Towards a bright future by reinventing the past

“News has to become cheaper to produce, and cost reduction must be accompanied by a restructuring of organizational models and processes”, Bell tells us in her 2007 manifesto on the future of journalism. An obvious way to go about reducing cost in news production is by cutting on the biggest expense modern media companies have: human labor. The automation and computerization of production processes outside of media companies has been widely implemented already.

While being the biggest expense, human labor makes up the most important asset of media companies as well. It may seem daunting, therefore, that human journalists could be at risk of becoming obsolete due to AI taking over their jobs. This fear however is not entirely rational.

Let’s look at Automated Insights. This startup, founded in 2007, produced 1.5 billion automated pieces of content in 2016 alone. They provide different tools for creating automated, data-driven media. The Associated Press, among many others, uses their tools. Their spokesperson claims that the automation provided by Automated Insights does not lead to job displacement. Quite the contrary, AI helps to free up resources and time for journalists to focus on important things.

When automobiles were invented, horse coachmen feared for their jobs. The same goes for paper printing companies at the time of the invention of the personal computer. The list of examples goes on. Although reinventions that cause changes in commercial processes may be disruptive to the working environment on a small scale, new labor arises out of new opportunities. In the end, it’s very likely that the working environment will stabilize one way or another. This means that we have to consider these kinds of changes with just the right amount of scrutiny; we have to critically assess organizational restructuring while simultaneously regarding new production processes as new opportunities.

By Victor Berndsen

Word count: 300

References

Bell, Emily, C. W. Anderson, and Clay Shirky. “Post-
Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present.” Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 2 (2015): 32–123. Print.

The public space belongs to the public

McQuail seems to identify journalism as a constitutive factor to the public space in modern society (McQuail 2005, p.5). Although the author seems to attempt at defining the ways in which the media influences the public, he does not, however, provide a positive definition of the term ‘public space’, nor does McQuail explicate how journalism constitutes the public space in any way (p.20-21).

I find this statement, neither backed by empirical evidence nor by a conceptual framework of any kind, highly dubious. Moreover, we can grasp the magnitude of McQuail’s error when we turn to scholars who have put great effort into conceptualizing the public sphere. For example, Hannah Arendt. She envisions a public space where subjects debate and argue about their differing opinions. Through dialogue, the public will find common ground in the fact that what separates us, brings us together at the same time.

In this picture painted by Arendt, inspired by the Ancient Greek agora, there is no place for the journalist in a defining or constitutive sense. The public sphere would need a competent moderator at most, but the journalist does not have any specific function in the public sphere at all.

While Arendt’s ideas are hard to implement on a mass society-wide scale, we could find examples of (digital) ‘tables’ on a smaller scale (by ‘tables’ I’m referring to the metaphor used in the article). For example, Facebook is improving their services to cater to groups that provide conditions for impartial dialogues in a constructive environment.

While Arendt would applaud these developments, other thinkers like Habermas have a different opinion on the matter. This only shows the complexity of the debates surrounding concepts like the public space. Therefore we should never jump to conclusions and aim to suspend our judgments at all times.

By Victor Berndsen

Word count: 300

Literature:

McQuail, Denis. “What is Journalism? How is it Linked to Society?” Journalism and Society. London: Sage, 2005. 1-26. Print.

Fighting fire with fire

As Prenger and Deuze state in their 2016 article, public trust in the press as an institution has greatly diminished (pp. 12-13). This distrust seems to have been growing even more in recent years. While there is no doubt that countless other factors are at work here, an important catalyst for the current dwindling of public confidence in the media as a whole is obviously the birth of ‘fake news’.

The mere existence of ‘fake news’ is what makes audiences anxious and creates in them a feeling of having to approach every medium with suspicion. At least that’s how I feel. For every story could be fabricated, and any ‘fact’ could be ‘alternative’.

In the same article, Prenger and Deuze identify a specific mechanism when describing the history of television journalism. They show how certain innovations in television journalism spread across the globe, while being copied and rearticulated in every other part of the world (p. 5).

