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!

 

Advertisements

William Safire moves on to another plane

I would hope Mr. Safire, who passed away Sunday at age 79, might appreciate the title of this piece I write in his memory (The New York Times for whom he wrote an op-ed column for 32 years preferred the word “article” for his columns, but he used the word “piece” at times himself), as he was a master punster – as well as a profound alliterator, just to name two of his laudable attributes.

As with other noted communicators, how he used language was of importance in its own right separate and apart from his subject matter, and it is how he used language, and how he attempted to advance the use of language that I praise irrespective of the topics he chose.

Language is a building material for communication, and William Safire must be considered an architect extraordinaire of and for language.

While the accomplishments of his career are certainly impressive in themselves – from the “kitchen debate” he has been associated with orchestrating between Nixon and Khrushchev in 1959 to the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1978 to the Presidential Medal for Freedom in 2006, with over 25 books including 4 novels, and as he calculated it some 6 million words to his credit, it is the New York Times Magazine column “On Language” , which must be considered synonymous with his name.

Safire suggests (apocryphally or not) that “On Language” got its start in 1979 because the Times executive editor,  A. M. Rosenthal, needed a topical column that would work in the Times Magazine which had back then a 10 day publishing lag. To borrow from the idiom, The press grinds slow but exceedingly fine. From that pragmatic beginning until his last “On Language” column just earlier this month, with several compendiums along the way, William Safire pointed out how language is used and should be used. He has enlightened and enlivened the debate. Some say he was “old school”, yet one of his most strongly held views was regarding the importance of openness to change, to new beginnings – “Never Retire” he urged in one of the last of his op-ed columns. In fact, his body of work will continue to be employed in the interest of language, and that’s as it should be, afterall, he was the self-described language maven – noun: an expert or connoisseur of language.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/09/28/william-safire-moves-on-to-another-plane/

Bookmark and Share

Pulitzer Prize, what’s it all about anyway?

At 3:00 p.m. , Monday, April 20, at Columbia University the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winners and nominated finalists were announced. In journalism, there are 14 separate categories of the award. They are: Public Service; Breaking News Reporting; Investigative Reporting; Explanatory Reporting; Local Reporting; National Reporting; International Reporting; Feature Writing; Commentary; Criticism; Editorial Writing; Editorial Cartooning; Breaking News Photography; and, Feature Photography.

The intent of the Pulitzer prize is to honor excellence in journalism and the arts. Besides the journalism awards there are prizes in Biography or Autobiography; Fiction; Drama; History; Poetry; General Non-Fiction; and a Pulitzer Prize for Music. Pulitzer originally specified only four awards in journalism, four in letters and drama, one for education, and four traveling scholarships.  the prizes now include 21 separate categories.

The awards were originated through the will of Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911). Pulitzer, who had come up through the journalistic ranks to prominence in newspaper publishing, and who, in his “newspaper wars” with the Hearst organization became associated with adding “yellow journalism” into the annals of journalism’s history must be otherwise regarded as a keystone figure in that history as well.

In a piece in The North American Review, written in 1904 in support of his proposal for the founding of a school of journalism he wrote the following: “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”

Starting in 2006 online content in all 14 journalism categories was allowed. For this year’s awards the competition was expanded to include online-only news organizations. Both of these steps, granting the background of the Pulitzers, are not to be taken lightly. More than 2400 entries are submitted each year.

A word should be mentioned about the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal awarded each year to the American newspaper that wins the Public Service category. On one side of the medal is the profile of Benjamin Franklin, and on the other side, a printer hard at work at his press. The sculptor, Daniel Chester French later did the seated Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. The images used have much to say about what and who we ought to value in terms of our journalistic heritage.

There is an  on-going discussion and debate about the place of traditional journalism in a 21st century society. There can be no debate about the merit of those who have been granted this award.

For complete information about this year’s awards go to: http://www.pulitzer.org/

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/20/pulitzer-prize-whats-it-all-about-anyway/

Bookmark and Share

“Obituary” for the Chicago Sun-Times

I have read the words ten or more times today: “The Chicago Sun-Times this week filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.” I keep setting the article in my local paper aside, and then keep coming back to it. Somehow I think when I look again, the words might be gone, but what’s gone is the American journalistic institution, established in 1844, that was home at one time or another to such luminaries as: Mike Royko, Irv Kupcinet, Ann Landers, Roger Ebert, just to name a few.

The newspaper will still be published during the bankruptcy proceedings. The parent company Sun-Times Media Group, Inc. will be looking for a buyer. There is hope that the name will live on. But the paper hasn’t been the same as I remember it as a Chicago native for quite a while. The Rupert Murdoch era (starting in 1984) saw the paper turn to the sleazy and the sensational. Then the paper was turned over to Hollinger International, controlled indirectly by the infamous Conrad Black who is now behind bars for fraud and obstruction of justice.

Black left the legacy of a $608 million tax bill. More recently, the paper has tried to restore its working class roots, but alas, too little, too late.

Each newspaper in trouble has its own story, and a separate set of factors that may have brought each to their knees. For those on the “media death watch” there may be glee, for me, I’m still remembering being on the northbound commuter with the conveniently sized paper in my hands, turning pages.

For more on the “demise” of newspapers in general read my post:  https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/16/a-jurassic-park-kind-of-world/

For more about a once great newspaper read the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Sun-Times

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/02/obituary-for-the-chicago-sun-times/

Bookmark and Share

A Jurassic Park kind of world

In many of today’s opinion pages, be they online or in print, readers were treated to a very insightful article by Kathleen Parker, titled “Weird new media world” in which, it seemed abundantly apparent to me, she was putting forth the premise that newspapers are a core communications vehicle of American society and conducted appropriately constitute the bedrock on which a free society is maintained. So granting necessary reshaping to conform to technological and cultural changes (I advisedly here avoid the term “advances” to describe such changes) the medium is important to retain. In her own words:

“Whatever business models emerge…newspapers have to focus on their traditional core of fact-based, serious reporting. We might add to that formula the need for a serious populace informed about the fragile thread that connects a free press to a free future. “

A number of considerations emerge from careful reading of her piece. Yes, I don’t have much need for the TV guide section of my local paper now that I have a TV guide accessible on my TV; so newspapers need to define themselves based on their “root” purpose to borrow a term from the computer age. A “root” directory in computer file systems is the first or top-most directory in a hierarchy. It can be likened to the root of a tree – the starting point where all branches originate. (Paraphrased from Wikipedia). This is basic Marketing 101 of course. Amtrak isn’t in the business of running trains, they’re in the business of transportation. Find the “root” and stick to it she seems to be urging, and keep a first amendment bulwark in place in the bargain.

What is fascinating, is the “spin” this gets in the “comment room”; I just checked out one: http://townhall.com/columnists/KathleenParker/2009/03/15/weird_new_media_world?page=2 and the majority of comments at this site are made by fire breathing persons who seem to have read only one word of her article, that word appearing as the last word of the article’s third paragraph and spelled b-i-a-s, “bias”. But the real bias, as I see it, is on the part of the commenters; which leads me to the book True Enough by Farhad Manjoo. The Publishers Weekly review of the book puts it this way: “Salon blogger Manjoo…in his perceptive analysis of the status of truth in the digital age, critiquing a Rashomon-like world in which competing versions of truth vie for our attention.” The book deserves more attention in a separate post, and the book deserves our attention in general because it presents a pretty disquieting picture of our future as a society of many different groups of “Dittoheads” as referenced in paragraph two of Parker’s article!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/16/a-jurassic-park-kind-of-world/

Bookmark and Share

%d bloggers like this: