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Transforming Audiences 2009

Conference in London, 3-4 Sep. 2009

New Media as Digital 'Pavement Radio' Promoting Political Change in Zimbabwe

The final speaker at the Transforming Audiences conference is Dumisani Moyo, whose interest is in citizen journalism in the age of digital pavement radio in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe, of course, has experienced a series of crises in recent years, which can be traced back to the democratic deficits inherited from its colonial history.

The shrinkage of communicative space in Zimbabwe has been widely documented in recent years; this was driven by legislative and other means. How have ordinary Zimbabweans adjusted and reacted to this? Media remain seen as important elements in the country's political discourse, and were noted as such in the agreement that led to the establishment of the current unity government. There has also been a rise of various forms of citizen journalism, which supported the political shifts in recent years and continues to push for further change; even here, however, professional journalists have objected to the idea of citizen journalism and see the concept as undermining their own professional roles.

Political Uses of Social Media in Italy

The penultimate speaker at Transforming Audiences is Emiliana de Blasio, who shifts our attention to Italy and begins by questioning the optimistic rhetoric surrounding Web 2.0. Political participation using social media depends on three steps: access, interaction, and participation. In this, access 1.0 is simply access to information, access 1.1 is access to relatively open mass media; and only access 2.0 is an opportunity to have one's own produced content published or broadcast. This requires the skills to receive content and provide feedback, and takes place in the context of a networked individualism which replaces other types of social formations.

Creative Practice for Communicative Spaces

Next at Transforming Audiences is Nicola Kaye, who focusses on developing communicative spaces through her creative practice. This is in line with the idea that the role of the artist is now to construct the social spaces and constraints for the audience to co-construct the work, and builds on the increasing availability of digital, social, creative tools such as Flickr or YouTube while highlighting the as yet undecided power structures within such spaces. Creativity has an important role to play in examining the potential uses for such spaces.

Theorising Alternative Media

The next speaker at Transforming Audiences is Lisa Farrance, whose interest is in alternative media practices; she distinguishes between a range of uses from the simple (publicity, organisation within and between social movements, and uncensored and counter-information) through to greater ambitions of giving a voice to the voiceless and achieving democratic and political renewal.

Theory, in this context, can aid practice: it should position itself as the growing point of practice. Useful theory may include a study of political eonomic contexts and constraints, and a return to early Marxism in pursuit of a new materialism. Lisa now takes us through a number of key concepts in this context.

Blogging as the Collaborative Produsage of Sociality

The next presenter at Transforming Audiences is Stine Lomborg, examining blogging as a form of collaborative produsage. She focussed on three personal Danish blogs, and examined six months' worth of posts and comments for this study, as well as interviewing the authors. The produsage angle of this study examines blog-based communication as an ongoing collaborative development of a shared text; this is combined with socio-cognitive reception theory in which genre is seen as a socially distributed cognitive architecture. The texts themselves were studied using conversation analysis.

Lamp Post Radio in a Brazilian Favela

The penultimate session at Transforming Audiences starts with a paper by Andrea Medrado, whose interest is in 'lamp post radio' in Brazilian favelas: speakers which are attached to lamp posts and broadcast local radio programming. Such radio - a form of community radio - needs to be understood within the wider sonic landscape of the favela environment.

Most work on community radio as such tends to be overly celebratory and usually does not focus much on the audiences for such radio programming; listening is assumed to be an isolated, individual practice, which is clearly at odds with the public nature of lamp post radio. Andrea approached her research through media ethnography; this was complicated by perceptions of Andrea as a higher-class outsider entering the lower-class social environment of the favela, and this had to be carefully negotiated in order to gain the necessary access to the local community.

Connective Media Ethnology

The second speaker in this double-barrelled keynote session at Transforming Audiences is Christine Hine. Her interest is in digital media practice in daily life, which she has approached in the past through virtual ethnography. More recently, she has used such approaches also to investigate the use of information and communication technologies by a group of biologists.

More broadly, then, media ethnography brings and attention to cultural difference, a commitment to close observation and recording, a focus on dense descriptive detail which reveals contexts that give meaning to actions for a community - which implies that that context is not known a priori.

Foregrounding Embodied Knowledge in Media Studies

The next and final keynote session at Transforming Audiences is a panel with Shaun Moores and Christine Hine. Shaun begins by reviewing his take on audiences, and notes that they have become less central to his conceptual vocabulary. Media studies has traditionally focussed on mass communication (as in broadcasting or the print media), with its clear production/distribution/consumption divisions. There was a settled way of media studies which emerged from this, and that approach now needs to be unsettled, that vocabulary needs to be revised.

Digital News Usage Trends in Australia

The next speaker at Transforming Audiences is my QUT colleague Anna Daniel, who presents on Australian consumer trends in digital news. She also highlights the shift towards a participative Web and the confusion over the use of online news by Australian users, and points to the challenging position of news organisations in the face of declining advertising revenues in print and unclear revenue models for online news sources. The present resource was conducted in the context of a case study of the online-only newspaper Brisbane Times and the online-only entertainment site The Vine.

Critiques of News Media by Replay-Relay Audiences

The next speaker at Transforming Audiences is Christian Christensen, who begins by highlighting the emergence of what he calls the 'replay-relay audience'. One example here is the discussion between Daily Show host Jon Stewart and MSNBC financial host Jim Cramer about the quality of MSNBC's financial coverage; another is Stephen Colbert's White House Correspondents' Association dinner speech in 2006, which tore into both the Bush administration and the mainstream media for their coverage of Bush's administration; yet another is Jon Stewart's 2004 appearance on CNN's Crossfire, which ultimately led to the demise of that show after Stewart fatally critiqued the show's format and its effect on journalism and public discourse in America.


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