Recent conflicts throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East have provided an interesting insight into the future of journalistic practice.
Media is currently in a state of paradigmatic transition. The inception of the Internet has, as Anderson (2008) notes, democratised the tools of production to such an extent that users everywhere now have the ability to publish. These democratised tools include content production devices such as phone cameras, GoPros, audio recording devices and publishing platforms (twitter, wordpress, youtube, soundcloud).
First, let’s take a step back and explore where we have come from, and how that differs to the paradigm in to which we are transitioning.
Legacy media includes all traditional methods of information dissemination, including television, radio and print. There are a few key characteristics that define this medium. These include:
- Monologic Flows/Passive Audience – Information is only ever passed from the disseminator (publisher) to the consumer. There is no dialogue. Opportunities to talk back are very limited (think along the lines of letter to the editor, etc). The legacy paradigm places you as the consumer.
- Industrial Process – A news story is just that; a story. This story is the end product of the traditional news process and is a heavily curated object, one that has gone through many hands before it makes it to the audience. This finished product is a story, presented to the public as the truth, when in reality it has been commodified and packaged on a news assembly line.
- Close Pipeline of Production – This editorial assembly line is a hidden entity. The audience does not know which content was filtered, by whom, and for what reason. Yet we are led to believe that the final product that is passed onto us is the best possible assemblage of facts and available information. This requires an inalienable degree of trust in ones media source of choice. The curation of information in this paradigm cannot be further investigated by the audience.
The following video is an example of conflict journalism from the perspective of the legacy paradigm. Particular attention should be paid to the careful cutting of the footage and the storytelling language of the presenter.
This paradigm of media production is based off the presumption that producing media and disseminating information is a process that is reserved for the few who have the capability to do so.
What happens when we all have that capability?
Exchange Paradigm/Dialogic Content Flows
The brave new world into which we are transitioning is one built primarily off the exchanges between users who inhabit this space. Exchanges can be anything, from a comment on a video to the video itself, or even the small act of voting or liking a piece of content.
- Information-as-process – Expanding on Axel Bruns’ ‘news-as-process‘ conceptualisation of how the Internet moulds news, the exchange paradigm adopts the information approach as this takes into account the complexity of information flows. The assumption here is that a flow of information is more than the sum of its parts, i.e, the interactions that users make with the flow (liking, commenting, dissecting) of content are in fact part of the flow itself.
- No conclusive finality – As there is no packaged story like in the legacy paradigm, there is no end to the topic of information flows. There is no authoritative figure who tells other users when all the information has been brought to light, or when the conversation will finish. From a legacy perspective, this is uncomfortable.
- Dialogic – There is a conversation. As Sennett notes, the dialogic conversation is one that is not resolved through all parties finding common ground, but rather, during the process of exchange, people may become more aware of their own views and expand their understanding of one another. It is almost a process of elimination, in which misunderstandings help to clarify mutual points of understanding between those taking part in the exchange process.
- Interactivity – From a technical standpoint, interactivity highlights our ability to engage with content. These interactive figures can be as simple as providing feedback through the aforementioned processes of liking, commenting reposting etc, but also through the ability to download, remix, combine, and basically do anything you can think of with online content.
Let’s zoom out for a second. Having examined in minute detail the outcomes of this paradigm, it is now necessary to explore how content makes its way into the paradigm in the first place.
The above image is a basic representation of the lifecycle of online content. Here is a summary of what each phase means.
Production – All content is created or produced. No content can exist without having been first created by a user or a bot. Comments, likes, videos, tweets, blog posts (the list goes on) are all examples of created content.
Aggregation – The next step after content is created is for it to be published and thus aggregated somewhere in the online community. Aggregators can be anything from a whole platform (YouTube is an aggregator of video footage) to a channel within a platform. An example of this is the Twitter feed of a user named PetoLucem who aggregates content relevant to the Syrian Civil War. Virtually all information posted to this users Twitter profile is information they have deemed to be relevant and accurate from a variety of disparate sources. Other examples include threads on Reddit.
Curation – Curation is one of the most exciting elements of the content lifecycle. Curation relies on the human element of understanding and fact checking in order to sort ‘good’ content from bad. This process involves engagement and actions that help to rank content as well as pointing out unreliable or incorrect information. It is an iterative process in which users constantly engage in conversation and provide feedback. The conversation that that is currently taking place on a subreddit involving the Panama Papers incident is a fantastic example of this. Incorrect information is called out by other users who use their own expertise to explain something in a better way. Simple acts of upvoting comments, retweeting photos and liking videos are all examples of the curation process. While the above diagram implies that ‘bad’ (incorrect) content is removed from the lifecycle completely, this is not in fact the case. Content that is incorrect or does not add any value to the online conversations will instead be pushed towards the bottom of the online stack.
It is interesting to note here that the seperate stages of the Production/Aggregation/Curation lifecycle can in fact operate synchronously. This means that while the production of a piece of content uploaded to an aggregate feed can in fact be an act of curation in itself. For example, this map uploaded by PetoLucem is a curated product that is a combination of various sources. The map is a Produced, aggregated and curated product simultaneously.
In order to fully engage with the problematic and move deeper into the mechanics of what drives this new exchange based economy, it is necessary to explore a tangible object that exhibits elements of this system.
Que YouTube footage.
This footage appeared on a YouTube channel called GlobalLeaks News in late April 2013. The footage exhibits a few characteristics which are inherent in the new exchange paradigm:
- The Syrian Army footage is filmed with a GoPro strapped to the top of a tank courtesy of Andrey Filatov at AnnaNews, while the rebel perspective has clearly been filmed using a phone camera or similar piece of tech. The point here is that these tools demonstrate what is capable with the democratised tools of production that now exist.
- We have footage from both sides of the engagement, from within the engagement itself. This is a huge shift in terms of what kind of information we now have access to. Rather then the legacy media model that relies on a reporter often talking about a situation after the fact, we now have access to a first person perspective from right in the middle of the conflict. The potential for live streaming war here is huge.
- There is no commentary, merely simple text that appears purely with the intention of providing context so the viewer is up to date with what is happening. Compare this to the story type language from the report by Jon Snow and you have a radically different entity here.
The above screenshot shows the kind of conversation that exists within the exchange paradigm. This content is an example of the curation process, as users unpack the footage from both political, military and technical standpoints. It gets even more meta from there though, as commenters engage not only with the original content, but also with other comments. This curation process is completely iterative, and ongoing. Notice that the video was posted in April 2013, and is still receiving comments two and a half years later as online users discover the content, and then proceed to engage with it as well. This is a drastic departure from the legacy model in which the story that is broadcast to the audience is the end product and more often than not contains little to know room for feedback and continuing of the conversation.
Let me leave you to think about this with the words of TerenceMcKenna, who has left behind a rather appropriate monologue on stepping outside of the box, making your own decisions and drawing your own conclusions; three key outcomes that come with tangling with content in the exchange paradigm.
“You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
See you next time.