The Power of Word(press)- Convergence in Action

“Words can light fires in the minds of men”. – Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

As the key to expression and the conduit for discussion, the importance of words cannot be understated.

The power of words cannot be understated

The power of words cannot be understated

Amongst other things, this blogging exercise has been a learning curve in mastering words. Just like a window-front should display a store’s most appealing items, a blog needs a catchy title and engaging hook to draw in potential consumers. Clever emotive titles and hooks in the three posts I consider to be my best, Heralding a New Dawn, Spellbinding- The Magic of Transmedia Storytelling and Thinking Global, Acting…at all?, encouraged viewers to read further. Furthermore, incorporating unique and quirky experiences in the introductions of Heralding a New Dawn and Spellbinding- The Magic of Transmedia Storytelling allowed my personal voice to carry through with strength.

However words are just one piece to the complex puzzle of blogging. As I have learned, incorporating a diverse range of videos, quotes, pictures and examples into a post are vital to engagement. Mastering convergence in action so to speak! Heralding a New Dawn was the first piece where I effectively combined these things, while I consider Thinking Global, all? to be my most successful post in this respect. For a subject in which the content can be very theoretical, it were these three posts that addressed issues relevant to my own future and interests; journalism as a profession, my continued childhood obsession with Harry Potter, and the changing face of activism. One of the most eye-opening discoveries I made was that journalism is not as straightforward as it once was and that it is essential to master online skills such as blogging to succeed in its developing digital age.

This exercise has raised many important issues that our generation faces in a rapidly evolving convergent environment. Furthermore, it has equipped me with the necessary skills to deal with these changes as I head towards a career in media and communications.


The Dark Side of the Net- Under the Cloak of Anonymity

“Under the cloak of anonymity people feel like they can express anything”

Internet trolls- hiding under the cloak of online anonymity

Internet trolls- anonymous and dangerous

Anonymity: an alluring cloak of hidden identity. From the simple delight of a prank call to the more sinister evolution of internet trolling, the reverberations of such obscurity across virtual space can be unexpected. Who could have foreseen the outcome of the innocent 2Day FM prank call last year to the hospital that was treating Kate Middleton for morning sickness?

It is true that the internet has become a “microcosm of society” in many beneficial ways, empowering users through a participatory culture that encourages the free flow of ideas and expression. However, as logic follows; “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Welcome to the dark side of the net, and cue internet trolls. Emboldened by the anonymity of cyberspace, ‘trolls’ abuse the benefits of a participatory culture as they freely voice opinions online that are considered inappropriate offline. Seemingly devoid of a moral compass, they relish the opportunity to post messages in online communities that are often threatening, sexist or racist. One internet troll, with online alias Nimrod Severan, justified his bigoted and racist comments on Facebook RIP pages to a BBC reporter by arguing that Facebook is an open forum where one is entitled to his or her own opinion. And this is where the issue arises. Does a crackdown on trolling risk contradicting the democratic ambitions of the net?

Some suggest the best way to deal with online trolling is to not ‘feed the trolls’, while many propose that pre-moderation of comments or a complete shutdown of comments, as carried out by the King’s Tribune online edition, is the only way to stop trolls in their tracks.

However, perhaps an alternate solution comes in removing the cloak of anonymity that many internet trolls hide behind. While hidden identity may allow one to “break taboo subjects and speak against the hive mind”, as one comment on the SMH article The Dark Side of the Net suggests, the abuse of this power by internet trolls should not be tolerated.  Democracy works in two ways- freedom of speech, but also freedom of action under LAW. Just as the hashtag #mencallmethings was used to “name and shame” misogynist internet trolls, and The Antibogan exposes those who commit online injustice, perhaps we should be focusing on unmasking the anonymous. While this is not suggesting total transparency of online identities, the threat of exposure may cause trolls to think twice before making a misogynist or racist comment in fear of retribution. Taking away their anonymity may be the solution to locking away the Hyde in every Dr Jekyll for good and in maintaining a HEALTHY online democracy.

