Monday, November 9, 2009


I will keep this blog as long as I must, but you should know this blog has moved to globalized scholar.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

raw footage of iranian protests

I wrote this in response to some of the raw footage coming in about iranian protests at the end of june. i encougage comments.

Okay, so clearly I am facscinated by this citizen journalism thing. I went to YouTube yesterday, and YouTube is giving prominence to specific channels, especially those promising a glimpse into the Iran protests. One of these channels was Citizen Tube; check it out. NPR today, as I've learned from NPR's feed, is also giving prominence to videos like this, as well. NPR's headline "This just in...If you dare to watch" caught my attention.

So click over to YouTube, to see if I can find the video. The initial video was shot from a cell phone, which you might have learned from my feed yesterday, is a function many Iranians can use. I watched a couple of them. Some of the videos simply show raw footage, and some of the videos have been edited. This video, for instance, has a distinct message that plays off of the emotions we feel when we see this young lady lying in the street.

I went back to NPR to read the commentary about the video, written byAvie Schneider. Her commentary explains the video has gone viral, spreading across the Internet through social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And I saw evidence of this. Some of those videos have been up for only a few days and have upwards of 60,000 hits. The number does not surprise me at all.

When conflicts such as this one in Iran occur, information coming from the country seems suspect. The government clamps down, journalists might or might not have access to reliable information, and we must attempt to understand situations like this with what we have. When a video of events such as this one pops up, then people want to see it, especially if it reconfirms what we already know about the Iranian government and even if it carries a caveat or warning about how authentic the video might be.

Schneider states this a couple of paragraphs into her commentary. We know nothing about this video. But she tells the reader to forget what we know about politics and Iran. She segways into a celebratory description of new technology and the changing habits of readers that have brought about this new citizen journalism.

"So where does that leave us?" She asks."Thanks to readers' and viewers' changing habits and competition from the Internet, the gatekeeping roles of print and broadcast journalism have been redefined. They are no longer the sole arbiters of what's proper for the masses to read, see and hear."

I agree. What a marvelous thing! But I think we should also remain mindful that whether corporate, freelance, or citizen - whichever modifier you choose - journalists help shape our understanding of the world. To do this, they must place information in context. I'm not sure the rules of the games have changed as much as it's simply become more difficult to assess information.

Jay Rosen has a clear definition of the citizen journalist. But again, there is an emphasis on employing tools and informing the audience. If I walk away knowing no more than when I began, I'm not sure I would call you a citizen journalist.

Oddly, I'm not sure my opinion on the matter is that important. People will continue uploading information to the Internet. My concern is how we use that information. Yes, Schneider compares the video in Iran to the Zapruder video of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I'm not sure the comparison is apt. In fact, something completely different came to mind, the testimony provided to Congress about Iraqi atrocities toward Kuwaitis that eventually paved the way for the first Gulf War.

Raw footage, like all information, can be manipulated and distorted. The only thing this viral event reconfirms for me is that people love to gawk at tragedy. Much more is needed for us to understand, together, what that tragedy might mean.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What point am I at?

The semester's off to a helluva start. I'm still taking one class, a journalism history class that I felt important to have. My relationship with the professor, I feel, is often tenuous because of my writing. It's not that my writing is bad all of the time. But I feel since this excursion into graduate work began, I haven't been writing as well as I could. I'm working on it. Compounded by my vertigo about my writing - which this professor has suggested is problematic because this is my third year and certainly I should have improved - I am also reading a lot of material for other projects.

One of these projects is an ongoing ethnography at two local newspapers. I am working with a professor to flesh out the project that began this past fall. I am also reading from a list of readings with her, for my comprehensive exams at the end of April. I have read some of the books. I grew fascinated with George Marcus in the fall, after reading most of Ethnography Through Thick and Thin. The professor suggested before the holiday break to also read a journal article by Patrick Murphy and Marwan Kraidy. I did read the article, but felt I needed to read more of Clifford Geertz to understand what Kraidy and Patrick are driving at. I'm almost finished with the first part of Local Knowledge, and will hopefully sit down this weekend to begin fleshing out my outline for the professor's reading list. (Not her suggestion, but my own idea, to help organize the information).