I hope the same goes for online journalism, as digital innovations could aid journalists in the battle against untrustworthiness. For example, a startup company founded by Dutch journalists and researchers made an app that helps audiences to resist and debunk ‘fake news’, in order to (hopefully) counter it completely in the future.

I’m pretty optimistic about what the future will bring when it comes to online innovations. More innovative online startups arise everyday, because of a climate that Prenger and Deuze describe as a central feature of the modern fragmented media landscape. This climate provides room for specialized niche media, often in the form of online startups (p. 13). Hopefully this will lead to more ‘anti-fake news’ initiatives and innovations alike, for the sake of the future of journalism.

Victor Berndsen

References

Deuze, M., & Prenger, M. (2016). The structural history and theory of innovation and entrepreneurialism in journalism. In Boczkowski, P.J., & Anderson, W.C., (2017) Remaking the News. London: MIT Press.

Land of the Video, Home of the Brave.

I remember vividly going to the video rental store in my hometown when I was younger. It was called Videoland. I used to love scrolling through the latest titles, taking home a VHS-tape and watch it as many times as I could before I had to hand it back in. When I got older I started visiting Videoland less and less often, and a lot of others did so as well. The video rental business collapsed, for obvious reasons, leading to the bankruptcy of the franchise in 2010.

Fast forward 7 years and Videoland is knee-deep into the video on demand business. RTL is now running Videoland with great succes; they just booked their self-proclaimed best summer ever.

When assessing market succes of cultural products, Lampel ea. (2000) point out that producers focus on subjective experiences of consumers. In particular, producers know that their cultural products have a higher chance of commercial succes when they combine familiar and novel elements. Lampel puts this principle very eloquently: ‘Consumers need familiarity to understand what they are offered, but they need novelty to enjoy it (p. 264).’

I think the managers involved in the revival of Videoland did a really great job at applying this principle in recent years. Videoland for me is the perfect example of a brand ever so familiar, even though it is constantly reinventing itself as a new product.

By Victor Berndsen

References

Lampel, Joseph, Lant, Theresa, Shamsie, Jamal.
Balancing act: learning from organizing practices in
cultural industries. Organization Science 11.3 (2000):
263-269. Print.

Subscriptions are the future

It has come to a point where it is almost undeniable that streaming services and video-on-demand providers are taking over the entertainment industry. With Spotify growing steadily each day and Apple Music hitting 30 million monthly subscribers, the ‘old’ music distributors seem to be paying the price (except for vinyl). Music streaming revenue has officially surpassed CD-sales in Belgium for the first time ever.

The same goes for the TV-industry, be it a lot slower. Online ad revenues are growing each year, but mainstream TV still owns the majority of the market. However, video-on-demand services like Netflix make their money in other ways than just from ads. Subscription-based payment models are starting to take over big markets, for example India.  And looking at all the investments these companies make, it’s obvious they are making lots of it. Is this the future of media?

Henry Jenkins asked precisely this question in his 2004 article (p.39). With great foresight he wondered how we will be paying for (online) media content in the future. He deliberates if subscription paid webcontent will be the benchmark for the future. Thirteen years later we still can’t be sure about this, but it certainly seems so.

By Victor Berndsen

References

Jenkins, H. (2004). The cultural logic of media convergence. International journal of cultural studies, 7(1), 33-43.

 

Framing Rohingya across nations: for better or for worse

The Rohingya-crisis is becoming increasingly well-known to the general public. In western media, the issue-specific frames in which this crisis is represented (Schuck & Feinholdt, p.2, De Vreese, p.54-55) are pretty similar. However, the crisis is (obviously) framed very differently in non-western media.

According to The Guardian and Al Jazeera, Rohingya are being referred to as ‘Bengalis’ in Buddhist and Birmese media. I think this is a very pressing point. By referring to Rohingya as ‘Bengalis’, Birmese media reinforce an image of Rohingya as merely stateless, illegal, unwanted refugees from Bangladesh, although Rohingya maintain they are an indigenous Myanmarese community having been around for millenia.

