Category Archives: Media

Radar, giving people in the margins a digital voice

Libby Powell became a freelance journalist after winning the amateur category of the GuardianInternational Development Journalism competition in 2010. After a year though she began to feel like a fraud writing about things of which she had no experience. This led to the eventual creation of Radar. A team of journalists would train the next generation on telling their own stories. They would be given access to digital channels – mobile technology and, editorial and political decision making.

One Man and His Blog has a great post on this from a presentation by Libby Powell at Hacks/Hackers in Brighton, which is where I first read about it.  There are some fascinating points about groups of people still excluded from political decision-making and their power  to give voice to their living situations.

A link to Radar and one to One Man and His Blog.

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Noam Chomsky in conversation with journalists 1988

A very interesting transcript of a debate / discussion with journalists and Noam Chomsky about the elite media. 1988.

Who rules Bristol?

10 million people paid to vote for the 2010 X Factor final, 14.5 million people watched Britain’s Got Talent final in 2012 and the 2010 elections drew only three times as many as the latter at 45.5 million people.

A lot of people enjoy interacting when it comes to entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with being entertained, amused, numbed, distracted, unoccupied with thinking about power relations and disadvantage in the world but there’s no part of me which believes that those people are promoting democracy by voting for Pudsey the dog.

To bring this a little closer to home, because that’s where I’m heading, the Bristol mayoral election had a voting turnout of 24% with 41,032 people voting in favour of a mayor, and 35,880 voting against.

All this flashed through my mind when I read on Bristol Democracy that “the Bristol Democracy Project as a whole isn’t going to be about discussion and debate, as it looks like every organisation and their dog wants to host a debate with the candidates for Mayor on their own area of interest. These debates only ever tend to attract people already interested in the subject, whilst this project is about connecting with the people who aren’t interested in decision making in Bristol at the moment.”

This is followed up on another blog post about blogs: “So, what does any of this mean for democracy and public involvement? Well, first of all, I think it’s important that as many people as want to be encouraged to blog about Bristol. The more we talk to each other about the things we see, the better informed we will all be.”

Right.

“A healthy local media is a sign of a healthy local democracy, and blogs are an important part of local media in any area.” Bristol Democracy Project

Really?

Blog 1: Lady in Bristol – latest post is on the Travis song Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
Blog 2: What to do if you post to the wrong account on Twitter.
Blog 3: blah blah
Blog 4: a politician’s blog

There are a few more social blogs, cultural, comedy, food, and one or two by politicians. Few question our political process. Few question what will we do about power relations. Many are the equivalent of voting for Pudsey, including a lot of posts on this here blog as well.

The media is an important part of a democracy, which is why it’s sometimes called the fourth estate (alongside the judiciary, executive and legislature) because questioning our rulers is a huge part of ruling our world.

Talking about who wore what, who ate where and who listened to something or other is not part of democracy. Even freedom of speech is not an inherent part of democracy.

Questioning people who are about to gain powers over a city about what they plan to do with them is part of a democracy. It is the very thing which defines the media. So while I laud the Bristol Democracy Project for its intentions, I can’t help but think that they are very wrong with criticising the first hustings which have been organised and promoting any and all types of blogs as a sign of democracy.

And if you ever wonder whether any type of talking and sharing is part of democracy just go search for Pudsey or wait for his memoir. You won’t have to wait long.

The Bristol Council House

The Stylist magazine, weighty issues but no dieting?

There is an interview with Stylist magazine’s editor Lisa Smoraski in the Guardian and the free, printed publication is described as having hard-hitting features such as the gender pay gap and women in politics. There are no diets and it wants to talk intelligently to women.

To me, having a magazine suggest that they want to talk to women / about women intelligently when that same magazine has a title which is shallow enough to try to appeal to women by reference to their appearance, is not only an oxymoron but an insulting one at that.

I have never picked up one of these free magazines even though it is distributed in Bristol, mainly because I find it insulting that there is a female and a male set of magazines in the first place. I am surprised they don’t just make one pink and the other blue (sometimes they do). There is also the fact that I have no interest in fashion so the title Stylist does not appeal to me.

