as a platform or not. And that's not an easy decision for some of these groups, given their histories.
Antony Funnell: Because they feel that they're losing out on something, that something has been lost in the move from niche, if you like, to mass participation?
Henry Jenkins: Yes, some of these niches felt protected in their niche. Some of the groups that, say, appropriate and re-mix content from other media felt that they're exposed to legal prosecution when they go public, or sharing the media in a closed circle gives them some protection, some of them see it as part of the gift economy that is a set of social and emotional exchanges where they give video freely to their friends, and they don't want it to become part of a commodity culture where a company like Google makes money, off of amateur cultural production.
Some of them are concerned about the decontextualisation that takes place, taking video from one space where it has particular meaning to a particular group, and throwing it open to the public, who may not have that history of interpretation, may not understand the politics behind that particular video. To suddenly be in a situation where a human rights video is right up against the people putting Mintos and Coke, you know that something could be trivialising about the sort of circus atmosphere that YouTube represents.
So groups are consciously deciding to go to YouTube or not, whereas from the outside it looks like YouTube is just spontaneously creating all of this amateur content that came from no place. So we lose track of the history and the decisions and the struggles and the debates people are having right now about whether that platform is one that they want to use for their community or not.
Antony Funnell: And look, we think about services like YouTube as opening the door to democracy in a sense, as allowing the greatest possible participation by the greatest number of people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds. How true is that though, I mean how representative is it of a broad community?
Henry Jenkins: Well I think a participatory culture is not necessarily a diverse culture, so that if you look at the Top 100 videos on YouTube in any given week, the vast majority of them are coming from white, middle-class males. It's not the minority content isn't produced, it isn't that it isn't circulated, but it circulates in a much less lower level of visibility. The mechanisms of YouTube are those of majority rule, so that if we all vote the content up we want to see, it's going to be this content that speaks to the majority and there are not systems in place that ensure minority perspectives get heard or seen. So it may circulate there, but it may not reach anywhere near the level of public impact that videos that are produced by a bunch of high school guys goofing off receive. So I think there is diversity, but I think there's a lot we still have to understand about ensuring that we actually see the full range of what's there.
The other thing is that when we look at YouTube, it seems to be so much content, we really don't ask about which groups have been excluded, either for censorship reasons, or self-censorship reasons, because they think people wouldn't understand or appreciate what they produced within their own community. But there's a lot that's absent from YouTube, just because of those mechanisms.
Antony Funnell: And with Google at least, we're now familiar with the fact that arrangements are made with governments to exclude certain material, so that is going on, isn't it?
Henry Jenkins: Yes there are arrangements of governments to shut down certain kinds of political speech, there's arrangements of corporations to prevent the circulation of their intellectual property, often in ways that extend that cut deeply into historic notions of their use, all kinds of mechanisms behind the scene, determining what's not there, as well as motivating what is there.
Antony Funnell: What about that business side of YouTube and other 2.0 applications. As you mentioned, we're not used to thinking about the fact that there is a business strategy going on behind this, that it isn't just done for altruistic reasons. How does that really affect the way in which we operate, the way in which people are allowed to operate, and what does it do for new creative applications coming on?
Henry Jenkins: Well I think it has a number of consequences. One is that in fact they're going to try to stay within the mainstream and increasingly they're becoming conservative about what content goes up and what content takes down, but they're highly responsive to corporate requests to move content, often hyper-responsive, and so a site like YouTubed which is run by students at MIT, monitors all the take-down notices on YouTube and keeps track of the content that's removed, and is available as a public record to record some of the compromises that the companies made around content, where also is that many groups aren't necessarily eager to see someone else make money from their content There's a joke of web 2.0 'we produce the content, they make all the money', so I think some groups that are demanding compensation, that are manning that if YouTube sells to Google for a billion-plus dollars, what did it owe to Lonely Girl 15 and the Back Dorm Boys and the others whose amateur content helped to generate visibility. So some want compensation and some don't want to be part of the system of compensation, they produce video for their own reasons and they see the commercial side of YouTube as corrupting their politics, their cultural practices in one way or another.
Antony Funnell: Is there an inherent contradiction in new media, in the sense that yes, it's much more participatory than old media I guess, but it is still largely about the self, isn't it, it's largely about the individual. Is there a contradiction, and is that a problem?
Henry Jenkins: Well we go back to YouTube. I'm always interested in that You, because in the English language of course you is both singular and plural, and it both refers to you as an individual and all of you, youse guys, y'all, whatever the collective form. So it is both the 'tu' and 'vu' forms to compare it to French. So the question when we look at YouTube, the media has tended to cover it as 'express yourself', individuals creating video, and I would suggest by most of those videos, are in fact communities, sub-cultural groups, political groups, fan communities, educational groups. Much of the video out there was produced by people working together and intended to be communication with those within their communities, and beyond. So I think we misunderstand the process. We understand it in very individualistic terms. I think it's actually a step towards much larger-scale social collectives than we've seen previously.
Antony Funnell: The term web 2.0 suggests that we're on a path of progress in a sense, and that there will be, say, a web 3.0. Do you believe that is the case? Will we have significant change from here on, or will we really just see refinements of what we've already got?
Henry Jenkins: Well I think that given the rate of change over the last two decades, I'd be loath to predict that this is slowing down any time soon. We're in a period of profound and prolonged media transition. Some people have already started to use the term web 3.0 to refer to virtual worlds, like Secondline, to suggest that this sort of immersive 3D environments could represent the future of the web. I don't buy that, I mean I think the affordances of tax, the affordiances of set recorded sound are not things we're going to give up easily for a world we have to literally walk down the hall to get from one idea to the next. I think virtual worlds will play a very important role in the future, but I think it's more, no, I think a large number of companies will use them to have conferences among their employees, schools will use them for field trips that bring speakers in to be heard by large numbers of people, then most of us will have an exposure to virtual world, but I don't think it's the future of the web per se. But I think yes, we don't know what the web will look like ten years from now, any more than we knew where we'd be now ten years ago, that it's a process we're undergoing. Its logic we can see and its logic is towards greater participatory media and yet a continued role for mass media. Everyone understands we're moving to a culture that's going to be more participatory. The disputes right now are about the terms of our participation.
Antony Funnell: Professor Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.