Category Archives: society

The medium is the message; or, the machines are taking over.

As figures for online news consumption soar, and newspaper circulations dwindle, I consider the idea that social media acted as the catalyst to get the masses involved with reading online news.

1960s popular culture Image by Nesster

1960s popular culture
Image by Nesster

In 1964 there was a growing fear in the western world. The atom bomb? L.S.D? JFK? Maybe; but in particular, perhaps echoed in the other suggestions, there was an anxiety about machines taking over and making humans redundant, at least in employment terms, although, a night spent watching 1960’s movies would suggest unemployment was the least of their worries.

The relevance of Marshall McLuhan’s well-worn enigmatic paradox of smart-arsery is arguably (in the sense that I will put the argument to anyone that will listen) more poignant now than it ever was in the days of free-love. The medium is the message, just like Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ has flattered many a media studies student, in the name of deceit; but I feel it goes a long way to describing the current state we find ourselves in.

It is the train journey that is important here, not the destination. Just like the automation McLuhan and his peers feared, could have ‘turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs’ it is not the social media platform itself, but the way humans use it. To use McLuhan’s idea; the machines, or the media or technology, are the extensions of man. That is; they only have meaning when they are understood as part of the human desire to give and receive messages – to communicate.

Image by vitalyzator

It’s about the train journey, not the platform. Social media is the transport not the destination. Image by vitalyzator

Social media has altered our relation with one another and to ourselves. It has changed the velocity, dynamics and scale of human interactions; and that is its message. ‘For the message of any medium is the change in scale or pace or pattern it introduces into human affairs.’ Just like McLuhan’s railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheels into human society, yet managed to accelerate and enlarge the scale of previous human functions and, in turn create new kinds of cities for people to live and work in; social media has not introduced anything new into human society.

Social media did not introduce digital communication, but changed the pace and scale of human interaction, and as such, quite independently of what it was created to do, dissolved the need for printed information, and in turn, lubricated the demise of the traditional press.

I know that online news was around before the rise of social media, and that newspaper circulations were dropping too; but it was when the content started to fit around the way humans were consuming information that it really took off.  Sharing news through Twitter and Facebook has become easy to do – and we do it, a lot.

It’s as if the legitimacy of the press has been revitalised through the new ways we share and use it. Alistair Campbell wrote this last week:

“Here is the thing. People do not trust politicians like they used to. They don’t trust the media to tell the truth like they used to. They don’t trust banks or brands. So who do we trust? We trust each other.”

And that is my point. If we all value each others’ opinion more than the media, then the stories from the media will gain cultural value as they pass through us, as conduits for the traditional news story.

Is second hand news more valuable to us than stories direct from the news conglomerates?

Maybe, we trust each other to act as filters to hold back anything biased or challenging to our view of the world.

Lets take The Sun. As I write this the latest ABC figures show that, although their daily circulation remains at a healthy 2.2 million, its year-on-year change is down 13% compared to the online figure of +16%; The Guardian has almost 83 million monthly browsers, a 37% rise year-on-year. The Daily Mail‘s circulation is 1,787,577, down7.5%, where the Mail online attracts an average of 8.2 million daily browsers at a +47% year-on-year change; I could go on.

We do find it humorous to think of our silly descendants; so scared of technology and ignorant of change that they thought machines would take over their jobs. But maybe we should learn to take heed.

McLuhan warned us that it was the medium that was the message. He told us that the message was how a medium affects humans, and social media has affected the ways we choose to consume news. Social media has dissolved traditional journalism – machines have taken over after all!

 

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When sports journalists get political: the sensational case of Paolo Di Canio

Why let a proper news story get in the way of a good headline? Sensationalism in the press has long been a significant journalistic technique and recognised as a tried and tested tactic to sell copies of a newspaper. But does this compulsion to sensationalise reporting of events compromise the integrity of journalism?

The case of Paolo Di Canio

Unveiled as Sunderland manager

Unveiled as Sunderland manager

Paulo Di Canio was announced as the successor to the recently sacked Martin O’Neill on Easter Monday, which, in a show of calendaric rarity, also happened to be the 1st April; April Fools day. The position as Sunderland Head Coach was not Di Canio’s first managerial post; in fact it is his second in English football, following a spell in charge of Swindon Town FC.

