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Gendered News, Gendered Technologies

It's the final session here at AoIR 2008. I've come in a little late for Lisa McLaughlin's presentation; she's been working in Malaysia to examine the Multimedia Super Corridor project which incorporates the Cyberjaya (technology) and Putrajaya (administration) districts.

The project was initiated in 1996 with much fanfare, but met with limited success as companies approached to develop representations there were initially reluctant to do so as the availability of a highly skilled technology workforce was doubtful. There was also strong skepticism about the project from the local community, not least because the building of the MSC required the displacement of existing communities of Tamil plantation workers. If knowledge societies require 'fast subjects', then these existing communities were now pushed into a position of 'slow subjects' providing menial services to those working and living in the MSC.

One aim of the project was also to mainstreaming women into the urban environment of Cyberjaya, partly in order to establish a family-friendly cybercommunity. Overall, however, the MSC remains a cyber-ghost town; there is no sense of urban community, and of the 35,000 workers in Cyberjaya only 10,000 also live in the area. Additionally, there is a great degree of social isolation, and the computer provides the main connection to the outside world.

If the aim of the project is to generate a strong, highly skilled local workforce, it is a failure, too - virtually all locals aim to leave for overseas destinations eventually. Indeed, Malaysia has a kind of national low self-esteem problem, Lisa suggests. Overall, then, there is a clear need to rethink citizenship, both in this and similar cases - citizenship and community originates at the local level, and the artificial nature of the MSC clearly misses this aspect.

What is interesting here is also that the brain drain from Malaysia is notably gendered - young Malaysian women consciously desire mobility and emancipation through IT, rejecting traditional cultural roles.

Jayne Rodgers is next, and she is interested in the impact of user-generated content on news. She begins by pointing out that traditionally, news is a gendered product; the classic journalist is a news man, supported by technology, and global research into gender representation in news reporting continues to indicate that even the growing presence of male journalists does not change the fact that women remain dramatically under-represented in news both as news presenters and as newsworthy individuals.

Women are rarely consulted as experts, are rarely heard in the topics which commonly dominate news agendas, and appear largely only where they are positioned as either 'ordinary people' or as 'celebrities'. Sexism and stereotyping also remains common in news reporting, and all of this is due to long-standing journalistic practices and institutional norms, which are themselves circumscribed by ownership patterns and dominant cultural assumptions.

Crime reporting is a useful example for this - crime is a staple of news, of course, not least because violence suits conventional news values. Crime reporting reflects the gendered nature of news; there is a heavy emphasis on dangers to women, and deviant crimes are given a particularly high profile. Additionally, race and class play into this - violence against middle-class white women is foregrounded much more than offences against women from other socioeconomic groups.

While this gendering of news in mainstream journalism has been shown to be relatively stable over time, can user-generated content - in the form of news blogs and citizen journalism, for example, but also in the form of user-generated content that is incorporated into the mainstream - disrupt this gendering of news? Some citizen journalism content is gradually approaching the style of mainstream news as practitioners are attempting to professionalise their content, while user-generated content is strongly controlled by the mainstream news organisation which orchestrates and moderates the creation of content by users both a priori and a posteriori.

So, is there an opportunity for user-generated content to transcend the limitations of conventional news framing, news values, and newsroom culture - to de-gender news? Does user-generated content constitute a challenge to the mainstream - or does indeed the mainstream constitute a challenge to user-generated content? One way of studying this would be to focus on a specific case (say, the trial of Josef Fritzl) to examine the interrelation of mainstream and user-generated content.

Barbara Crow is next, and begins by focussing on regulatory frameworks for mobile and wireless technologies around the world. Such technologies operate across a variety of spectra, and access to licenced and unlicenced spectrum bands needs to be thought through more fully - the recent Canadian spectrum auctions did not generate a significant diversity of bids, for example, and it is also necessary to make claims to spectrum on behalf of the public.

There is also a need to transcend an understanding of mobility as it applies to variously identified groups in society. New media is often associated with youth, for example; old media with older generations, but this is a very stereotypical approach - how do senior citizens adopt and adapt mobile technologies, for example, and how can this lead to an understanding that is less caught up with youth? The mobile phone is the most important mobile device which is taken up, but almost all empirical data covers younger users only - this is particularly problematic especially for countries like Canada with an aging generation (and in which a significant proportion of older citizens may also live near the poverty line).

This is caught up with a tacit valorisation of the new, of a cluster of values around newness. This is also visible in corporate representations of mobility (where only 5% of representations show older users). Implicit in mobility is that movement is a positive, too, and in buying such technologies users also buy in to such ideas.

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