Thursday, December 3, 2009

Taking a Break

I will not be blogging her for the month of December.

As a result of moving to our new home and our first Christmas in Ireland with young kids I will take a break from blogging here for a while.

My internet accessibility will be somewhat compromised by the move as the services here do not move overnight with you. So, it is a good reason to take a time-out.

I look forward to coming back in 2010. Happy Holidays to you all.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Representation and equality

"Around 20% of the UK population has some form of disability, yet only 4.4% of BBC staff are disabled, 2% at ITV, 1.8% at Sky and 1% at Channel 4." According to the article in The Guardian, "there is a massive taboo around it and disabled people are aware that people have massive assumptions and see them as less able." However, the article continues, "broadcasters are acting, recognising that behind-the-scenes recruitment and onscreen representation go hand in hand." A report which was jointly produced by the BBC and Channel 4, "Talking Disability," was a call to fairly reflect a society where 11 million people are disabled.

Surely, a step in the right direction is to have representation in the media for all areas of the population. This should also take into account the socio-economic backgrounds of all the people and therefore the working population. Is this possible? Can there be fair and equal representation? Is it feasible to have each and every sort represented in the media - And even in other facets of life?

For example can this be so in politics? If we elect an individual from a deprived socio-economic background to office who is also a member of an ethnic minority, can she represent her people if she starts taking the rich salary of an elected official? Can the purity of the newly elected representative be preserved even when the newly elected representative has suddenly become wealthy?

Does each elected official seek to feather his/her own nest? Is there a genuine search for truth anywhere after the results are in?

Sources for this post:

Dowell B. (Nov. 23, 2009). TV sets new representation targets. The Guardian.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Twitter - Why Fear?

It seems I am not the only one who has not used Twitter yet. Barack Obama told students in Shanghai, last week, that he had not used Twitter yet. The curiosity about the term is justified by the fact that Twitter was blocked for some time in China. Is this censorship? And why bother blocking Twitter?

Kaiser Kuo, an expert on internet use in China, said that in recent times the internet sites which are blocked in China are social media sites. "The authorities are not worried about people having access to what the rest of the world is saying, but about the ability of these tools to spread rumours very, very quickly," he said. According to him state media have alleged that social media spread misinformation and even that outsiders use social media to orchestrate violence.

China's internet population is estimated at 360 million. 124 million of those are on social networking sites. Most of the big players on the internet in China are domestic and they are large enough to monitor all content and remove anything sensitive.

Probably most of what is on social networking sites is harmless, regardless of what your opinion on a subject is. The only time that social networking becomes a problem is when content is contrary to one's ideas/ideology/interpretation of ethics. Ethically speaking, then, is it o.k. to post anything you want to post, even if it offends someone else? Is it ethical to stop some one posting if you are offended by their post? For the benefit of the many should there be free and equal access to posting on the internet and social networking sites?

It is impossible to please all the people all the time. But when the government decides to stop access we have a situation on inequality. One part of the "formula" is much more powerful than the other. Governments should not be intruding on people's access to social networking sites.

Where would it stop? Next thing you won't be allowed to demonstrate outside a government building on public property!

Sources for this post:

Branigan, T. (Nov. 23, 2009). Twitter ye not. The Guardian.

Monday, November 16, 2009 New Media Meets Gaeilge (Irish)

We launced yesterday at the Mayo Science Fair in The Traveller's Friend Hotel in Castlebar.

The Mayo Education Centre launched one of it's recent projects yesterday as a part of the Mayo Science Fair. I was invited to be a part of the event and therefore I introduced many young budding bloggers to the world of blogging as Gaeilge (through the language of Irish).

The blog is live at and it is a very easy step-by-step process.

The idea is to engage the language in a fun way that is not "academically" emphasised on the surface but is obviously educational covertly. (There may be a contradiction there - but y'know what I mean).

Each month until next march there will be two prizes of 50E awarded for good (the best) blogs.

So there you go. New technology plus economic prizes, being used to encourage our youth to engage with new technology through the medium of the Irish language.

Now, how else can we use new technology for other positive humanistic projects?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Paying for News Content.

I was listening to the radio on my journey home from my first teaching post in Ireland (will blog about it later) yesterday evening when the discussion turned to reactions at Rupert Murdoch's idea to charge for online news content.

This is an interesting topic as newspaper businesses are disappearing frequently because of a lack of advertising revenue. The presumption is that the revenue is being lost to online advertisers. And the business model of online content economy has not yet come of age.

I remember "many moons ago" a friend of mine saying that "they" could never charge us for access to the Internet but I was skeptical and I suppose a little cynical of the probability of free Internet access for all for ever. I was proven correct. It took a while but online connectivity was improved and as it did the providers of this improvement charged us for "high speed" and broadband and satellite connections. Really, it only makes sense in a capitalist society that we pay for what we receive.

I have thought for some time now that online news content would get to the point where it will be paid for. I thought too that many of the newspapers who would fail would, by their absence, create greater demand for the survivors therefore making them more valuable and economically viable when they place a price on their material.

Some papers have always charged for their content but they may have been looking on their online service as keeping up with the times and providing options rather than changing their economic model altogether.

As one person on the radio last evening said, "Content is king." It is. But only if we can sell that content and only if we can sell the idea that "good content" is of value.

I know we could debate for ages what "good content" is. Is it Xfactor or is it the Berlin Wall or is it the recession/depression? Frankly - what is news? It is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. The audience will once again be fragmented to specifics and the advertising will be directed specifically and therefore the economic model in this capitalist society will, once again, work. "Newspapers" will survive.

One comment on the radio about Murdoch's idea was that his intention is simply to get the discussion out in the open and by doing this the public are being prepared for the onslaught of "pay for content."

Sounds a little like the old days of newspapers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Frontline, and Sarah Carey of The Irish Times

What does Frontline aspire to? I have expressed my reaction to Pat Kenny's Frontline earlier in this blog. While it is reasonable to have personal expectations from TV it is prudent to realise that your expectations might not be met.

In an article by Sarah Carey in The Irish Times today, October 28th, she asks that TV provide news, escape from news, and an explanation of what it all means (or analysis). These seem reasonable requests until she applies it to Pat Kenny's Frontline. It seems that she wants the three needs fulfilled by the one show, in this case Frontline.

She, like the show she is criticizing, has the ability to identify the points of the show but lacks the ability to appreciate it for what it is. She sees the show as a failure because "very little in the way of advancing our knowledge of the issue at hand is achieved." I would say that our understanding of the issues is strengthened and accepted by seeing the pain of others, even if it is shown through a polarized lens. Carey says that "presenters and producers try to insure themselves against their own lack of knowledge by creating polarized panels hoping each side will dismantle the other's spin."

In the reality of life, I wonder if there is a real truth? It seems Carey believes there is a truth. "I want experts to explain why certain decisions were made and on what basis we should make new ones" she said. This is a tall order. The kind of knowledge she speaks of would make millionaires of paupers and kings/queens out of peasants. Her aspirations for TV are probably genuine but these aspirations are the aspirations of philosophers throughout time.

The desire for explanations is not unique but the belief that there is one complete explanation is naive. There is no one answer. Perhaps the set-up of the show is clearly ambiguous which lets us live in reality through TV. Perhaps this is a form of Reality TV we just have not acknowledged yet. The reality is that our reality is ambiguous. There is no one answer. Perhaps there is no answer at all. Perhaps there are just arguments from multiple sides on every issue.

Perhaps the frustration Sarah Carey identifies in viewing The Frontline is simply the nature of life itself. Maybe if she and we identified that there are multiple sides to every story we could get on with living and cohabiting in harmony.

Friday, October 23, 2009

TV in Ireland: The two Ronnies

The youngest one had me up early this morning and therefore surfing the TV channels at 6.30 a.m. I happened upon G.O.L.D. TV channel.

Before I left Ireland twenty years ago my parents had the basic TV stations. These included RTE 1 and RTE 2. I had heard of The Two Ronnies from relations in Dublin and so forth but I had never seen episodes of it.

This morning, at half past six, I viewed my first episode of The Two Ronnies. I suppose at 6.30 a.m. one might be less demanding of one's viewing but it pulled a chuckle or two from me while feeding my youngest.
What do you think?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Communicating about communication

My first opportunity for work, teaching in Ireland, has come and passed. This is not a bad thing although it would have been better if it came and stayed. I look on the "job" of finding a job in teaching media as a process. This process, like everything else, is fodder for analysis, criticism, reflection and learning.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to offer a night class at the Carrowbeg College of Further Education in Westport, County Mayo. For the course to run I needed ten people to sign up for the class which would consist of 8 two-hour classes. At a cost of 100 Euros per student these types of classes are self-funding. This area of education has come on a lot in recent years with classes in subjects like flower arranging to navigation. This area of learning is referred to as "Lifelong Learning" courses in many establishments.