However, unlike in 2011, this appointment has caused the media to hit the panic button on an epic scale. Where one would usually expect tributes to the former manager, mild outrage against foreign owners wielding swords of power, and questions over the tactical nuances of a top-flight rookie; all the press have concerned themselves with is alleged comments the man made 8 years ago, which he explained in his first press conference, and an official club statement as misrepresentative and out of context.

Asking the right questions

In the hours and days following the initial press conference the newspapers filled their websites, twitter feeds and front and back pages with speculation regarding the truth about the comments; the primary sources beginning and ending with Mr. Di Canio’s organised press conferences (which are standard fare at such embryonic stages of a new managers reign). The original source remains to my knowledge, un-translated and as such, unsubstantiated. The press have, however, published images of Di Canio saluting his own fans during his playing career, while at Lazio.

Di Canio celebrating with fans.

Di Canio celebrating with fans.

These pictures have become the basis for a campaign of hate, in the absence of any real investigation, and have been misrepresented as having connections to the Nazis. This is in conjunction with a dreadfully crass typecasting of several socio-political, historical parties, and a blind ignorance of the associated terminology and socio-political context.

The far right or far off the mark?

I would like to make clear that I am not condoning the actions carried out under the name of fascism in the past, but nor do I condone the actions of the press as they fail to differentiate between fascism and racially fueled hate crimes. Fascism is an ideology which is understood to mean a myriad of things to different people in various social and historical contexts.

We are talking about the comments of an elite sportsman, not a politician or academic. Why is it assumed Di Canio understands the connotations of his alleged comments, especially in a foreign cultural setting? He has clearly been instructed by the club’s press office to refuse to comment on any political issue – after all, he is a former footballer, not a political historian. How do we know for sure that everything he has read or heard outside of football isn’t understood in the paradigm of football discourse (probably the only thing he has ever known)? Refusing to deny outrageous accusations is being reported as if it were an admission of sympathising with the actions of evil by the press, and I expect more. It’s simply not good enough.

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Rhetorical Symmetry: I tweet, therefore I am.

Twitter has helped promote a democracy of ideas

Twitter has helped promote the democratisation of ideas

Twitter is the agency for the realisation of true rhetorical symmetry. It has forged a forum where the equality of ideas is nurtured and promoted, and where all participants are involved in the co-creation of shared meaning.

‘Shared meaning, a vital outcome of public relations, results when each market, audience, or public that has a stake in some matter co-creates meaning through dialogue.’ (Heath 2001)

Rhetorical symmetry is the idealistic notion that each idea contested in public has an equality of strength. It is ethical because it empowers participants to engage. It bypasses the market-like struggle for superiority, where the luxury of having the ability to speak loudest to the largest audience (the traditional media) is subverted, empowering the voices of everyone.

The outcome is favoured at the expense of the process.Photography by Matt Fowler

The outcome is favoured at the expense of the process.
Photography by Matt Fowler

The traditional media, in the days before Twitter, had the authority to be heard above any conflicting voices. Organisations with the financial means to command the process of transmission reigned superior over less powerful stakeholders.

Social media platforms have provided everyone with the resources required to become a journalist, and the audience, segmented and emancipated, are in control of where they decide to learn about news stories or where they seek new information. This shift of power has opened the door to true two-way symmetrical models of communication.

The idea of a two-way symmetrical model of communication was born at a time when it was an idealistic notion. An attempt to make the inherently unfair struggle for dialogic equality seem achievable. But this supposed utopia is now upon us.

Twitter functions as a negotiation situation for a pluralist society, providing every stakeholder with a platform to share ideas and co-create meaning through dialogue and engagement.

There is of course still a process of negotiation but the thoughtful idea is champion, not the transmission process. The better argument is superior to the stakeholder who is better at arguing, or who has access to more effective means of arguing their point of view.

The challenge for PR is how we embrace this opportunity. It will not go away and it can not be defeated; the counter argument to every argument has the potential to be in the public domain, and it is very likely it will.

It is time for the true value of public relations to be recognised and utilised. Public relations can play a vital role in the building of communities and assist in the construction of micro-societies where organisations can take part in the conversation, and engage in discursive challenges to their point of view or practices.

The days of organisations disseminating information to stakeholders on their own terms have passed. Genuine engagement is essential in the quest to gain social value, or build reputation.

Welcome to democracy, what have you got to say?

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