Amazing media audience defines itself and its role

(one in a series of Strictly Opinion posts)

In June of 2006 Jay Rosen (journalism professor at NYU) punched out a blog piece for The Huffington Post under the title “The People Formerly Known as the Audience”  originally aired on his own blog PressThink, which took  Dan Gillmor’s (Director, Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at ASU) “former audience” idea from the book We the Media and punctuated the point.

It includes clenched fist verbiage. Those in the forefront of a revolution often need to express a point with an exclamation point. Now that a lot of the dust has settled – and the point itself has been settled – there can be no real question in February of 2010 that media communication needs to be a two-way street, irrespective of who initiates that communication, it seems appropriate to invite consideration of the basis for relationship/interaction models for now and the future .

The movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind  demonstrates that music is quite literally a universal form of communication. With this in mind, I want to give some examples from the world of music to make a point about media communication and “audience” participation.

I have a passion for music, in most all its myriad forms, from tabla (type of drums played in India, more about these later) to banjo, from classical harp to jazz flugelhorn. In my youth I was very immersed in the American folk music revival of the time. Later I was part of a singing group called “The Evening’s Entertainment”  with gigs ranging from charity events to nursing homes (not the big time to be sure but rewarding nonetheless). As a singer/songwriter I sent a demo tape into the great Nashville vortex never to be heard again.  I have been on  the stage and in the stands and it is from this perspective that I want to review the proceedings.

Speaking of folk music, when Pete Seeger, the folk music/activist icon “took” the stage, he never for a moment construed his goal as – be quiet and listen vis-a-vis those who sat or stood before him; his modus operandi has always been – get everybody singin’ – his intent is to ensure that everyone in the hall/on the shoreline, wherever, participates in the moment, creating a collective “experience” which by its very nature moves mind and emotion. This isn’t a just found “theory of practice”, it is an approach that comes naturally to a natural-born communicator who has been around the horn.  The idea of participation of this sort is nothing new.

Many “primitive” types of music involve “call and response” in which one participant initiates a musical statement and this is answered by other participants. This has evolved into very sophisticated forms – but it all relates back to this basic one. There is the traditional jazz ensemble in which each instrument takes a turn with a lead solo of specified length, improvising – everyone knows the “changes” (the chord progressions and structures for a particular piece) – and  “working around” the melody produces sometimes very innovative and novel results. In classical music, somewhat the same process is achieved through “variations on a theme”.

This musical interlude has been presented to show that, just as in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind  an optimal way to generate communication – given varying circumstances and the desired outcome -can be achieved when there is a sincere motivation and commitment to do so.

What is touted as new  is the application of these musically common approaches to another form of communication – but everybody is not in fact always equal in the endeavor. There are Andrea Bocelli moments in the world of journalism for instance, which warrant just “listening to”. To suggest we are all in this together is fine, but sometimes we – the people formerly known as the audience – can contribute most effectively by just clapping our hands in time to the music. The term “audience” is not yet ready to be relegated to the archaic. The audience defines itself and its role. An audience, as such, can be very much involved in any given instance. The performer  requires an audience as much as the other way around – if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This is a well-known philosophical inquiry and applies in this case. Speaking of philosophy,  there is another important concept that bears on the  nature of participants and communication, that springs from this discipline.  For Martin Buber the eminent philosopher, the idea of “dialogue” is an essential building block of community, and involves communication in which relationship and connection are achieved between the participants. It involves having regard for both self and the other. It is the difference between talking with someone and talking to someone.

Back to the tabla drums of India as mentioned earlier. The two tabla drums are played in combination to produce very complex rhythmic and melodic patterns which are steeped in long-standing tradition, and passed on from tabla master to disciple. (tabla example). Each of the two drums produces its own unique set of sounds and played together the blending of these sounds is equally unique. The tabla drums are a metaphor for any form of what might be termed interconnected communication, including media communication as it is evolving. This concept of interconnected communication stems from collaborative method theory which provides, along with the concepts of music and dialogue referred to here , an excellent basis for considering what is possible with media. In the end, the goal is that each “actor” brings their own value to the final result produced by the interconnection. Bravo!

 

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Timing isn’t everything

Posts on this blog often deal with the news of the day, but not necessarily on the day it’s news. First, a reminder as to why a blog devoted to all things related to effective communication would spend time – at any time – addressing current events. It is because “culture” and “communication” are inextricably connected as I wrote in a previous post –https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/22/culture-and-communications/.

I stated there, “I endeavor to address the matter undertaken from a communications perspective.” So, most of the time, I take the time to analyze the news story involved to ferret out its implications and meaning from this point of view.