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Thinking Global, Acting…at all?

Actions speak louder than likes

If only it were that simple...

If only it were that simple…

Wouldn’t it be great if solving all the problems in the world was simply a matter of clicking a button? One small contraction of a fingertip muscle and all forms of poverty, famine and injustice would vanish in an electronic pulse through the web. One millisecond later could see us sitting complacently on a wharf with Charlie Brown, watching life drift by in a sea of serenity. Alas, a utopian fantasy that unfortunately does not translate to reality.

Whilst we all may dream of effectuating social change, converting this dream into real life actions is another story. Technological convergence has changed the face of activism and facilitated the development of global participatory politics. Social networks and new media are connecting people from all walks of life like never before, equipping citizens with a voice and thus the power to promote social change. But how effective is online activism in creating REAL change?

It is undeniable that social networks have helped to coordinate action across dispersed networks, for example in the 2011 Egypt Uprisings, and The American Occupy and Spanish Indignados movements. Social networks are accommodating an alternate method of political engagement, creating a culture in which “ questions of dialogue, dissent, critical engagement and global responsibility can come into play”. In fact politicians have recognised this fundamental shift in engagement and have moved to accommodate it, expanding their campaigns onto social media platforms such as Pinterest to tap into this online pool of political intelligence. Both the Obama and Romney families created pinboards during the 2012 American Presidential campaign that contrasted personal and political content to create an online base to engage the public.

However, many argue that online political engagement and activism is “superficial”, lacking the community ties that drive social change. Whilst Kony 2012 succeeded in terms of its ‘spreadability’, informing a global audience of the social injustice surrounding Joseph Kony and child soldiers, it failed in generating REAL LIFE ACTION- in mobilising crowds to bring Kony in. This campaign is a perfect example of “slacktivism”. When fighting for a cause can be as simple as liking a Facebook page, or retweeting a link, there is no cost to participate, no risk to the individual and thus no obligation to see a project through.

So while online activism allows for dissemination, coordination and civic engagement, what it lacks is the commitment of participation. However, as Nelson Mandela said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. The informative benefits of online activism could be the first steps to generating REAL change. Where Kony 2012 failed, others may succeed in the future. While we are all ‘thinking global’, it may take a little time to act ‘local’ or even at all. One day Charlie…, but not just yet.

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‘Riffed’ Off

What do these three groups and individuals have in common?

What do these three groups and individuals have in common?

What do The Beatles, U2 and Bob Marley have in common? Even for those of you who are as musically ignorant as me, flabbergasted to discover that classical composer Bach was elegantly pronounced like the wood of a tree as opposed to the very Australian BATCH, you would immediately recognise the previously named groups and individuals as popular musicians. Artists of the medium of silence and sound that provides the background melody to our lives.

Whilst you may idolise each band for their individual talents- perhaps Bob Marley for his reggae rhythm and U2 for their rocking riffs-you may not be aware that many of their most popular hits, and in fact almost ALL of the greatest hits of the past 40 years, are based on the same four chords. Take a listen.

Welcome to remix culture.  A world of “combing and editing existing materials to provide something new”. A world that lives by the French concept of ‘detournement’- changing the direction of a previous media work until meanings are subverted and  ‘re-contextualised’. Facilitated by an explosion of technologies created for modifying and distributing these media works, Lawrence Lessig explains that we have shifted from a Read/Only culture, in which we passively consume media content such as music, to a Read/Write culture in which consumers can actively “re-create the culture around them”.

In a previous blog I discussed the benefits of a collaborative approach towards creativity. We see further by “standing on the shoulders of giants” as Isaac Newton stated. If we relate this idea to the remix culture of music it is easier to understand the necessity of “borrowing” from previous works. Music is an unpredictable industry in which commercial success is not guaranteed. Exploratory works risk failure, whilst remixing previous songs provides an insurance policy- if it worked before, it will work again. The Amen Break and the 4 Chord progression are only two examples of riffs that have been continually remixed by various artists over the years due to their ongoing success in pop-culture. Furthermore, amateur musicians such as Justin Bieber take their first shaky steps towards fame by producing covers of songs, by COPYING.