The title of the class, which was advertised in two of the local papers was, Media and Communication: Educating ourselves and protecting our children in a media-saturated world. I attended the night of registration when the prospective students came in with a financial commitment and signed up for their preferred class. It was a great and new experience for me. Everything is worth doing. Some people spoke to me with interest in my powerpoint presentation and one came and looked at a little segment of Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang which I had playing on my laptop.

I couldn't resist embedding that - for old time's sake.

No one signed up for my class and I was informed that the overall registration was down on previous years. However, I wonder if there was something I could have done differently to get a more positive result. Perhaps the economic downturn is impacting people's pockets for further education? On the other hand, people might have more time free now as a result of the economic downturn and therefore might have a stronger inclination towards more education. Maybe people are just not interested in studying media?

If they are not, then it is our (my) duty to inform that studying the media is very important. I believe understanding the media and having the ability to decipher some of the mediated messages is as important in this age as the ability to read and write. We need to get media studies into every educational institution on the planet.

So how do we get this message out to the people with the power?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pat Kenny debuts "The Frontline."

Pat Kenny launched his most recent broadcasting contribution, The Frontline, last night. The Frontline is a current affairs program which has, at its core, a desire to attend to the real issues of the day by giving the regular person a voice, but it falls short of this. I had high hopes for Pat Kenny's new program and I still think it might produce, but the first installment is by no means ground breaking.

Fair play, he did take on the issue of NAMA and there were contributions to the discussion by regular folk who are caught up in this mess with great mortgages and no understanding or help from the banks while, they said, the banks get bailed out.

But the contributions of the regular folk seemed to me to be "allowed" as a necessary part of the show and not as THE MAIN part of the show. Therefore, while the audience might be placated (or enraged) by the sentiments shared by some hurting people the main thrust of the program affirmed the status quo and gave the establishment more air-time.

The obvious examples of this are the inclusion of the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan as the interviewee. Granted, he is damned if he does or does not. If he was not on the stage we could criticise for that, and now that he got the stage we can criticise for that. But we can assume that he was well prepared and versed in media practice, more so than the audience members from the general population.

Including Eamonn Dunphy in the audience was a production decision which is questionable. While he seemd to give voice to the frustration of the general population, I assume many of the Irish would be hesitant to accept him as their spokesperson. He was aggressive and overpowering in relation to the other audience members who spoke. He had his own microphone on his lapel so he was obviously granted a prominent position. Is Eamonn Dunphy just another wealthy "celebrity" speaking out for the masses while he lives in the lap of luxury? Or is he genuine? As an audience member he got most air-time.

Fintan O'Toole, was given less time. Perhaps because he is a writer and not a "known broadcaster" he could get less time on-air? And a professor of economics, (I don't recall his name) who had a totally different opinion on the whole NAMA and economic situation of Ireland was given minimal air-time.

However, O'Toole and Dunphy got more air-time than any other audience member. The impression that the program was attempting to give us was that Pat was going to the public, the masses, the proletariat to get their opinions, to let them be heard on our national TV station - RTE.

But what we got, really, was a token contribution by "normal" people. This token was overshadowed by the aggressive tirades of Eamonn Dunphy. It was qualified by Fintan O'Toole and the Professor. And the Minister got to talk more than listen, to defend more than explain, to promote the status quo more than offer alternatives to the queries...

And now the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, gets to be "congratulated" for (having the courage) appearing on the program. It really is pathetic to hear those in the seats of power criticising those who are trying to live normally for not having an alternative to NAMA when they chose to criticize it. The explanations leave a lot to be desired.

But Pat Kenny's The Frontline is a start. He is back where he is comfortable. Current affairs is his thing. I still have high hopes for The Frontline. It just might get better.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Perception of media: Reality becomes itself.

The Rolling Stone's Peter Travers reviewed It Might Get Loud in the August 20 issue. He was impressed. Davis Guggenheim, who directed An Inconvenient Truth, directed this movie about rock guitar legends, Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White.
He refers to the presentation of a behind the scenes look at these musicians as "rock heaven."

On the other hand Professor of Pop titles his review of the movie "It Might get Dull." POP is looking for the movie to live up to its genre identity - the documentary. POP is not happy with the lack of probing, of discovery, or analysis of the political economy of the music industry through discussions with the three guitarists.

I haven't seen the movie/documentary yet but it is interesting to me that two reviews could be so different. POP is demanding some depth. I remember him demanding this in classes that he taught. But I woud expect a reviewer in The Rolling Stone to be somewhat demanding too.

The reception of a media production by a viewer is a very personal one. We, as producers, can plan all we want, and there are ways to direct the receiver in a way desireable to the producer, but in the end it is a decision made by the individual viewer how they accept the production. It is as complex as life itself and also as simple as you want it to be. We can analyse and critique for ever, and this is the fun of the media scholar, but in the end it is received as it is received.

The perception for the individual is what is their reality. After we plant all the psychological, subconscious hints to guide the viewer to what we want them to appreciate it is, in the end, in the control of the viewer.

The viewer has the power to decide whether the show is good/bad, successful/disastrous, desireable/undesireable, etc. The question is "How much power does the viewer really want?"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blogging and Ethics

When is it o.k. to hide behind anonymity to hurl offensive names at another human being? Is there a time, even perhaps not under the veil of anonymity, that one should be congratulated for calling another names such as "ho" and "skank?"

A woman whose name is Rosemary Port, it seems, has no issue with calling Liskula Cohen such names. Port assumed that she was acting under the protection of anonymity but after a court order, Google revealed the owner of the offensive blog.

The fact that we have got a look into what is possibly a petty argument between two acquaintances should not take from the bigger issue coming to light here. Should anyone have the privacy afforded them to anonymously slander and call names to another?

I would be inclined to say no. Bloggers have questioned their craft from time to time. I believe that if you are to criticize someone, you should do it in the open. Hiding beind the veil of secrecy or anonymity is cowardly.

I understand there are times when, in the interest of safety, it might be necessary for secrecy. Maybe an example of this would be a jury on a gang-leaders trial.

But for this blogger, Rosemary Port, to cry foul at being exposed as the creator of such slander is pathetic. I think she should step up and take her medicine. The big brother, Google, couldn't protect her from her own idiotic words directed at another individual.

This question of anonymity came up when I started my blog. I seriously considered whether I should go anonymous or not. While I do see times when anonymity could be productive I decided to go front and center. I am content with this decision.

Rosemary Port decided to do something that she felt the necessity to have anonymity, it seems to me. Her intent was to blog in anonymity for the purpose of launching insults. Maybe I am wrong.

There are two truths I am interested in seeing in this story. There is no place in society for this kind of slanderous language being used to describe human beings. And there is no privacy on the blogsphere.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Irish A-list of media earners

A member of the government committee on communications has asked for RTE to review the earnings of its top stars. I have heard many times in recent history that the Taoiseach of Ireland earns more than his comparable member of the U.S. government, President Barack Obama. It seems that now the government agency is turning the books on the media that brought this fact to the attention of the population.

It may seem a little childish of a tit-for-tat but it is an interesting conversation. The main broadcaster, historically, in Ireland is RTE (Radio Telifis Eireann) and it is state run. As a study of political economy, it is interesting to note that a state run media producer/broadcaster has some stars on its payroll with salaries of up to 850,000 Euro. Mr. Pat Kenny commands that salary which is paid by this "independent" government run media.

As time continues I will learn more on the workings of RTE. After a little research it is difficult to find a good book on the history and the workings of the organisation (I am now in Ireland so the spelling is with an s and not a z). Perhaps this will be a little project further into the future.

If any of you have information on a good reference about RTE please let me know.

The referenced article says that sources within RTE say that the earnings report which will be published soon will cause "much embarrassment."

This is the beginning of my transition back to the Emerald Isle. "Embarrassment" at high earnings? What language do we speak here in Ireland? It was not so long ago that the Celtic Tiger was roaring, and talk of high earnings was anything but embarrassing. Is this a turn in the culture and psychology of the nation? Or is it just a reaction to a recession to placate the masses and to turn the books on the media for shining the light on the earnings of the Taoiseach?