For example, since my intent was to consider the communications aspects  beyond the storyline itself relating to the comments of President Obama in connection with the Gates arrest incident, (see previous post titled: “President Obama and language used stupidly”) the post I finally issued was days after the nationally televised press conference at which the comments were made. Time needed to pass to let the public and media reaction occur and to assess the consequential happenings.

I am not looking to be first, I am looking to be insightful, to help shed some light on what is happening, by trying to interpret what has occurred focusing particularly on that area – communication “effect-iveness” – which constitutes the reason this blog exists.

Now this approach is not popular in today’s frenzied 24/7 cable news cycle. Our “news” must be New, with a capital “N”; we have been encouraged to automatically conclude that the more timely a published item – whether in the blogosphere or the traditional media –  the better it must be; we identify the actual number of minutes since a post, a comment, a news item has been issued, assuming that if it’s “old” it must be stale (what about fine wine?) – and we do indeed measure “old news” in minutes nowadays. There is no allowance for or acceptance of  time for reflection, and so much of what starts out as thoughtful often turns out to be shooting from the hip, and later gets recanted or revised. There is definitely a call for quick assessment, but there is most definitely an urgent call for some careful consideration.

This post is a statement of position on the matter of timeliness. I pledge that this blog will treat many of the important issues occurring in our midst as they arise in a manner befitting the portfolio of this blog and therefore, by definition, not necessarily when they arise, the better to see the forest in spite of the trees.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/29/timing-isnt-everything/

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Iran’s eyewitnesses not “citizen” journalists

I have been considering the issue of elevating eyewitness reports – on Twitter – or elsewhere, to the level of citizen journalism. In fact, I have been doing extensive evaluation of this matter as the “phenomenon” occurring during the recent protests of the election in Iran has been generally hailed as technology advancing democracy. Thanks to cell phones and Twitter, citizens can provide “information” to a waiting world, no matter how hard a particular regime tries to suppress what may be taking place.

In theory, this is a good thing. It would mean that no government is able to hide behind a technology “blackout” which it might try to impose; and indeed in Iran, such was and is being attempted by the powers that be. Internet access has been successfully curtailed to strangle the flow of information in and out of the country. But the Supreme Leader did not reckon with the ability of great numbers of tweets to reach eager readers throughout the world, or cell phone photos and videos either.

This is all justifiably to be recognized as a step forward for humankind to be sure.  But, to convert eyewitness reports – which is what we are truly dealing with – into what has been dubbed  “citizen journalism” is a leap not to be taken lightly.

First, the authenticity of any given set of data, whether transmitted in words or pictures, is not finally subject to thorough verification. There is no standard under which the “reporting” is undertaken; normal professional reporting dictates corroboration through at least two separate sources for any bit of information to be considered credible and accepted for public airing. There is no oversight, or editorial scrutiny; in point of fact, one can question the source and origin of many of the tweets represented to be from Iran.

So what we have are eyewitness reports – an element often used by police and journalists in helping to piece together an incident or event; while a truly remarkable outpouring of verbiage and pictorial documentation, which certainly by its sheer volume and commonality of content, renders a “picture” of a government using totally heinous means to subdue an uprising over a questionable election, to raise these sincerely heroic efforts to get the word out to the world to the level of journalism is to reach too far and in the process to lower the bar for fact.

I have previously called attention to related matters in  prior posts which addressed the important concept of “truthiness” (see tag cloud). Truth, is not just “true enough”. The measure must be the strictest yardstick.

So while not diminishing the accomplishment of “the people” in sweeping away the “veil” attempted to cover the atrocities committed in the name of civil obedience through the use of new media and new technology, let’s not overreach, that would be to diminish the work of journalists throughout history who have indeed often risked their very lives to report the facts!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/15/irans-eyewitnesses-not-citizen-journalists/

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The Gypsy Kings and Dr. Seuss

The Gypsy Kings is one of my favorite musical groups. They perform rumba flamenco,  a musical form indigenous to the Catalan region of northeastern Spain and southwestern France.  Never heard of them you say? Well, they have a wide audience alright, (selling over 18 million albums) but in a sea of such expanse as THE GLOBAL ECONOMY how does one define “wide”? One definition, “Large in scope” (from the Wiktionary entry: “wide”), leads on to another – what do they mean by “large”, and so on ad infinitum.

Which brings me to Dr. Seuss, who used a pseudonym by the way,  just like some in the online new media of today. His real name of course, Theodor Seuss Geisel. Of his many wonderful children’s books, the one on point for this occasion is: Horton Hears a Who! For those unfamiliar with the story, I refer you to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horton_Hears_a_Who!