So while many may argue that U2 ‘riffed off’ the Beatles, Bob Marley, or vice versa, the truth is that this process has been happening on all levels of the music industry since the days of Bach. It is essential to its evolution. Audiences are comfortable with the familiar; we like what we know and, like spoilt children, are hesitant to try something new. Only by building on the success of other artists can musicians guarantee the ongoing popularity of modern compositions.

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Spellbinding- The Magic of Transmedia Storytelling

One can only dream

Our dreams may not be so farfetched with transmedia storytelling

The day of the 20th March 2005 was awaited with eager anticipation. My 11th birthday. The preceding night passed slowly as time ticked by to the beat of a recurring dream. Over and over I would run down to the mailbox, wrench open the lid and there it would be- my acceptance letter, the wax Hogwarts insignia sealing my fate. Come September my life as a witch would begin. Gryffindor, quidditch and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans awaited me.  Alas, 8 years later that letter must still be lost in transit.

Humans have an interest in fiction that spans the ages. As American philosopher Henry David Thoreau said- “the world is but a canvas to the imagination”. Fiction provides an alternate reality, a world without restrictions that are imposed by the real world. The introduction of the arts, including theatre and cinema, provided a conduit for this imagination. However the growth of transmedia storytelling, defined in Transmedia 101 as “telling MUTLIPLE stories over MULTIPLE mediums that fit together to tell ONE story” is meaning that traditional art forms, such as cinema, no longer solely provide the ‘ultimate’ fiction experience. Jenkins explains that modern media companies are becoming “horizontally integrated”, expanding their franchises across a multitude of mediums (e.g. video games, comic books, interactive websites) to create an experience that is “unified and coordinated”.

Feeding human desire for fantasy with “encyclopaedic ambitions”, transmedia storytelling fleshes out a fictional world to its maximum potential. Recently the popular teen novel trilogy the Hunger Games has started to follow this trend.

A partnership between Lionsgate and Microsoft has resulted in the creation of the Hunger Games Explorer– an interactive browser created as “not only a place for fans to spark conversation around Catching Fire (the second film instalment in the trilogy), it is also a destination for us to continue to provide fans with new content, experiences and unprecedented behind the scenes access” as Danielle DePalma, senior vice president of Lionsgate digital marketing states.

It can be seen that transmedia storytelling is encapsulating many of the components of a convergent society, allowing dialogic flow of content across multiple mediums and the active participation of  ‘prosumers’.

Transmedia storytelling is complementing a world of constant connectivity. Although devastated to not receive my acceptance letter, my Harry Potter fixation is fed by other means- the computer and board game, lego set, and recently by the online addition of the interactive website Pottermore. As long our dreams continue to be fulfilled by this wholesome approach to fiction, transmedia storytelling will always hold an important place in society. As famous fiction author George G.R. Martin says – “We read fantasy to find the colours again”. What started as one colour has blossomed into a rainbow.  

Picture sourced from!-quot-Pt-1-(Ep-8-WWoHP) (edited by Stephanie Allman)

Heralding a New Dawn-Out with the Old, In with the New(s)

Are newspapers becoming extinct?

Are newspapers facing extinction?

For many years my father routinely perused a freshly printed copy of Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald with his breakfast. Recently the traditional broad sheet has been replaced by the Sydney Morning Herald App on a shiny new iPad. Unwittingly, my father is playing an integral part in the journalism revolution. As we immerse ourselves deeper in the ocean of digital content, legacy media such as newspapers have been forced to reconsider traditional methods of delivery to readers.