Source for this post:

Horan, N. (Aug. 30, 2009). Calls to rein in salaries of RTE stars paid 'more than Obama'. Sunday Independent. p. 8.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bandslam, Marx and Aer Lingus: Mass Media, Commercialism and Human Communication.

Tonight I attended a showing of Bandslam. This is a teen, high school story about growing up and taking negative and making it positive. The movie was fine, but my 13 year old daughter was sitting beside me smiling, giggling and enjoying. The experience in the moment was beautiful, a father and daughter enjoying a movie together.

The social, psychological and economic issues raised by the content were overshadowed by the moment in time. Quality time spent with my daughter, without communicating directly during the movie with each other but, experiencing the enjoyment of a media production. The product placements were obvious and were even alluded to in the dialogue of the movie. The main character once commented on the commercialization of bands and band names so that the original artistry gets lost in the commercialism.

It is interesting that the dialogue brings our attention to the over commercialization of art. Of course the lesson is ironic in its very existence in a Hollywood movie. But I wonder if it is better to have this reference in the movie or not? Is the lesson learned and/or communicated to the viewers that too much commercialism is not good? Maybe.

As educators we aspire to educate. Some (academic) bloggers argue continuously that education is not for employment but for the development of the self or the intellect. Why can't the two be interconnected?

Bandslam is probably a mediocre movie overall but it is a very professional production. Is there really anything wrong with helping students be capable of working on a professional Hollywood movie like Bandslam or on TV news or radio etc? We, my daughter and I, just did two days in Universal Studios in Hollywood. The professional attitude and development of the Universal Studios theme park is of a very very high standard.

Interestingly, I spent a lot of my time there critiquing the commercial aspects of the park but was asked to complete a survey as I left. I did. I could not fault the place for entertainment and courtesy of staff. Maybe it is a little pricy but I just thought that it was a great experience with my 13 year old daughter (if commercialism is ignored).

Is there really anything wrong with the commercial characters and the themes? Is there a better model? What is it? Let's be realistic with our answers. Is a Marxist (society) theme park really feasible? If so, how?

As I ready for my one way trip to Ireland on an Aer lingus flight I have heard from a responsible source that Aer Lingus is stopping direct flights from San Francisco to Dublin because of Irish Trade Unions demands. I am informed that the requirements made for Aer Lingus crews on long haul flights are over and above the requirements made and granted to other air transport companies.

I'm all for the employee. I'm all for less commercialism, even a little sharing and caring. But when demands for changes are made in any situation we must be careful to consider carefully the alternatives. I will benefit (it seems) from the direct flight from San Francisco to Dublin but I will be one of the last. Perhaps a little compromise could have saved the route? I don't know.

Proposing media theories which inevitably tear down the structure of the media without an appreciation of how it actually works is a one sided pedagogical approach. A little compromise/balance might give the student an appreciation for the theories of Marxism, sociology and psychology WITHIN the structure that is reality. Knocking it all down all the time will only turn them against one side or the other. We can engage the theories of criticism while at the same time appreciating the profession which the students are expected to operate within, hopefully happily.

What I do know is this. A Hollywood movie on a Friday evening in San Francisco was enjoyed thoroughly by a 40 year old man and his 13 year old daughter. It gave them material for discussion and chat. They smiled and giggled at happenings on the screen which identified that they had something in common. Laughter.

I'll take this experience without questions. Hollywood or Marx - at the end of it all, it is about human communication.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reality TV: If you can't beat them ...?

Reality programming accounts for more than 25% of prime time viewing on the five broadcast networks. The popularity of reality programming was helped along by the writers strike in the US a few years ago. Many cable channels show a lot of reality TV too and continue showing repeats. The cost of a network reality show is approximately $1 million per hour. This is about a half of the cost of a scripted show. The salaries relate. Producer's salaries start at approximately $1,000 per week on a reality show which is one third of the rate on a scripted show. (Wyatt, 2009)

These reality posts are usually independent contractor positions which means less benefits and little job security. Seems to me, it is a typical economic model for the 21st century. Reality shows unlike scripted dramas or comedies, can be shot on a seven-days-a-week schedule, and takes maximum advantage of the availability of the contestants.

According to Wyatt (2009) "the lesson to anyone entering the television industry is pretty stark: Reality is where the jobs are." The indications are that this is the area of the industry that will continue to thrive in the US. One argument for this is that the new generation of practitioners have grown up watching reality television and they will gravitate towards what they know. So says "Chris Coelen, chief executive of RDF Media USA, whose productions include "Don't forget the Lyrics" for Fox and "Wife Swap" for ABC" (Wyatt, 2009).

Reality TV is all over the place. Whether this is good or bad is not really what I would like to address. Perhaps RT is here for more time. If it is - why worry? Can't reality TV be good TV? Can't we produce RT that is socially aware and intelligent? Really, when people bite their thumbs at reality TV, I wonder what is so much better? Is it the sitcoms? The news? The soap operas? Or are they comparing RT to the list of "best movies" in their heads? An unfair comparison I suggest.

If RT is the ground zero for the future of TV, (whether recent or afar) then isn't it time to start measuring it up against the sociological, psychological, aesthetic, and perhaps even Marxist criteria we have in media studies, and strive to make it better?

We should not snub our noses at what is most popular just because. We should aspire to understand the attraction and then maybe even contribute to making it better.

Doneen Arquines should be congratulated. She took the task at hand and worked hard to get into the business. She has managed by the accounts of Edward Wyatt to grin and bear it, pay her dues and continue working. (It probably helped that she studied a little anthropology.)

In this 21st century it may be appropriate to respect those who manage to break into the business. It may be prudent to listen to what they have to say.

Source for this post:

Wyatt, E. (2009, July 26). Television fledgling keeps it real. The New York Times, Arts and Leisure Section, P. 1-17.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Positive Media: Recession be Damned.

I love to witness a positive attitude. In these tough economic times this business decided to be proactive, cheery, positive, creative and humorous. In downtown Mill Valley I noticed this sign in a store front window. It brought a smile to my face and thought it might do the same for you.

It is interesting to be aware of your response. Mine was a desire to purchase. This is successful advertising. The creators of this message got me to be "on their side" and to want to contribute to their "staying in business."

I wish them the best of luck.

I hope they stay in business and share the positivity.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Media Studies: Are Blogs Production or Theory?

Is learning media about production or theory? Is there value in learning one or the other exclusively?

Recently my Alma Mater, USF discussed the Media Studies program at USF on a blog. The blog belongs to the journalism class but the discussion takes on the whole department. The discussion is energetic and, I would argue, useful but it does at times seem to get a little trivial or even verges on the level of flaming.

The main issue being discussed, outside of the student body itself, is whether or not students should be required to get involved in media production of some sort. It seems that one can coast through the department with little or no contribution to actual media production, which was not the case when I was there.

In the Financial Times of Monday July 27th, Josep Valor of Iese Business School argues that when educational institutions are critiqued on a blog, the educational institution should "consider such complaints "gifts" and take advantage of them." He argues that blogs should be taken seriously and the criticisms should be acted upon. "Ignoring blogs" he said "is not reading the writing on the wall."

Certainly, as a form of new media, one would expect a media department to be aware of the blogsphere, to be taking notes and perhaps selecting suggestions for discussion from it. But caution must be employed. If it was known that the university powers-that-be were acting on blog suggestions there might be a huge outburst of "requests." The cartoon accompanying Valor's piece in the Financial Times hints at the narcissism of blogging about oneself and perhaps blogging positive criticism of self on a public blog for all to see. (One might wonder if Valor is speaking from personal experience?) How many professors rate themselves on Rate-my-Prof?

It has to be acknowledged that if every educational institution was to monitor every blog about education there wouldn't be much time for education. His recent search for the term "MBA" gave results of 10,000. Some blogs I enjoy deal continuously with educational issues. My own blog in March talked about theory and production. It suggested that theory should always be included in the study whether it is production oriented or not. It is in the production of media that we can get to use the knowledge of theory for the good of others and society.

Digidave has a great way of talking freely about Journalism school. While Rab acknowledges that Media Studies graduates are being highly sought after as employees, it is difficult to imagine that he is happy about this!

It might seem like a good idea to monitor the blogsphere for ideas and criticisms but is it really feasible? Perhaps a blog for students to anonymously critique the courses would be feasible. Similar to the way professors look at the student evaluations we could eliminate the nasty, nasty ones and discuss the mature evaluations of each class and course.

Maybe this idea is simply an extension of the class evaluations we do at the end of each semester. On a public blog we could benefit from past pupils weighing in on criticisms made by current students for the good of the whole group. This kind of community spirt of cooperation and participation is worth the effort.