I hope partially to gain some understanding of the debate on positionality. Marcus, in the aforementioned book, talks a great deal about multi-sited ethnography. At first, and I will be honest because it was my first adventure into ethnographic research, I'm not sure what he meant. I felt like it was similar to what Kraidy talked about in his book, Hybridity; he explains the concept as "critical transculturalism." Kraidy's work, combined with some Manuel Castells and Nestor Garcia Canclini's works, provided the basis that I needed to break away from the traditional view of cultural imperialism. We all have agency, in varying degrees, and we aren't just subject to subjugation simply because we engage in cultural exchanges.

So we have Paper "X" and Paper "Y" in a large Northeastern American city. The journalists feel the ground moving beneath their feet. The ownership is experiencing financial difficulties, as presumably many companies are. But the newspaper organization, if not part of a larger sprawling media empire, is experience extraordinary difficulties in the face of shifts in readership, technology, and global flows of information. They have competition, readerships have options, and as Henry Jenkins so eloquently points out, none of these companies has determined the best way to offer content across multiple platforms to make as much money as they would like. As one of my students pointed out on Thursday (from the mouths of babes), they are making plenty of money - just not as much as they want.

These journalists are like journalists around the world. They have ideas and theories about how they do their jobs, why they do their jobs, and what role that job plays in the larger society. But if you look at surveys, like the Freedom of the Press survey by Freedom House or the Media Sustainability survey by IREX, you might see what I see. While these surveys have utility, their underlying assumptions are buttressed by Western notions of government, economy, and media operation. Can we use these surveys to truly understand what occurs outside of the United States? What about nations whose development does not map onto our own? I avoid or sidestep the entire controversy about the words, "developing", "underdeveloped", etc.

Multi-sited ethnography seemed to be a great thing. And it just dropped into my lap. Although the literature that I read was clear, I was still unclear about several things. As a white American woman, can I effectively research in Africa? Can I be fair? Will I impose erroneous ideas onto people who might not even want me there? These are all questions that seem especially pertinent now, given the financial ripples felt globally.

I went to my professor, and I explained these ideas. And she explained to me what I needed to read. And that understanding my positionality wasn't just about calling myself out and being transparent. It seems to also include my voice as a researcher, understanding my underlying assumptions and motivations for research, and laying my cards on the table. Additionally, I need to prepare myself for the inevitability that people will criticize, question, and maybe cajole. "Okay," I think to myself as she's talking, "now I'm a little worried." But she did it, and she's incredibly strong and intelligent. She's also very honest about her journey, her own doubts, and her own struggles to find her place. This information helps. I have an anchor and not necessarily adrift.

I hope to understand more of these readings soon. Having anecdotes in my life that provide context for these epistemological and methodological issues helps. I will give one example, to wrap up this tremendously long post. As I sat grading papers, I had one paper that required a decision. It was not that I wished to scold the student for some of the information. If I were more hard-nosed, I guess I could rip him on his wording; some might take affront to what he had written. I simply wanted to call his attention to what he had written, and ask him to reflect upon the representation created by his choice of words. When a colleague walked by, I ask her impressions. She gave me a stock answer, as I knew she probably would. The kid is a frat boy, and she indicated that he probably wouldn't care what I had to say.

Her point was poignant, but duly noted. It didn't bother me as much as what she said next. "Yea," she said, "I can't seem to get my students to write objectively either." I think she felt me wince, though I'm not sure if it was visible to her. I really had to sit with that idea, objectivity, to understand why I winced like I did. I think it's because I find her statement more a reflection of herself than of her students. I also found it reductive and intellectually dishonest. By reductive I mean the interactions, purposes, and results involved in teaching are truly complex. To reduce the process by criticizing students for not fitting our mold, and in such simplistic ideas, well, it's reductive. And intellectually dishonest to divorce yourself from the educational process altogether. They haven't done what I want; I'm not getting the results that I think I should get. It has nothing to do with me. Dishonest.

Perhaps it's because I'm reading these materials on positionality and have such strong opinions about my classes and their being student-centered. I teach two sections of persuasive writing, so when the word objective is thrown into a conversation, I begin to wonder what's going on in other classrooms. I also believe by not engaging in self-reflection, we will continue to reinforce a power structure that is truly slow to change. These students are already carving the paths for their children's children, in using technology, their exposure to different things, and their access to information. They understand more than sometimes we give them credit for.