Basically, Horton, an endearing elephant in the jungle, seems the only one capable of hearing the inhabitants of the city “Who-ville”  who live on a tiny planet comprised of a speck of dust. For the purpose of this post the important point to note is that: “In the end it is a ‘very small shirker named JoJo’ whose final addition to the volume creates enough lift for the jungle to hear the sound, thus reinforcing the moral of  ‘a person’s a person, no matter how small’.”

So now, let’s cite some stats. Technorati, the be all – end all for blog info tracks around 112 million blogs at this point (from “The History of Blogs” in The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging)! So how can any blog ever hope to have an impact, let alone an audience? Which brings us to audience profiling. Who in “Who-ville” is the blog really trying to reach? That answer defines the “universe” (size, total number) of the intended audience, which may very well turn out to be only a handful. So evaluating effectiveness of “reach” (a media advertising term which in essence tries to quantify by numbers and/or percentage how many readers/visitors from the intended audience any particular blog in this case is actually attracting) is the important consideration.

The Complete Guide to Blogging states:  “There may be 112 million blogs in the blogosphere, but only 7.4 million, Technorati tells us, have been updated in the last ninety days.” So close to 94% of the blogs out there are essentially dormant.  That narrows things a bit!

Thus, the moral to this story is “an intended audience, effectively reached, signals success – no matter how small”.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/23/the-gypsy-kings-and-dr-seuss/

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Blogs as today’s communication bargain

Over the past weekend a number of media sources – online and off – picked up on a story which I think may have originated in Chicago, my hometown, on Friday the thirteenth no less. We won’t call it “Black Friday” in this instance, instead we’ll call it “Red Hot” Friday. The basic point of all these pieces was that the hot dog is making a comeback in these hard times; it is construed as the “perfect recession food” Hot dog sales are “red hot” according to the site “Serious Eats” http://www.seriouseats.com/2009/03/the-hot-dog-as-perfect-recession-food.html#comments

Now I am a serious hot dog lover myself; the Mii on my Wii is “hotdogman” for goodness sakes. The buzz about the dog reminded me that this is the time of the little guy, the bargain. I pass up the fancy car wash with the waiting room sporting a flat panel TV in favor of one tied in with a gas station where I get pretty much the same hand wash for about half the price.

Blogs are in a way the bargains of today’s world of communications. The “hot dog article” posted at Chicago Public Radio http://www.wbez.org/Content.aspx?audioID=32792

references the opinion of Darren Tristano an executive vice president at Technomic Incorporated, a food industry research firm: “He says hotdog stands are set to capitalize on food trends-they’re cheap, the food is fresh, customizable, portable, and he says Chicago hot dogs taste really good. All of which makes them a strong contender for a great recession meal.” Just exchange the words “Chicago hot dogs” for the words “well prepared blogs” and I think you’ll see the attributes listed are comparable. The recipe for “well prepared blogs” will be given in a later post.

 

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/19/back-at-the-same-old-stand/

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Girl Scouts ban use of internet to sell cookies

A seemingly innocuous AP piece is being picked up by a number of newspapers around the country. It hit me like a ton of bricks. So I did a little further checking online, and sure enough it is true. Newsweek is my source and I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of its report. http://www.newsweek.com/id/188714?from=rss

Girl Scouts of the USA does not allow the use of the internet to sell its “got-to-have-them” cookies! This exposé comes on the heels of the welcome news that the Vatican has awakened to the value of the internet (See my recent post on this matter). Kurt Soller’s article states the key point to be made about this whole imbroglio:

“…the group’s digital strategy seems confused and behind the times.”

The Girl Scouts organization purports to offer the largest program to teach entrepreneurship to young girls and yet it eschews e-commerce. Seems kind of like an oxymoron to me (ox-y-mo-ron) with emphasis on the last two syllables!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/15/girl-scouts-ban-use-of-internet-to-sell-cookies/

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Vatican gets prodded into New Media age

An interesting piece in the traditional media – namely the New York Times – appeared today: Rachel Donadio’s aptly titled article, “Pope Admits Online News Can Provide Infallible Aid”. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/world/europe/13pope.html?_r=1 

The report contains quotes from the Vatican’s letter regarding the very controversial matter of the decision to revoke the excommunication of four bishops, including this excerpt:

“I have been told that consulting the information available on the Internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on,” Benedict wrote. “I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news.”

 

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/13/vatican-gets-prodded-into-new-media-age/

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