Sources for this post:

Valor, J. (2009, July 27). Blogs can help schools win the marketing war. The Financial Times, p.9.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cloud Computing: Real or transcendental

[Note - the audio on the embedded video is not even]

Like every new innovation there will be naysayers. Also there will be the proponents who assume that the new innovation is the way froward and will laugh off the naysayers. Well, I am neither a proponent nor a naysayer. Rather I am interested and a little concerned, and a little skeptical. So, what is "cloud computing?"

Basically, as I understand it, cloud computing will eliminate the need to purchase software and some hardware. All the applications necessary will be online, in the cloud, and all the data created will be stored online, in the cloud.

Imagine you own a small restaurant and your books are stored in the cloud. Imagine you are a graduate student ready to turn in your thesis and it is stored in the cloud. Imagine all your photographs taken over your life are stored in the cloud. Imagine... you get the idea.

If the cloud is secure then we would have no issue I suppose. But how secure can this cloud be? As secure as a safe in your basement? As secure as your filing cabinet? As secure as the biscuit/cookie tin/jar that houses all your nostalgic photographs? Or perhaps the cloud is more secure or less secure? Which one is it? Do we really know? Are we ready to give our "life" to the custody of google and "the cloud." What are the implications for our privacy?

Not so long ago there was "a widespread cyber attack that overwhelmed government websites" and US officials are blaming North Korea. It is not definitive but the attacks were traced to Internet addresses in North Korea.

In another internet based hack Twitter was compromised to allow a hacker to access and share confidential files about "corporate and personal information of employees that was compromised, not users' Twitter accounts."

The Internet is fantastic. How would we live without it nowadays? It has become a part of our existence.

But will we float in a cloud? If the US government files can be compromised is any file safe? Does it really matter?

And if the day comes when the government(s) get behind this cloud(theory), and they are advocates for the cloud, and there are none to very few against the cloud - then be wary.

It is in the titanic audacity of safety that great tragedies are born. Let us not forget the titanic.

[The audio is not the best but this is worth viewing to get a "sense" of the views of cloud computing.]


Baldor, L. C. (July 9, 2009). U.S. officials eye N. Korea in cyber attack. Marin Independent Journal, p.A8

Kopytoff, V. (July 16, 2009). Hacker snatches files from Twitter. San Francisco Chronicle, p. A1-A11.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Privacy Issues

In England there is a scandal. The privacy rights of some individuals was intruded upon. In a culture where it seems that the news is all but overtaken by personal issues it is refreshing to learn that individuals actually have rights to privacy.

There are differences of course but living in the US I am entertained by the concern over this privacy intrusion in the UK. I have lived in a culture where phone-tapping in the name of national security was defended strongly in recent history.

Andy Coulson may very well have to step down as the Conservative Party's director of communications on the head of this. I wonder if we were still in the BUSH-2 era would this scandal be a scandal at all. In fact, I wonder if this invasion of privacy policy at the News of the world and other newspapers was a "spin-off" of the culture of phone-tapping and privacy intrusions of the Bush-2 leadership. Remember that the Bush-2 era was very well supported by the Blair leadership (at least publicly).

And now, years later, Coulson's closet is opening up and haunting him. He left the newspaper business and probably felt he was free. Did he realize that this would resurface? Does he now regret his alleged actions? Will he admit to any of these allegations? Is he guilty?

Or will he claim forever that he left because he couldn't live with the phone-tapping ideology that was the climate of his newspaper while he was editor? Will he hide behind others and claim innocence? Will he send others to the guillotine in his place? Will he ride off into the sunset saying that he knew nothing for most of the time and when he did learn of the policy that he resigned his post?

And how will Rupert Murdoch deal with all this? Now we might be in for some entertaining publishing by the Guardian. And while it is entertaining it might actually be an example of good journalism.

Now why did it take so long for it to come out?

Added on July 10th, 2009: The Bush story keeps trickling out.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cell Phone Ring Tones: Where would we be without them?

Have you ever wondered why the person next to you has such a "creative" ring tone? We learn of one answer to that question today in the San Francisco Chronicle. It's free.

Benny Evangelista reports on the debate over ring tone royalties and gets no less than the front page! Is this a testament to the importance of our cell phone ring tones in society? If it is, it makes this reader pause for a moment and think what that might mean for our society.

If cell phone ring tones and the debate over royalties associated with them is front page news, what stories are not on the front page to facilitate this headline? Are we pushing stories of hunger, loss, socio-economic issues to the hidden pages to make room for ring tones?

So, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is asking a federal judge in New York to require AT&T and Verizon to pay for public performance licenses for cell phone ring tones (Evangelista, p. A1.). The stakes are fairly high. They range from 510 million to 5 billion according to two studies. The Electronic Frontier Foundation weighs in saying that if the royalties are enforced it would be at a cost to consumers, and technically turn consumers into copyright violators. ASCAP says, through it's attorney Richard Reimer, that this is a business-to-business issue (I suppose implying that they want to get money from the phone companies and not the consumer - naive).

Is this important? Are ring tones this necessary? Am I so out of touch that I cannot understand the placing of this story on page one of the Chronicle today? I know people like their tones. But one reason for this, I presume, is that they are free. If they start charging, I presume, people will do without them. Maybe we would only hear the old fashioned ring that is the original of the species - ring, ring, ring, ring.

Actually, I have noticed the popularity of the old fashioned ring on newer phones lately - in coffee shops and such places. Does this mean that these old-fashioned ring tones are not going to be copyrighted? Or is there a chance that my Granny's old ring tone will be copyrighted to ASCAP?

I don't care if you charge for ring tones as long as I can have the old fashioned ring. I just won't use them. And I assume many many more will not use them either. So what's the big deal and why is this front page news?

Source for this post:
Evangelista, B. (2009, July 5th). Debate rages on ring tone royalties: Composers group wants royalties for cell phone ring tones. San Francisco Chronicle, P.A1, A7.

Friday, July 3, 2009





Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Skype Video Chat and People: Video meets humanity

"So I agreed to give video chat a try. We downloaded Skype and set a time to connect. They rang. I answered. My daughter waved. And then... we stared at each other. Short silences that seem natural on the phone become terribly awkward on video. Suddenly I understood why slumber-party confessions always came after lights were out, why children tend to admit the juicy stuff to the back of your head while you're driving, why psychoanalysts stay out of a patient's sightline. There is something exquisitely intimate about the disembodied voice" (Orenstein, 2009, P. 9).

I have friends who use Skype to video chat and I remember their realization that they needed to "dress" for the computer and that this was an inconvenience at 7 a.m. on a Sunday to talk to Ireland at 8 hours ahead. The ideas of new technology might seem great on first learning of the potential but as the quote above says, the romantic notions get destroyed fairly quickly.

Back in 1998 I was on line doing video chatting. The image was o.k. but the quality of the motion aesthetic was stunted and slow. However, it did serve a purpose. My 2 year old daughter was living 7,000 miles away from me and through this new technology we got to see each other more often than we would have without it. Also, she wasn't talking yet so the telephone was not the best medium for communication. So video chat allowed us to "be together" without the need to chat. It was useful at the time but our interactions (outside of visits) gravitated to the old telephone as she got a vocabulary together.

It seems that Orenstein's parents had a similar experience. They wanted to see their grandchild in real time on the screen. It seemed to be a great idea. It was suggested even to leave it on all the time so the grandparents could watch their grandchild grow up! She, Peggy Orenstein, on the other hand, was wary, "I did not, however, spend the bulk of my adult life perfecting the fine art of establishing boundaries only to have them toppled by the click of a mouse." Her parents while being optimistic about the possibilities of Skype for themselves and their grandchild were unaware of the impending awkward silences that are so easy on the telephone and so difficult when on video (Orenstein, 2009).

On returning to email and electronic photos the status quo was resumed. These individuals could once again finger through a magazine while listening on the phone, they could have moments of silence without worrying if they looked bored, etc. And they can always log on to Skype for the big occasions like birthdays, etc.

If there is one thing about new technology and new media that I believe in it is caution. I believe in the positive power of media - all of it. I also believe that media is not being used close to its positive potential. So many jump on the bandwagon of each new development and think it will change the world. It might but it probably won't.

Keeping it all in perspective is prudent. Pasting pieces of ourselves all over the web in places like LinkedIn, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Blogs, and where ever else will have implications going forward. We know now that potential employers are doing electronic (re)searches on potential employees. It is important to be aware of this notion.