We find an alarming example of how Rohingya people are framed on local newssite Irawaddy. This newspaper consistently refers to Rohingya as ‘Bengalis’, or at least in the Birmese version of their website. Moreover, they published this cartoon, referring to Rohingya as ‘boat people’, an even more denegrating slur referring to Rohingya attempting to find asylum overseas in crowded boats.

De Vreese defines framing as a process in which interpretative understanding is facilitated (De Vreese, p.51). In doing so, frames are ‘alternative ways of defining issues’. For example by providing stocks of cultural and moral values, and context (p.53). Frames tend to differ cross-nationally. De Vreese calls these differences in framing ‘local or national spin’ (p.59).

De Vreese shows how cross-national differences in framing teach us something about differences between nations and cultures in a broad sense. As I have tried to show, these differences are not always innocent. When it comes to the Rohingya people, I think there is a lot  of work to do in overcoming our differences, in order to provide a lasting global solution to this humanitarian crisis.

By Victor Berndsen

References

Schuck, Andreas T, and Feinholdt, Alina. ‘News Framing Effects and Emotions’. 2015. 1-15.

De Vrees, Claes H. ‘News framing: theory and typology’. 2005. 51-62.

 

 

Surprise! It’s Trump again.

“Trump is much more deviant than Hillary and that’s why het gets more coverage”, says Adrian Roling, editor-in-chief of NOS. His statement on Trump comes down to this: news is anything that departs from social norms. Trump certainly does so more than Hillary, and, when asked about this in an interview on Trump-bias during the elections, the editor-in-chief admits to quantatively covering Trump more often than Hillary during the election period.

Harcup & O’neill (2001) add to that the element of surprise. They state that the element of surprise is, among others, a requirement news stories must generally satisfy (p.279). I think Trump coverage always meets this requirement: the man never stops surprising us. For example, the last couple of days nearly all media channels were flooded with coverage on Trump’s extravagant and outrageous comments during his UN speech.

In the end, it’s the unexpected that catches our attention everytime. We long to be surprised and flabbergasted. This sense of excitement is what compels media to cover Trump over and over again. But to what extent? How long will it take for the media to desensitize to Trump’s ever shocking statements?

Pieter ten Broeke & Britt Krabbe imply that the same has happened in The Netherlands with Wilders: he has been shouting on top of his lungs for so long that we have become completely desensitized to his message. His shock-effect has faded off.

They jump to a conclusion, or a warning one could say, that applies to Trump aswell. Desensitization to a radical message leads to silence. Silence eventually leads to normalization.

By Victor Berndsen

References

Harcup, Tony and Deirdre O’Neill. “What Is News? Galtung and Ruge revisited.” Journalism Studies 2:2 (2001): 261-280. Print

Partijdig waren het NOS Journaal en Nieuwsuur niet, maar ze hadden wel buitensporig veel aandacht voor het fenomeen Trump. 2017. De Nieuwe Reporter. 20 september 2017.

Weerwoord nodig tegen Geert Wilders. 2016. Trouw. 20 september 2017.

 

 

Editors or Algorithms

Automatization and computerization are reshaping employment globally. This is an ongoing process that for a lot of people whose job is at risk seems hard to anticipate and adapt to. For example, recent developments in technology have already given us algorithmic fashion designers. According to Boyd & Caplan algorithms actively categorize and filter content. Algorithms process user input and adapt output to specific contexts. We could argue that algorithms are now starting to take on the role of editors in online media.

If we follow this line of argument a daunting question comes to mind: how can editors specifically and journalists in general remain relevant when algorithms could be able to take over their jobs? Can we imagine a world in which the media is merely controlled by algorithms and user-input (and obviously by the few who design the algorithms)? The intuitive answer seems to be no. On the other hand, it looks like it is happening already. Food for thought (or bits for your processor, depending on whether you’re an algorithm).

Boyd, Danah, and Caplan, Roy. “Who Controls the Public Sphere in an Era of Algorithms?” Data & Society, 13 May 2016, pp. 1-19.