Journalism is considered a profession in crisis. The internet is contesting the status of newspapers as the major institution of journalism by offering greater efficiency in meeting demand and supply.  Rupert Murdoch clarified this fundamental shift in a tweet in August 2012. “Simple equation: free, open, uncontrollable internet versus shackled newspapers equals no newspapers.”  Advancements in technology have also led to the rise of citizen journalism. Unrestrained by authority and capturing news as it happens with an assortment of common recording devices, citizen journalists are “filling the void that mainstream media cannot fully cover”, as Nadine Jurrat explores in Mapping Digital Media. Providing ubiquitous connectivity to global reports via a constant stream of online content, the evolution of this new brand of journalists has led to the rise of collective intelligence as everyday citizens are able to create, collaborate and contribute to the ever-deepening pool of information available on the internet.

Alan Kohler summarises this shift to online content delivery in the ABC report below, explaining that readers are moving to engage more with digital information.

However, as Kohler points out, this change does not herald the extinction of journalism in the future so much as NEWSPAPERS.  Journalism is simply evolving to suit the demands of a migratory audience. This means a dramatic modification in how traditional media organisations deliver their content. By exploring the Sydney Morning Herald’s Know No Boundaries Site, this process of evolution is clear. Digital subscriptions, blogs and more effective applications for mobile and tablet devices are all on the cards for SMH in 2013, clearly displaying the attempt of a traditional journalistic medium to change with the times.  The recent change to tabloid format in late 2012 was also made in response to “the flight of paying readers and advertisers from the paper to other, so-far free, digital sources of news.”

What will be interesting to see is how these platforms fund their work in a traditionally free digital environment.  Perhaps the evolution of ‘subscription based models’, like the one proposed by SMH will lead to further loss of readership and eventually the ultimate extinction of such media. Only time will tell.

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Opening the Door to a Party of Paradoxes

Imagine a world in which everyone has the right to speak, act and think as they want without restraint. The ultimate democracy. No filtration, no control, no authority to deny opinion. Welcome to the World (Wide Web).

All content disseminated through the media was once subject to comprehensive filtration by “gatekeepers” (including publishers, mainstream media and government censors). Only information considered well informed and appropriate was allowed into public circulation. While many non-democratic countries such as China maintain strict filtering laws today, the transition to a digital media environment and the rise of the internet in many western cultures has wrenched the door of censorship off its hinges, allowing the free flow of content and expression. But what are the implications of this new media landscape – a world without gatekeepers, without regulation?

Empowering users through the freedom of expression.

The positive repercussions are numerous. A free media environment empowers users, allowing open discussion of opinions. Clay Shirky explains in How Cellphones, Twitter, Facebook Can Make History that this freedom of expression has led to the rise of active, engaged consumers (or prosumers) and a dialogic landscape “where audiences can talk back and to each other”. For example, during the 2011 American presidential campaign, Barak Obama created the website as a public forum for discussion of his policies, encouraging citizens to collaborate and converse in an open environment. Participants were given a voice to actively contribute to the campaign. Political empowerment is just one major advantage of a world without gatekeepers.

The risk of misinformation in a free media environment.

The risk of misinformation in a free media environment.

However, lack of regulation can also have negative consequences. For example, Duncan Gere describes in his article in Wired UK how an image of battle tanks and soldiers in camouflage was circulated on Twitter during the London Riots of 2011, causing the public to claim that the army was assembling in the suburb of Bank. This picture turned out to be from the Egyptian protests earlier in the year. Twitter became a “swirling maelstrom of fear, uncertainty and doubt, punctuated by moments of absolute nonsense”. As can be seen, when there is no implicit filter and no cost of entry in a free environment, the value of the message can diminish and result in the spread of misinformation. But without filters or gatekeepers, how do we judge the credibility of these sources? The internet is increasingly becoming a tangled web of multiple truths. So who do we believe?

A paradox has been created. While we all desire free expression and total transparency of the media, we also require a certain level of filtration to decipher the vast amount of available content. We must seriously consider whether we need to maintain gatekeepers and, if so, in what capacity.

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