The interviewer, Emine Saner, describes some of the content as follows:

As a reader, what I like are features on often weighty issues – it has tackled the gender pay gap and the lack of women in politics – that are given enough space, alongside about the right number of pages (that is, enough but not too many) of fashion and beauty.

Smoraski, for some context on where her penchant for hard hitting and weighty features comes from, worked for Bliss straight after her Journalism degree and was also editor of Smash Hits at 25. She went on to be editor of More as well.

Check out the Stylist website now for such hard-hitting features and ‘weighty issues’ as Kate Middleton’s first public speech. I am not being entirely mean, the Middleton speech is given top banner status while some interesting writing such as ’25 kick ass female heroines’ is much further down the page.

I may start being nicer because there is also a competition for crime writing and I am working on something that fits that description. Let’s see what Stylist is all about then.

Let me know your thoughts if you have read it. Or even if you haven’t read it.

Transported: By The Army of Commuters

A few years ago, in a Political Sociology of the Modern State seminar, I remember discussing the effect of the media in a pluralist society. My point, which is not particularly original but I do stand by it, is that controlling the means of communication leads to controlling the way in which people think. What ‘Rupert Murdoch‘ can deliver to political parties, business or whomever he chooses is an army of thinkers, voters and actors. It all sounds like a bit of a conspiracy but not a problem as I am a huge fan of conspiracies.

However, let me explain a little more. Each morning when I commute to work I pass maybe a couple of hundred people who are heading in my direction. Sometimes, the majority will be reading the same newspaper – the Metro – which they pick up for free at the station. The metro is also available on the bus on the way in to work in the morning and it’s not unusual to see 20 or more people reading the same thing, same articles, same headlines, same shock horror ‘who-would-have-thought-it’ cheap, descriptive gossip. When the bus stops in town there is an older man who steps in to pick up a copy and then leaves again. It’s a very popular paper.

Occasionally I read it myself and find fascinating that, for the rest of that day, I will know the same things as other people. When my housemate and I both caught public transport to work, our conversations dwindled quite rapidly because we already knew what the other was going to say, we’d read the same things.

Imagine that on a scale of millions which the distribution of Metro papers reaches monthly these days. This is the environment in which the new Independent spin-off paper i is trying to enter.

One of the early comments on the new paper mentions how it is being ‘touted as the first “quality” newspaper launch in 25 years, it’s a slimmed down version of the Indie designed for busy, younger readers who may have never got the paper-reading habit.’ psmithjournalism.com

It’s not only younger readers who may have never picked up the habit but it’s their bite-sized, limited character, short-attention span consumption to which the paper is focusing its efforts. I picked up a copy on the first day of its launch and struggled to find anything to hold my attention. Lots of little bits and pieces (see link for a better description) and only one substantial article which I read in its entirety – Johann Hari’s condensed article on how Obama let us down. I would have preferred the longer version in the Independent.

That was only my first attempt and I’m going to try again soon as I am now armed with my five-days worth of vouchers.

I will let you know if it’s worth recruiting to this new cause which at least has some commentary and analysis, even if it’s condensed.

Data: in the eye of the beholder

A few weeks ago I was having breakfast at Primrose Cafe in Clifton. The sun was shining, the radio was on too loud, the place was crowded as usual and the conversation was almost flowing. In the midst of all this my companion made the point that there seemed to be more beautiful people in Clifton than there were, say, in Bedminster, and didn’t I think so? I looked around, and as the source of the comment was a single man, I tried to spot and remember how many young, slender, brunettes we had passed on our way.

He insisted that it wasn’t just about young women so I asked if it was related to age, are there more young people in Clifton? is it the clothes, the brushed hair, the jewelry, the make up, the colour of the skin, were there more white people? At this point he started to get a tad defensive at the suggestion that I might be calling him either shallow or racist or both. We didn’t get very far as he insisted he knew what beautiful meant and he didn’t have to explain it while I persisted with the thought that he should learn to quantify these abstract notions.

There’s always a chance that we were both somewhat wrong and right at the same time but I’ll stick to arguments that favour my own particular biases as this will be quicker.