It is important to represent yourself accurately and (hopefully) honestly. After all, if I am looking to employ someone to work in my family business I do want to know what you post on your Facebook page, I want to see your YouTube videos, I want to see your LinkedIn profile, and I want to know where and how your name comes up in the electronic world that is our "extended family... bringing us together or destroying boundaries" (Orenstein, 2009, p. 9).

Source for this blog:

Orenstein, P. (2009, June 28). The way we live now: The overextended family. Is Skype bringing us together or destroying boundaries. The New York Times Magazine, pp. 9-11.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reality Television: The Good in America's Got Talent

I spoke today with a very good friend and we discussed the possibilities of Reality Television. I mentioned that America's Got Talent has a new presenter, Nick Cannon, an African American Male. Then I got home at approximately 2 p.m. California time and called my brother-in-law. By coincidence, he was watching America's Got Talent at 10 p.m. Irish time in a remote rural area in the West of Ireland. Reality TV is very popular and it penetrates the world.

It is very easy to criticize (negatively) reality TV. We can discount the whole genre with little effort which, btw, is one of the oldest genres known to TV. Variety shows were at the start of television.

There is more of a challenge in finding some positive social elements in reality television. I suggest that there are some positives available in this genre. This is not by way of saying that reality TV is the best thing ever - it is not - but why do we have to point out the uselessness of the most popular genre continuously without at least attempting to see some positive social developments through reality television?

The new presenter, Nick Cannon, who replaces Jerry Springer is a member of an ethnic minority which is under represented on TV. Surely we can muster the energy to acknowledge this move towards equality. Again, this is not life changing but it is a move in the right direction. We know that the judge panel is 66% White Male, 66% British and 100% white but at least the presenter brings some level of attempting equality?

In the show last night, a group of three siblings came on and sang God Bless America. Let's not dwell on the assertion of patriotic values blatantly at a time of war, but rather let us see again this increased representation of an ethnic minority family. Let us not criticize for the lop-sided representation of gender on stage with 2 males and 1 female. Just for a moment let us appreciate that on prime time television on a Tuesday night in June, 2009, a trio of siblings from an African American family took the stage on America's Got Talent. (If you have not seen the video please follow the link)

We could find other negative criticisms if we wanted to, but slow down and just let the piece sink in: A story about three siblings whose mother's 8 month coma brought out in them a desire to sing for their mother's life. Beautiful singing, heart warming story with a happy ending - the mother came out on stage too.

We could voice concerns about the exploitation of a personal family story for commercial gain, we could wonder if this experience will have dire consequences for the stability of the siblings - And these are all valid concerns.

But for now let us just appreciate that Reality Television has brought into our lives a great American story of resolve, strong will, joy, love, music, ethnic representation, lime-light, innocence, humans at their best, and talent.

Whether for good or for bad, America does have talent. To quote Nick Cannon as he addressed the family "Whatever happens, you guys know there was something powerful here today."

Yes there was.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thomas-Rasset Versus RIAA

Why should I be allowed to break the law? Why is the law the law? In what circumstances do we have the right to challenge the law by breaking it rather than setting about getting the law changed by using legal channels?

Creative Commons is great, sharing all information is great AND it is great to be able to get paid for your work. Many "students" in school and life are strong proponents of free and easy access to everything until, one day, they are the owners of "everything."

Jammie Thomas-Rasset is obviously getting used by lawyers and the recording industry for media attention. She seems to be a normal "getting on with life" woman. (A single mother of 4, as iterated by many media outlets which, I say, has absolutely no relevance to the story but gets pointed out over and over again). The issue is "breaking the law."

She took something which did not belong to her and posted it on Kazaa, a file sharing site.

This activity of sharing files without the permission of the owner or without paying for the file is not uncommon in the era of computer technology and new media. The relative newness of the technology seems to instill in "savvy" (usually youthful) users the desire to explore, challenge, test and create ways of using the technology.

This is clearly a case of a lawyer taking advantage of a situation. Yes, the decision asks Rasset to pay almost 2,000,000 dollars but she doesn't have that kind of money. The recording industry have proven their point twice, in this case, and now should give it up and stop the spectacle.

K.A.D. Camara, lawyer for Thomas-Rasset (it is worth reading a little about Camara), has said that he wants to turn this into a trial against the RIAA (Karnowski). Of course he does. Much media attention and therefore status and business for him is what is at stake here. For Thomas-Rasset, loss of privacy and years of nuisance, not to mention having Camara in her life!

Why doesn't she just admit wrong-doing, ask the recording industry to lay off her, and get back to her normal life? They are not going to get 2 million, she is not going to pay what she has not, she was wrong to take music and share it.

Her lawyer added that the decision was wrong saying that the original cost of the itunes which she did not pay was approximately $1.99 per file. What a pathetic argument. So, if the judge ordered her to pay $1.99 per song that she tried to not pay in the first place, this lawyer would be happy? And every other case against illegal file sharers could be satisfied by paying the $1.99 per file after trying to avoid it?

The fact is that if you break the law you must pay. And to be penalized the exact amount you tried to avoid is not fitting. Rasset has gone through enough and the case is public enough to warrant a slap on the wrist. The public have been made aware that there are consequences to sharing creative property that is not yours to share. Mission accomplished.

Karnowski, S. (June 14th, 2009). Legal showdown set in music-share case. Associated Press

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iran and the Media: Twitter, Blogger, YouTube

Twitter, Blog, YouTube - Where would we be without you?

Nico Pitney, speaking on The Rachel Maddow Show, got his 15 seconds of TV fame when he was interviewed about his blogging on the situation in Iran. Pitney blogs at Rachel Maddow, said she uses his blog as a source for her own stories and insights into the Iran story.

This may seem fine on the surface but the hype that is surrounding the uses of "new media" for divulging information about Iran recently should be taken seriously. Call me a skeptic but any media tools that generate hype must be viewed soberly to get them in perspective.

Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow are singing the praises of new media for it's part in this Iranian "show of the people." But what is it that is so great about this media over the traditional media? The story becomes the instantaneousness of the new media. Pitney is blogging continuously (he says that he will be sleeping tonight) and is also claiming to confirm all his sources. "Or at least make sure that the information is from multiple sources."

How can instant media coverage be confirmed? How can any traditional media source be confirmed? Do you know what is not shown on the camera footage from YouTube and Blogger? These are the same questions that we ask of the traditional media. These questions should not disappear just because the footage is "obviously" amateur or because it is footage that happened seconds ago, or it is "forbidden" (by the Iranian authorities).

The State Department, according to many sources today, asked Twitter to postpone their scheduled maintenance shut-down so that the people in Iran could communicate with each other presumably to organize demonstrations. Could we interpret this meddling in the dealings of a media/social network as meddling in the fate of Iran? That is not to say that communication is a bad thing. It is a good thing to communicate.

But perhaps the US is assuming that Twitter had more to do with these democratic demonstrations than it did. Reports indicate that this kind of "revolutionary gathering of hundreds of thousands Iranians" has not happened since 1979. I assume that it did not take Twitter to make it happen in '79. Is the hype about "new media's" part in this all because the US is having difficulties with the Iranian administration?

Let us keep things in perspective. Yes I will view the amateur footage and be happy to see footage from Iran, but I will be aware that I am getting a particular opinion/view of the events. Yes I will watch and listen to Rachel Maddow but I am disappointed that she is using a blogger as a source. Yes I will listen and view many different media but I will never feel that I have the whole story. Yes I will watch Fox too (I did not manage to see their coverage of 'the new media and Iran' - I presume that they have covered it- although I did tune into Reilly and Hannity).

Lets not get carried away with the Twitterization of the world. Remember Twitter is trying to figure out a way to monetize their product. We are informed that media persons are not allowed free access to the inside of Iran. But the story will get out in the end. Twitter and Blogger and YouTube might be great instruments of the democratization of the media.

Let new media grow up and mature before we start expecting it to be the instrument of world change.

Let us calm down and get it all in perspective.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fair Pay for Teachers

It is time for our western societies to pay our teachers a fair wage. A fair wage will afford the recipient the opportunity to own a home and a comfortable lifestyle.

Why would you teach? Would you embark on an education program to become a teacher if you knew that your student loans would be forgiven? If they were going to be forgiven then why bother charging them in the first place?

Some people "dream of teaching but fear an oppressive combination of low wages and high debt."

Loan forgiveness is a system of forgiving loans to people who pursue careers like teaching and nursing. That is, jobs that are important to society but are not high paying jobs. (Nursing is well paid, according to a friend, in California but these statistics are country wide.) Included in these positions would also be "public interest lawyers."