Back to objective because it all hinges on what you mean by that word. If she means that students should maintain a distance between themselves and the issues that they feel are important, well, I wholeheartedly disagree. Did she mean that the students need to take a more vigorous approach to issues, weighing carefully their claims, their goals, and other perspectives? If so, then this perspective makes more sense. But only insofar as you have taken the time to explain to the students what you expect, have guided them through a process of self-discovery, and assessed their ability to meet the requirements.

But it goes further than that. In our complaints about students, we convert our students into others. We preclude them from participation in the process by ranting and raving about their inadequacies. I am no less guilty of this than others. And even though some of these students throw me curve balls that I never could have anticipated when making the syllabus for class, most of them work hard to improve. These students are anything but inadequate. They are truly complex beings born into a world that is NOTHING like previous generations. They operate within this sprawling digital network that boggles my mind sometimes. They have thoughts and feelings, and more often than not, have been lulled into a deep sleep by their respective school systems. Many want to continue with the habits of the high school English class, and are quite jolted when I challenge those notions.

All this writing to say this: It occurs to me that is just as important to recognize the power differentials in my own life as I try to untangle the research in the future. In many cases, I am perched atop, squashed beneath, or squeezed inbetween. The true talent, then, comes from using these various perspectives to draw parallels with others around me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

MIT here I come!

school has started, and already i've experienced a number of issues. i have one writing class in a computer lab and the other class is simply in a technology "smart room". as a friend of mine said today, "ah, the problems of the first world." ironic given the location of Temple University. i've been working diligently on my reading lists for my comprehensive exams, and trying to find time to continue working on the ethnographic study that i began last semester.

in the midst of all this, i'm anxiously anticipating word regarding the conferences that i hope to attend. the current tally is as follows: international communication association no, humanitarian media foundation don't know, media in transition at MIT yes, and finally future of journalism in the uk don't know. and i'm not finished yet because i would like to submit to AEJMC. i'm excited and scared by the MIT conference. it seems like a good place to be. one of the organizers, i believe, is henry jenkins. for those who have read his work on convergence culture, if you're a fan, well, you're probably excited for me. for those who have not read his work on convergence culture, you should. not my area but really exciting to read.

exciting, of course, from a geeky perspective.

following this semester, i will know more about journalism, ethnography, political economy, african media, and kenya than i ever hoped to know. and i will be well on my way to forging my dissertation proposal. this adventure seems like the kind of journey where i must learn to go with the flow. i'm still just neurotic enough to drive my profs crazy when i continually check on their progress - something which i think should be the other way around. i'm still anxious enough to worry myself senseless because i really have no idea how to get myself over to kenya. or africa. i have no idea how to get myself to canada, and that's not really far away. and i'm overzealous enough to think that trying to read half of my reading list for one subject area is a good idea.

yes, i must learn to pace myself.

which is never easy for me to do.

in the end i'm sure it will be fine. i had no idea in 2006 how to get myself to philadelphia. but i'm here. i had no idea how to get myself through the first semester, and i'm finishing my coursework. we work it out, as i tell my students, many of whom are worried about the job market. i reply in kind by asking if they had considered graduate school or backpacking across europe. both seemed to work for most of my friends. even with the economy and uncertainty, i consider myself lucky. and i really can't complain. no matter what happens to the economy, people will always need media, and in that respect, i will always have a job.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

long time

...i hate when i leave off and don't pick up until a couple months later. it was an interesting semester. rest assured if you ever have any doubts about your writing, then an advanced degree might or might not be the place to work those doubts out. given the nature of our work as scholars, well, sometimes under deadline and grading papers, ideas get tangled in your head. or at least in mine.

so i struggled with my writing. i struggled with learning and using a couple of new methodologies. i never thought a couple of years ago that i would be in a newspaper doing ethnography. not that i doubted my ability, per se. but because i never gave it much thought. i used survey research for my thesis, and i figured that i would be confined to statistics for the rest of my life. when i looked into programs, i wanted to find programs that could teach me both quantitative and qualitative methods. thankfully i found one.

when i began the semester, i wasn't sure what i would study at these newspapers. i wish i could divulge the names, but given the nature of the research, i cannot. i wanted to understand how journalists at both papers thought about their jobs, especially given the tremendous changes in American journalism. while i plan to continue the study into the spring, i found some interesting results. i will write about those soon.

i have also managed to finish my first discourse analysis. for both studies, i argue that journalists belong to an interpretive community. Barbie Zelizer first proposed the idea, and borrowed it from literary criticism. it became an interesting perspective to analyze what the journalistic community said about relationships among editors and owners. journalism trade publications, which were set up as a form of criticism, were not necessarily critical. i think it requires more study, but the experience was interesting.