“Nothing is considered to be beautiful by all peoples everywhere” says Desmond Morris. “Every revered object of beauty is considered ugly by someone, somewhere … There is so often the feeling that this, or that, particular form of beauty really does have some intrinsic value, some universal validity that simply must be appreciated by everyone. But the hard truth is that beauty is in the brain of the beholder and nowhere else” (pp 421-2).

Morris goes on to write of how humans are master-classifiers of information. When it comes to identifying beautiful and ugliness then he suggests that we have an internal classification and according to the properties we assign to this category we call something beautiful when it excels in those particular qualities and ugly where it doesn’t (p423).

This is where data comes into it because if we can identify characteristics it means that we can measure them and compare Bedminster and Clifton. I didn’t go ahead and measure them but I do know that when I think of people or places as beautiful or scummy or amazing or poor etc that there are plenty of biases that underline the concepts.

There are also plenty of sites which make data available on locations and which already provide categories.

Upmystreet.com is a website that uses demographic information to provide snapshots of areas. 1.4 miles separate the Royal York Crescent in Clifton from West St in Bedminster but in terms of household income, interest in current affairs and education there are vast worlds of difference.

Bedminster, West St

Family income, educated to degree level and interest in current affairs are all high in Clifton whereas in Bedminster family income and educated to degree level are medium and interest in current affairs is below medium.

I’m using demographics and upmystreet.com as examples of what data can add to meaning. There is a lot of information about data journalism at the moment and how it’s the new big thing and that can’t be a bad thing since apparently, “a lot of journalists are innumerate and a lot don’t know much about history” (CJR). What I think it comes down to is adding a meaning where facts just aren’t enough and by the way, without context, facts may be sacred by they are rarely enough.

When the Guardian advertises its credentials in promoting the West Country and suggests that Bristol featured in their [readers’] top ten UK cities in the 2009 Guardian and Observer reader Travel Awards you would probably not need help to figure out that Clifton features more than Bedminster. If you weren’t from the South West or Bristol, however, there is a fair amount of data out there that would help you figure it out and that’s the beauty of it.

Dr Laura, Made For TV? Not Quite

Dr. Laura Schlessinger has recently resigned from her US national radio program following a rant about race and in particular after her repeated use of the ‘n’ word, as such. This latest controversy which has been widely covered by the US media and by members of the UK media, such as Roy Greenslade, is not unprecedented for this tempestuous star of radio. In 1998 she was a highly paid star with a media group paying $71.5 million for her program. The program was hugely popular and successful but also, as the LA Times stated

It can also be a very unforgiving show. An undercurrent of breathtaking anger surges not far beneath the jokes and laughter. For all the chumminess and girlish teasing, there is a drum beat of invective as Schlessinger rips into people, snarling insults at often pathetically needy callers, their friends, members of their families.

In the 1990s Dr Laura targeted another group and derided “homosexuality” as “a biological error,” “deviant behavior, a dysfunctional behavior,” and proceeded to link gay men to pedophilia and child molestation.

In 1999, the popular sitcom Frasier screened an episode called Dr Nora in which a strict, fundamentalist and judgemental new radio host is given a talk show on KACL. That character, who essentially satirized the real Dr Laura, turned out to have her own problems and rushed out of her job following a confrontation with reality in the form of her mother.

In spring 2001 the Dr Laura show was cancelled. Now nearly 10 years later the host has stepped down citing that she was pursued by angry and hateful groups that want to infringe on her right to free speech. The latest protest happened after an African-American woman called the show for advice on dealing with the resentment she felt when her white husband didn’t speak out about racist comments his friends made. Dr Laura used the n-word 11 times during the conversation and told the woman that she had a “chip on [her] shoulder.” The host also added that “a lot of blacks voted for Obama” due to race and said that the caller shouldn’t “marry out of [her] race” if she didn’t “have a sense of humor.”

The full audio is available from Media Matters for America so decide for yourself about her approach. As Frasier optimistically puts it: “I mean really, people can tell the difference between constructive criticism and outright abuse”.

The critics are more likely to echo Roz’s query to Dr Nora: “what kind of vicious, judgemental, name-calling, machete mouthed bitch are you?” Luckily it no longer matters as she will no longer be tainting the airwaves. For now at least.