In Kentucky "about 7,500 teachers, nurses and public interest lawyers have benefited from the state's loan forgiveness program since 2003 at a cost of $77 million to the state."

"There is no clear accounting of how many people were swayed by loan forgiveness to pursue teaching, or how many might be deterred by the absence of such programs. But the anecdotal evidence suggests the programs matter."

The New York Times ran an article on May 27th, "Recession Imperils Loan Forgiveness Programs" detailing some of the forgiveness loan programs that are in jeopardy and some that have been eliminated. There is an underlying question here that is not being addressed. Of course the article is worth writing and reading and publishing but like many other issues the underlying question is not addressed.

Why are professionals, like teachers, which are absolutely necessary to society not paid well? It is so simple and obvious that it is overlooked time and time again. Many, if not all, western societies take pride in education and development of its youth and the next generation but, at least in the U.S., they continue to underpay teachers (and other professions). I am no push over for unions and I believe they have a function and a necessary one but isn't this one of their primary jobs - to get their members paid fairly.

Is there a teacher in San Francisco that can afford a mortgage in San Francisco on their teacher's salary? I imagine there are many many other geographical areas that we can say the same about.

Why should an energetic individual interested in teaching have to go into debt hoping for it to be forgiven so that they can teach our children? Why can't they go into debt for college like everyone else and assume that they can repay their loans when they begin earning a fair salary? Do we as a society really want to carry on the ideology that teachers should spend their lives penniless while their young educated students go off and enjoy good salaries.

The favorite educators of our youth should not be bound by the meagre salaries our society pays them. It is time to pay our educators what they deserve and then we will probably have many many more good people wanting to teach.

Source for this post:
Glather, J.D. (May 27th, 2009). Recession imperils loan forgiveness programs. New York Times. P. B1.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Future of Newspapers

The Mayo News presents itself in electronic form and it is aesthetically and practically pleasing.

The ongoing debate about the future of newspapers has many concerned about the future of journalism itself and the dissemination of valuable information to the people. Most newspapers have some kind of internet presence and electronic version of their paper. What I have always found about these electronic publications is that they are a world away from their physical edition. Aesthetically, the electronic versions require a totally different approach and way of reading.

But now I have found one that impresses. I am a proponent of the simple and the beautiful. I have asked before why newspapers don't just put the physical paper version up on the internet. It seems so simple and obvious that perhaps they didn't want to see it. Sometimes the most obvious remedy is the best.

If the audience is buying your paper the way it is then it stands to reason that they like it the way it is. Why change the look? Why don't newspapers just simply put the physical version online. One newspaper has done this (perhaps more) and this paper is The Mayo News. The Mayo News is the local newspaper in the locality where I grew up in the west of Ireland in County Mayo. It has won many awards in Europe for newspaper design.

The Mayo News presents its digital edition as an option. You must click on the digital edition tab and follow on. What you get at the end is the physical newspaper layout, but on your computer. What a simple solution to the question of how to go digital.

I think (and I have thought for some time) that this is the way to transition to digital newspapers and hold the audience. The audience is familiar with the look of the paper. It has been aesthetically pleasing enough before and keeping the same aesthetic electronically will provide continuity which is of the utmost importance when building and keeping an audience.

The turning of the page even comes with audio (although it sounds electronic) to make one feel that they are dealing with paper. This might not be where it all ends but this is a good start.

Friday, May 22, 2009

American Idol

It is difficult to imagine a show that would rival the variety shows of old when I was a young lad. Everyone in the household would be engaged in watching the one show, and from the eyes of a child it seemed as though this was the only show to watch. But viewing the American Idol finale has to be the closest we can come in these modern days.

What a show! How many stars (whether ancient or not) can you fit on to one show. How do you decide how many to include? Queen, Queen Latifah, David Coook, Keith Urban, Black Eyed Peas, Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie, Carlos Santana, Kiss, Rod Stewart...
Is this overload or what?

It's just one big advertisement. It seems that American Idol has the perfect captive audience for all of these artists to advertise their wares - a captive huge audience. Almost 100 million votes were cast on the finale to bring the season votes cast to approximately 624 million votes. How much does that add up to for AT&T in texts alone? As Ryan said "Your voices across the country that got us here," I couldn't help thinking that if the texting was a lot less Ryan might be out of a job.

The production used every aesthetic element known to humanity in an attempt to heighten the experience and keep the huge audience tuned in. Again it was almost overload. From the use of desaturation in the intro. to every camera angle imaginable to weird/creative lighting and, of course, the inferior audio on Adam and Kris at the start, it was too much. Is it necessary to present two people, Danny Oakey and Lionel Richie, dressed in black on a big stage and use every angle (and every aesthetic tool) in an attempt to energize the production. Could we not just see them and hear them singing the song.

The production felt like it was over produced. Just too much. I needed to take a breath and look away from time to time.

The Golden Idol Awards are either a joke or a disgusting abuse of some normal people. I'm not too sure which. Obviously some of the individuals are aware of the joke but I wonder if some are taken advantage of. And then the introduction of Catriona Darrell, a.k.a. Bikini Girl...

Bringing the show to the lowest common denominator seems to be comfortable for the producers. The cut-aways to Simon and Randy "gasping" were adolescent and pointless. All the camera angles were directed to objectification of the female. In 2009, chauvinism once again wins out by instigating a "bikini war." Kara Dioguardi showing her "bikini." Wow, what a way to be a "strong woman," a spokesperson for females. Are we to accept that it was for charity and therefore the chauvinistic undertones are acceptable? Do we overlook the ridiculousness of the event because she has a body that is accepted as the cultural ideal and therefore it was o.k? Do we admire this successful woman for singing on stage and then "ripping" her dress off? Is this the role model we hope for on a prime time show aimed at a young audience? Is this what we want our adolescent women to be looking up to?

I say no.

So much potential. So many opportunities squandered. When will we/they start using TV for the good of society. Here is (according to many) the democratization of the media. A show where unknowns become known through the votes of the proletariat. A place where the proletariat get heard.

A place where the producers decided to have a bikini war in front of 30+ million people. What a waste.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Lieutenant of Inishmore at The Berkeley Rep: A Review

As I close in on the end of my first semester teaching at SFSU I have asked the students in class to be true to themselves. I remember my dad quoting Shakespeare (I believe) with, "to thine own self be true."

I have seen many shows at the Berkeley Rep over the years and I love the theatre. The Berkeley rep is a fine place and produces some fantastic shows. I have in my favorite playwrights list at the top both Martin McDonagh and David Mamet.

My inclination is to always find the positive in reviewing any performance, especially theatre, because I believe in the need for it to be supported for survival. But I must be true to myself and review as it is.

So I will focus on the positive...

The special effects on stage in The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Berkeley Rep are excellent.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Twittering is bogus?

Listening to Armstrong and Getty on the AM radio this morning, I was amused to hear an idea that I have thought all along, that is since I heard of Twitter.

They were citing some study whicht said that 60% of twitterers stop twittering after a month. I can well believe this. It all sounds a little ridiculous to me. Following people's every move might be interesting to a small population who have voyeuristic tendencies or people interested in research of the media but I think it is a fad and will die out.

That whole escapade with Larry King and Aston Kutcher was amusing too but only just! So what if Aston could beat out CNN? He is a celebrity too. So, one celebrity wins against another. It was all very "reality TV".

"Amusing" is as much as I will give this whole thing. And I say it will die out like a fad that really never was.
I heard about twitter a year or so ago in Professor Marie Drennan's class in SFSU and it wasn't until the last couple of weeks that it got major mass media attention, thanks to Larry King, CNN and Aston Kutcher. Professor Marie Drennan beat the whole mass media to it. Maybe Aston proved that the media has potential to be democratized but we all knew that - right?

Whether democracy LIVES in and through the media is another matter and Larry or Aston or CNN are not helping that discussion along - IMHO.

Armstrong and Getty suggested that it will die out like the crazy fads of yesteryear. I am amused that they are saying it now. I said this a year ago and Professor Marie Drennan was talking about it long long before Larry or Aston.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Advertising for religion in Ireland

The Minister for Communications said "advertising shouldn't be used for promoting a particular religion or as an agent for recruitment" (Minister for Communications in Ireland, Eamon Ryan). Why not? This is an interesting statement from the Minister for Communications. Is he dictating what we can be exposed to? What's next? Will he be inclined to say that a company like Microsoft should not be allowed to advertise their corporate motto? Or will he tell us that a bank organization should not advertise investment accounts?