i am currently getting ready for my courses. i finished my coursework last semester, but i have opted to take a journalism history class. i will also continue the ethnography of the two local papers; i hope to apply for a grant to finish the project. i am also learning about political economy. i will take my comps at the end of the semester, and frankly, i can't wait for the exams to be over.

either way, i am working toward understanding journalism in a globalized world. my interest in africa has only grown; while i had hoped to work in the democratic republic of congo, my inability to speak french stiffled that hope. so i have set my focus on kenya. my interest primarily rests on one primary question: what do journalists think about their profession? from there, a number of questions arise, including how well do american values work in a post-colonial, developing country?

i believe that we might share universal principles. but how those principles are set in motion with practice might be completely different. garcia canclini's view of hybrid culture as "decentered and multidetermined" is useful. i struggled with traditional communications theorists who argued that power should be viewed as vertical and hierarchical. i am excited to unpack these ideas. i believe the next semester will be incredible as my research interests continue to become more clear.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Word to the Wise

Just as a special word to those visiting my blog from search engines. While I do not mention photo credits on my blog, you only need to click the picture to find the original source. This technique seems much more effective than droning on about other peoples' work. Happy Hunting.

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Some thoughts on American journalism

These are some responses to the readings in my critical perspectives of journalism class. I would love some feedback. I realize these thoughts might seem incomplete or underdeveloped, but the length requirement was four to five pages.