The 2001 legislation, to which the Minister refers when he says that it is interpreted narrowly, says that, "an advertisement which addresses the issue of the merits or otherwise adhering to any religious faith or belief or of becoming a member of any religion or religious organization" is not allowed for broadcast.

The light is being shone on this issue after Veritas, a company which sells books and things, and is owned by the Catholic bishops, was unable to satisfy the wording requirements for an advertisement. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) said that the phrase "Christmas: aren't we forgetting something" and "Why not give a gift that means more?" was not in keeping with the rules. In 2007 the word "crib" had to be removed from the text of an advertisement before it could be broadcast.

I don't mean to be petty about this but doesn't this all seem a little trivial? Are they having double standards here? What's the difference who is selling stuff? What's wrong with advertising for recruitment? The minister said that "at the same time, I don't want to completely restrict advertising that has a religious connotation." Why be bothered at all with advertising? If he is going to weigh in on advertising, why isn't he simply concerned with equality?

Or if you are to be concerned with advertising then where does it stop? Of course many will agree with the decision to ban advertising for cigarettes (some won't). But what of alcohol? Should the advertising of alcohol be banned? Cigarette advertising was banned for obvious health-issue connotations and this has been accepted, but we have to ask where does this intrusion on the media end? Should we ban advertising of chocolate, sweets/candy? At what point will rules and regulations cut in on our freedom of access to information? And more importantly, when is it o.k. to do so?

Cutting in on advertising seems a little intrusive to me. Advertising is the financing of the mass media (more in some countries than others). I'm no religious advocate but I don't see the big deal in taking money from a religious organization in payment for advertising. Now, I do think there are ethical issues with religious advertising and all that - but I'm open minded enough to see that these ethical issues can be argued against any kind of advertising whether it is for a size zero dress or an alcoholic drink or a mineral/soda which is loaded with sugar.

I suppose sometimes I just wonder. Why is time spent discussing these petty issues when there are bigger fish to fry? Oh, the article was published on April 1st?

Source for this post:
Minihan, M. (2009, April 1st). Controls on religious ads for broadcast to be relaxed. The Irish Times.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Press and the Minister for Justice in Ireland

Can wealthy individuals obtain a court order to prevent investigative journalism related to themselves? According to Paul Cullen's piece in The Irish Times on April 1st, this is the newspapers' argument against privacy legislation in Ireland. However, the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, says that there is no threat to investigative journalism in privacy legislation. Investigative journalism which seeks to hold government, institutions of the State, business and other organizations up to scrutiny would not be threatened, he said.

With the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council, I wonder if there is a need for privacy legislation. Is privacy legislation, as the newspapers might argue, simply a protection for the ones who can afford a court order? Is this another example of affording the wealthy a "more equal" opportunity for fair play? So individuals who could afford the law would be able to avail of the security of the privacy legislation while the less-than-wealthy would have to roll the dice and hope the Press Ombudsman or the Press Council would protect them.

The Press Ombudsman's office opened in January of 2008. It is amazing to think that it was not in existence before this and it is equally amazing to think that in such a short time after its inception the Minister for Justice is seeking Privacy Legislation. Surely this privacy legislation could be incorporated into the functions of the the Press Ombudsman's office or the office of the Press Council, and avoid the courts altogether. (Of course taking into account that the legal option is costly and therefore prohibitive to many.) This seems too close to an avenue of exploration open only to the well off. If I was cynical I might suggest that it is once again those in power using our democracy to instill protection for the wealthy and powerful while trying to appear to be concerned for the general population.

The defamation bill which is up for consideration too "gives statutory recognition to the Press Council and Press Ombudsman and allows newspapers to offer an apology without risking an admission of liability." This bill would allow the publication to defend its reporting as "in the public interest." This is the issue that the Minister for Justice has a problem with - in the public interest. He sees the necessity to support privacy legislation because he cannot define "in the public interest." He says that this area may be abused with "careless propagation of trivial or tabloid issues masquerading as being in the public interest." How many definitions has he used in that sentence which could be analyzed with numerous results?

What is his definition of "careless propagation?" How does he define "trivial?" What does he say is a "tabloid?" And then he uses the term "public interest" so easily when his own concerns are what others will deem to be the definition of this term. He seems to be clear in the definition by his own use of the term!

While his concerns are founded he seems to be looking out for the big guy rather than the proletariat here. How many of the general population really worry about privacy? How many people are concerned for privacy over free access to information?

Cullen says in the byline, "Minister cites 'worrying trend' of media intrusion." Perhaps the Minister for Justice should be concerned with how some have managed to take advantage of others life savings. Perhaps looking for justice would be a justifiable endeavour for the Minister for Justice. Perhaps searching for answers to the questions surrounding the injustice of the economic disaster would help the population to be better prepared for the next upturn. Perhaps the next upturn could be a sustained realistic growth that helps the many and not the few. Would that be justice?

Maybe the Minister for Justice would be serving the proletariat by discovering what went wrong and who brought it all about. Maybe the Minister for Justice could delve into the workings of the government (past and present) and report to the population what he thinks brought this about. The justice in this exercise is to learn from the mistakes. The justice in this would trump privacy whether for an organization or the government or individuals.

Justice brought about by free and equal access to information - Now there's a novel idea. That's an idea that the electorate might expect a Minister for Justice to believe in.

(By the way why is it an ombudsman? Shouldn't it be the ombudsperson?)

Sources for this post: Cullen, P. April 1st, The Irish Times

Sunday, April 5, 2009

U2: No Line on the Horizon

The new U2 album, No line on the Horizon, is excellent. U2 manage to reinvent themselves while holding on to some of their landmark traits to satisfy the older fan while potentially appealing to a newer group also. They are genius in the mastering of their medium. Mixing old with new, they carve a space for themselves to age graciously while exposing their experience as artists in this mediated world.

This album is a powerful collection of tracks with the net result of a finished product which is greater than its parts. The collection is a whole. The sum is greater than the parts. No line on the Horizon is a success. As a mediated experience this album has a lot to offer the listener; lyrics, music, variety, old U2, new U2, heavy rock and ballads. Bono has said, when questioned about his other mediated events, that U2 is fundamentally a rock band. The opportunities this platform has afforded him as an advocate for other causes does not take away from U2 as a band.

The title track, a love song, suggests no sense of time in linear fashion. "Time is irrelevant, it's not linear." Magnificent implies a preoccupation with time in this life but goes on to suggest timelessness after this life. "Justify till we die, you and I will magnify." My favorite part of this album is the track Moment of Surrender which starts with a cryptic or simple metaphor "I tied myself with wire." The narrative leads the singer looking for a way to get back to "the rhythm of my soul/to the rhythm of unconsciousness," and the way to find this is through a "moment of Surrender." Unknown Caller makes a very straight forward suggestion that we "cease to speak that I may speak." Who might this be directed to? There may be biblical intentions in I'll go Crazy if I don't go Crazy Tonight with "how can you stand next to the truth and not see it?" Many references are made to the struggle for truth (or Truth?). Perhaps Bono sees himself as a Jesus-like figure but I rather think he is referring to humanity when he says "every generation gets a chance to change the world." Perhaps a call to action by U2? Get on Your Boots, the first single released, starts with "the future needs a big kiss." Embrace the future now. "Hey sexy boots, you don't know how beautiful you are" are words to titillate the generation to positive action for the future. FEZ - Being Born refers to the energy associated with birth and also rebirth and life and also time. This high energy track seems to be the high point of the album speaking in terms of the musical energy of the album. The tracks begin to seep back to introspective calmness with White as Snow. "If only a heart could be as white as snow" harkens back to a previous lyric, "once I knew there was a love divine." The uncertainty of life itself is reason to look for purity of the heart. In Breathe, the artist has found grace through the sound of music.

As the collection comes to a close we are not allowed to leave in comfort. Cedars of Lebanon awakes us to realize the difficulty of life as it is. "Child drinking dirty water from the river bank" does not let us "breathe" or accept that we are as "white as snow" or that being born is easy or equal for all.