As the press in the United States has changed and grown, its role and its characteristics have been re-imagined from time to time. The readings for this week highlight major conceptions about the press’s existence through history, its role as arbiter and mediator between the public and its government, as well as various perspectives on the tone and tenor of its purpose. Some of these essays address the current media ecology with scant attention to the global picture and its implications for American journalism; some of these essays, such as McComb’s rehashing of agenda-setting, fail to account for these issues entirely. Trade liberalization, technological advance, erosion of public institutions, and the growing power of transnational corporations have changed our relationship with the world. Overall, commercialization enabled the growth of professionalism in American journalism, providing social space for the role and function to change and expand. However, the tension between commercialization and professionalism remain at odds, with commercialization overpowering professionalism within journalism. Journalism’s role in American society needs revision, given the current media landscape as well as changes globally.
Schudson and Tifft indicate with their essay that commercialization, which is essentially freedom of ownership, has safeguarded and promoted the exchange of information, and became an integral part of the press in political life. Over the years, journalism’s role begins to take on meanings in American society, as journalists respond to their industry and the world around them. Schudson and Tifft point out the adversarial culture adopted by the press following Watergate and Vietnam, as well as the culture of objectivity that began as aspiration and turned eventually into “ideology”. The commercial aspect of the press was adopted by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and was used to illustrate how the merit of ideas can be adopted or rejected (Schmul & Picard. As Holmes wrote: “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market” (p. 144).
Commercialization and professionalization have come to a head, and as newspapers have been absorbed into larger media companies, whose primary objective is to make money, journalism’s role in America’s democracy has begun to wane. If lapses in coverage and ethical breeches fail to convey the severity of the problem, then we should turn our attention lack of attention that the average American devotes to issues related to politics. By why are these issues so important?
Each of these essays alluded to a larger function that has grown over the years: its function to keep people in the know about their government. It is this conceptualization of the press should give us cause to pause and evaluate the journalism’s job at certain points in history. It is also this idea that required scholars and journalists to assess who has participated in the marketplace of ideas. The press’s power, while its degree of effect is a matter of contention, is seen in its ability to set the public agenda (McCombs). However, agenda setting only accounts for media influence on the public agenda but fails to address a more pervasive trend. Increasingly those in power find ways to manipulate or bypass the press completely. Bush’s executive order to create the Office of Homeland Security, which subsequently led to the largest government reorganization since Truman, occurred with little discussion in the media. The need for assessment and revision of American journalism is not farfetched.
Changes in social fabric, especially in media landscape, have contributed to changes in its role and function. As indicated earlier, Schudson and Tifft indicate a number of ways in which journalism grew into a profession. The perspectives of journalism are far from uniform. Zelizer begins by using the “frame of mind” (p. 66) explanation of journalism but eventually concludes the journalist should be one who can step outside of himself or herself to see events in a different light (p. 77). One of the most contentious roles resides in the press’s role as watchdog. As Bennett and Serrin argue, watchdog journalists scrutinize, document, investigate, and relate matters of public concern (p. 169). While they offer ways to strengthen the watchdog role as a time when the press is “embattled”, they indicate in their essay not all journalists engage in these activities. Even if journalists do not engage in investigative journalism, Patterson and Seib argue the journalists must do more to “encourage citizens to think about what they are seeing and hearing” (p. 199). Thorson argues news use indicates strongly positive attitudes toward civic engagement, and education still remains a strong indicator of news use. However, young Americans have disengaged on many levels.
These roles are not embraced by all of journalism’s professionals, and as Patterson and Seib illustrate, journalism must compete with numerous sources of information. Credibility and reliability then becomes suspect because none of us really know how to filter and evaluate the thousands of sources of information on the Web. If the marketplace is an apt metaphor for ideas, then we should conceptualize it now as the dusty streets of Mumbai, where noisy merchants compete for attention, not as a place that follows Smith’s idea of market economics. It is a place where finding useful items requires critical and thoughtful strategy. We must think of Smith’s ideas of market economics similarly to Einstein’s re-imagination of Newton’s Law of Gravity. When the idea failed to encompass the phenomena completely, Keynes and others re-imagined the market economics to include the idea of supply and demand. The concept had not occurred to Smith because it was beyond his realm of possibility as he walked the streets of London. The metaphor is a social space that can be reworked. And journalism is just that. It is a space and like other spaces we imagine its function. Over the years its function has been re-imagined and reassessed to reflect changes in society and the media landscape. As part of the larger system, we are socialized to its function, as students, as professionals. As human beings, we make sense of it.
Changes have now dramatically altered how our world operates as well as how we experience the world. Many of these essays illustrate that we are amidst change; Schudson and Tifft wrote as their essay drew to a close that “(F)ewer Americans appeared to value the media’s role as surrogates for the public or its function as a filter through which inaccuracy, imbalance, and unfairness are sifted out” (Schudson & Tifft, p. 42). Curran also points out that many Americans turn to other organizations, institutions, or groups to facilitate mediation with the government. While Schmul and Picard end on a positive note, they do argue that “Rampant commercialization and underlying changes in the economics of media that remove incentives for many firms to make expenditures for costly and less profitable content that serves the marketplace of ideas” (p. 152).
Change is invariably part of life, especially with respect to humankind. Although the death of newspapers might well be an exaggeration, our society has changed. We experience time and space much differently than ever before. We have connectivity with one another that is much more pronounced than ever before. We think of our freedom not only in terms of free will but with respect to fast food, brand names, and cell phone usage. We have more information about most places around the globe, but we have rarely think about WHAT WE ACTUALLY KNOW about these places. We are consistently bombarded with media messages that are incomplete and/or decontextualized.

What has happened to the nation’s news media is not complex, as the Project for Journalism Excellence suggests. At a time when America’s role abroad has taken on global proportions, the nation’s media and their global reach has receded, relying only on a few information wholesalers. At a time when global capitalism’s sway holds more weight than public institutions within the realm of the sovereign nation-state, journalism has a surprising lack of insight on how these shifts in power affect people around the globe. At a time when transparency is desperately needed, corporations have taken hold of the press. While tried and true journalists might still exist, they live in an increasingly noisy media ecology, which tailors to younger audiences who simply ignore information and news rather than trying to filter out what they need. Our demands as a society are much different.
If journalism helps us make sense of our world and by doing so enables greater participation in self-governance, then certainly the way in which we think of journalism should be re-imagined. By providing a partial and decontextualized picture of the world, it becomes difficult to discern what changes in our world might mean, particularly when they derive from something as complex as globalization. It stands to reason many journalists possess a less than adequate understanding of these processes. We cannot argue that journalism should remain the course if journalism functions as a bridge between the public and its government. If journalists provide necessary awareness about the operations of government to enable self-governance, then our role as journalists must fit within the tools necessary for citizens to person the task. However, we cannot begin to assess the media landscape and understand our place without first acknowledging fundamental shifts in how we are governed, and the powers that exist to do so, whether they are elected or not.

*All readings come from the reader, The Press. Particularly Chapters 2, 4, 7 through 12. If you haven't picked it up, by all means, buy it yourself. Don't take my word for it.

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