In true Bono/U2 form this story is not over. There is no easily defined "line on the horizon." Time is not linear. The truth is out there somewhere between then and when. U2 has more to say. There is more to come.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Travelling around Ireland is time demanding and therefore leaves little time for writing. As I move around while listening to U2's new cd I am thinking about my next few blogs.
The rental car company told me that I didn't need an antenne for the radio to operate on the car. Note: don't believe this ever again! I like to listen to the radio stations when I am here but without the antenne, U2's No Line on the Horizon is getting a lot of play.....
More later.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Time: The Aesthetic of Time

A friend brought me to a talk recently about the Piraha tribe of the Amazon Jungle. The talk was really about languages. It was delivered by Daniel Everett as a part of the Longnow series of talks. Everett has been studying the tribe and their language and customs for over thirty years. What struck me as really interesting about the tribe (according to Everett's report) was their lack of a linear concept of time. They have no past and future beyond yesterday and tomorrow or "closer to now" and "farther from now." Their language has no term for last year etc., just "far from now." Similarly they deal with directions relative to the river, not left or right, but up river or down river. They seem to be grounded in the real, the now. Their directions are relative to an absolute, the river, and their concept of time is guided by that which is real, the now.

In the media aesthetics concepts we discuss in class we deal with time. In the realm of time and in particular when dealing with Zettl's Sight Sound Motion textbook, three parts of time are identified. The three are objective, subjective and biological. Objective is the time we know in Western culture as clock time. Subjective time is what we can identify as "felt" time and biological time is time associated with the "body clock." The two most relevant are objective and subjective. Objective or clock time is the time we run our lives by and gives us some order.

Subjective time is the time we actually live in. The present is where we live. It is what we feel. Eckhart Tolle talks about the now. This is the same thing as subjective time. Subjective time is our living in the moment. It is the only time we have really. Yes, we talk about the past and future, we remember the past and we dream of the future but all of this is done in the present. Fundamentally, there is no other time than the present. It is all that exists. The past is in our heads and the future is too, but the present is all around us. It is.

This talk and these concepts of time made we wonder about a world without linear time. Would it be complete mayhem or would it be tranquility? Would we humans live together in harmony because there was nothing to argue or fight for? Or would we kill each other daily because there is no tomorrow, no real consequences? If we see no tomorrow after tomorrow then why worry about repercussions? On the other hand if there is no tomorrow why bother killing or fighting today?

If there was only today how would we live? How should we live?

There is only today/now.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jon Stewart Shows the Way

Not so long ago we learned that the majority of American youths get their news from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. I'm happy to see good reason to appreciate this fact. Jon said to Jim Cramer of CNBC's Mad Money that his mother is now 75 and she had invested for the long term. This personalization of the grander topic, the financial melt-down, is clear indication to me that Jon Stewart is a caring individual. For our youth to be listening to this kind of sentiment is a good thing.

Before bringing his mother into the discussion he had told Cramer that CNBC itself and his show, Mad Money, had touted what the banks were doing as they took the people's money and used it to burn the "f*****g" house down. He did not let him off the hook. He engaged him and he challenged Cramer to the point where Cramer used in his defence the necessity to produce 17 hours of live TV per day. Cramer said that CNBC has to fill the time up. He stopped short of saying that when the pressure for footage is great the content becomes very shady/untruthful/incorrect/insincere. But Stewart was aggressive in his interview and also managed to broaden the criticism to the banks and the Wall Street financials in a very educated and direct way. Here was a man with no hidden agenda! He added that it was not about the pundits being wrong but more about them being all over the place.

As he brought the interview to a close and before he shook hands with Cramer he deliberately and coolly said that his mother had invested her savings all her life based on the conservative advise of financial people. And now.... he stopped! This man has his finger on the pulse of America. Any one could finish the sentence and we all know his pain. Who, after your child, is the most important person perhaps in your care? Your parent. So, like many mothers out there, Stewart's 75 year old mother is with a depleted retirement fund.

I am happy to report that the youth are watching Jon Stewart. I am going to start watching his show more often. This is what TV is/should be about. Keeping them honest, challenging them, questioning what is going on. Of course I have to wonder who would have the courage to be interviewed on his show going forward? But that is where he shone.

Jon Stewart did not think about the next show or getting Cramer on again. He was mad and he was mad in a very similar way to many Americans and he just went with it. He attacked with the questions and the style that America would love to attack the financials. He was not choreographing the questions to achieve respect at Comedy Central. He was not taking any cheap shots. He was not being disrespectful. He expressed his anger and in doing so expressed the anger of the American people at the banks and the supposed experts on CNBC.

The beautiful addition of his mother's story put it all in perspective perfectly. This is personal and this is personal for all Americans.

This is good TV. This is analysis of TV on TV. This is what TV must be in order to facilitate change for the better in society. Pundits on all these stations including all the news stations must be seen to be what Cramer said. We must see them as TV people with the tough task of producing multiple hours of TV. They will do it within a budget, so while there is news worthy of reporting in Bangladesh or Zimbabwe or Ireland, it will only be covered if it is economically viable. This means that much news is not reported at all and we, the audience, accept as truth and expert opinion the ramblings of overworked pundits.

We got to see it for what it is. Bad TV and too much of it. Just because they are on TV does not mean that they know what they are talking about. Just because they repeat their headlines over and over and over again does not make that headline more important. Just because they repeat the news does not mean that there is no more news. In fact it means the opposite - they are ignoring lots of news for the cheap alternative or repetition.

And they are all at it. Let's wake up! Jon Stewart has shown us the way. Let us follow.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Media (theory) and the classroom

Students are technologically savvy and sometimes moreso than the professors who teach them.The technologies are the tools for the production. The theory and the background/history, economic, social and behavior context are areas that the professors can help inform the students of. Anything can be learned but the leaning of tool-use is simply time consuming. Many students will learn the tools one way or the other, now or later for the purpose of getting to an objective or completing a project. On the other hand many people might never learn a little theory or history or socio-economic contextualism if their teachers don't bring it to class. This is not to say that students will learn only the one op-ed version of a theory or the social economic context of an idea but that they will be exposed to the ideas that will instill in them a desire to learn more than just the technology. The adolescent question "why do we have to do this, it is not relevant?" would be killed off instantly by opening a students mind to a little philosophizing about the potentialities of an act.

Creating media projects does take a lot of time and patience whether at Final Cut Pro or Pro Tools etc., but a discussion of the possible implications of the framing of the message and how it is received can take as long as you wish to put into it. Instilling in students the desire for this discussion is the generous message of the professor. It is not a message of "this is how you should frame it", it is a message of "what if?" It is the message of how interesting and vital all these questions are and that all questions are equal. Students deserve to be challenged to be critical analysts of their own and others' work. This challenge indicates a level of equality which respects the students as creators and critics and analysts.

When I graduated in 1996, my thesis called for a humanistic approach to embracing the information age. Thirteen years later we are still talking about the information age. Frank Webster in his piece on the Information Society touches, in 2008, on what I alluded to in 1996. He asks if the quantitative increase in information increases qualitative social changes. My thesis basically said that in media analysis we were focussing on sociology and marxism etc. while neglecting the simplicity and complexity of a natural evaluation of the media. I said that we should allow for a grander evaluation of media related to whether or not it was good or bad for humanity. I know this sounds vague and maybe even naieve but isn't there room for simply thinking of media as a possible positive force in society for humanity? We can still do our semiotics, marxist, socio-economic, political-economic etc., analysis but for the purpose of teaching undergraduate introductory classes couldn't we just look at humans as the subject of receiving the media and have the students reflect on humanity as a collective audience?

While I could argue that there are universal truths of ethics, I won't because I believe there are none. This humanist approach to media analysis would merely introduce the student to every area of media theory and analysis. Some would shriek at covering Marx and Feminist analysis techniques in 3 hours flat, but the students would be getting their appetites wet. And even if they did not continue in the study they would be forever informed of material that they might not otherwise have been exposed to. I suppose I am arguing for the inclusion of theory in every facet of media study. What is media without the theory, the psychoanalysis? A bunch of jumble! If a student takes one class in a media program/study and they were never to take another media class, it would be a shame to have missed that opportunity to instill some intellectual capacity to understand the message, sender and receiver in that student.

Anyone can create media. Anyone can watch media. Everyone should be able to distill media. Everyone should be capable of intellectually layering messages into their production. Everyone should be able to critique Bill Maher and Michael Savage to understand what forces are being used to punch their ideologies home to the audience. Perhaps we should be teaching (media and) media theory aggressively in high schools?

This information age, as Frank Webster says, is just an extension of what we already have. Like TV after radio, the internet will not kill the TV. The world will change but in very small ways unlike how some "talking heads" would want us believe. The tools are just tools and they will change somewhat over the years. The theory is the theory and will probably change less because it doesn't need to, and it doesn't sell products.

Lievrouw, L. A. & Livingstone, S. (Ed.s) (2008). The Handbook of New Media. Sage: London

Webster, F. (2008). The information society revisited. Chapter 22.