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ECREA 2010

3rd European Communications Conference, Hamburg, 11-15 Oct. 2010

Researching Media Change in Central and Eastern Europe

The final keynote speaker at ECREA 2010 is Beata Klimkiewicz, whose interest is in media system change in central and eastern Europe (CEE), focussing especially on structural processes. That said, the boundaries that define CEE are highly elusive – national boundaries in this area have shifted more than elsewhere in Europe, not least in recent decades, which means that there are various overlapping and conflicting criteria for defining geographic, regional, ethnic, and other boundaries. Additionally, the boundary changes which happened in 1989 provided a distinguishing generational experience for scholars in this field, which is not necessarily shared with the generations preceding or following them.

This can be examined from a number of perspectives. Much CEE research underlines the fall of communism as a unique and isolated moment in history; CEE societies are said to have been overtaken by processes of change that are of unprecedented magnitude and complexity in modern history – but this claim of uniqueness derives from a fairly self-centred preoccupation specifically with CEE history: many similar processes in other global regions have been overlooked. Changes in South Africa or South America during the 1990s can be usefully compared with developments in CEE, for example – they, too, aimed for media pluralism and diversity and for guarantees of freedom of expression, of course.

The Meaning of Crises in European Public Space(s)

We’re now in the final plenary session at ECREA 2010, which starts with a keynote by Ruth Wodak. Her interest is in a multi-level, qualitative, and longitudinal analysis of the European public sphere (EPS), which necessitates a multidisciplinary approach. She begins by taking us back to the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which started the process of European unification – at a virtually all-male, all-elderly meeting of (western) European heads of state.

Compare this, for example, with the original Website of the European Union, as a very different public space – constructed at some great effort, but highly bureaucratic, and ultimately shut down for being ineffective in engaging with citizens – or with the at once transnational and local public spheres which formed for example around the mass demonstrations across Europe at the start of the Iraq war.

So, there are many genres of public spaces and public spheres in Europe, which can be approached from perspectives including the Europeanisation of the national, the formation of structures of resonance across Europe, the transnationalisation of (national) public spheres, the Europe of multiple publics and multiple public spheres, or the Europe of multiple vertical and horizontal flows of communication.

Digital Flaneurism in Photoblogs

The final speaker in this ECREA 2010 session is Ilija Tomanić, whose focus is on vernacular photography and digital flâneurism on Web 2.0. His specific interest is in photoblogs as a particular strand of amateur photography. There is traditionally a stratification of photography into ‘high’ and ‘low’, semi-professional and purely amateur uses, and each side comes with its own implicit and explicit rules and practices.

With digitalisation of photography and the move to Web 2.0, there has been a spread of higher-end photography know-how, and a shift away from the photographic auteur to a primacy of the image. The territory for photography has also been opened up; it has become more global in its reach, and amateur photography has migrated from the private to the public sphere. It is no longer only about the preservation of memories, but also about the construction of presence/the present, with a shift towards a more documentary style (fewer posed photographs).

#ausvotes Twitter Activity during the 2010 Australian Election

My own paper was next at ECREA 2010. Here’s the presentation – and I also recorded the audio for it, and will add it as soon as I can which is now attached to the slides. As it turned out, one of the other presenters in the session also broadcast the whole event to Justin.tvso go there to see it all in action (my presentation starts around 52 minutes in, and you can also see the other papers on our panel)…

Different Uses for Twitter Hashtags

The next speaker at ECREA 2010 is Jonathan Hickman, whose interest is in #hashtags on Twitter. Hashtags are a simple way for Twitter users to organise their conversations, by putting the ‘#’ symbol in front of words to make tweets on specific topics more easily searchable (e.g. #iranelection). The hashtag is a form of metadata in that it describes the content of the tweets. This is part of a wider practice of tagging in computer-mediated content; tags are widely used for a wide variety of online materials.

However, there are also problems with this, as these tags are user-generated (and thus examples of folksonomies), and may not necessarily be consistent; this conference, for example, can be found on Twitter under the hashtags #ECC10, #ECC2010, or #ECREA2010… In this, they are different from hierarchically coordinated taxonomies.

Twitter-Based Coverage of the Olympic Games

The next speaker at ECREA 2010 starts with Jennifer Jones, whose focus is also on Twitter: she was an embedded journalist at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. There is a significant historical connection between the Olympic Games and technology, and new media have been especially prominent in recent years; there has been substantial growth especially in alternative media coverage (by non-accredited journalists and others). In Sydney, there even was an alternative media centre for the Olympics.

Independent media were prominent in Vancouver, too – people set up their own media centres, and printed their own unauthorised media passes, which were eventually tacitly accepted as valid media passes. The more people printed their own passes, the more ‘official’ they became. A number of Twitter lists (official, as well as fan-curated or adapted) were set up to aggregate the various alternative journalists covering the events.

Examining Everyday Uses of Twitter

The next session at ECREA 2010 is the one I’m in as well – but we start with Stine Lomborg, whose interest is in relationality on Twitter. This build on my concept of produsage, and examines this especially for the case of mundane, ordinary conversational activities. To engage in such communication, Twitter users must establish networks with each other – but such networks are non-symmetric, as followees won’t necessarily always follow back. This creates a particularly interest network structure.

Stine examined the activities of six Danish Twitter users, and captured their tweets and @replies over the course of a lengthy period of time. How does the Twitter network shape the emergent communicative practices on the site; how does an individual user’s network affect their negotiation of topics and purposes of interaction, and what types of relationality do Twitter-based networks facilitate?

Comparing User Participation Functionality in Flemish and German Newspaper Sites

The final speakers in this very engaging morning session at ECREA 2010 are Jeroen de Keyser and Annika Sehl, presenting a comparison of German and Flemish efforts to encourage public participation in the news media. To begin with, there clearly are increases in the online activities of ‘ordinary’ people, for example through blogs, social networking, and citizen journalism; some traditional media offer similar tools to also encourage participatory journalism activities. Such participation may take place at various stages of the journalistic process (input, output, commentary), and tools which enable participation at different stages are differently popular amongst journalists; there still is relatively limited conversation of journalists with the public overall.

The present study examined the current situation in Flanders and Germany, then. In 2008 and 2010, it analysed the participatory tools available on journalism Websites to examine the structural characteristics of audience participation, comparing eight national newspaper Websites each in Flanders and Germany.

Expanding Journalism Theories to Address User Participation

The next speaker in this session at ECREA 2010 is Mirjam Gollmitzer, whose interest is in audience participation in journalism. Such participation can take any number of different forms, of course – from commenting to the creation of whole new articles and other forms of content. Such types of participation can be conceptualised in relation to the degree of audience control over content, can be categorised into different forms of interaction and creation of content, and can be evaluated with reference to the overall visibility of audience contributions, for example.

What is interest here is what happens when such typologies enter into a dialogue with various established journalism theories – Bourdieu’s field theory, which examines the media as a field with its own structures and institutions; Habermas’s public sphere theory which establishes an ideal of public communication and political debate; and Shoemaker & Reese’s hierarchy of influences, which postulates concentric circles of influence extending from the media content at the centre through journalists, their routines, organisations, and extra-media influences, to ideology as the wider background. The impact of the audiences could be mapped at every level here, for example.

Mainstream Media Use of Amateur Footage during the Iran Election Aftermath

The next speaker in this ECREA 2010 session is Mervi Pantti, whose interest is in the role of amateur images in the Iran election crisis. This was a key moment for using citizen-created content in mainstream news coverage, and such images became a focal point for the public response to the election aftermath. Such images were also very difficult to verify, however, raising questions for the journalistic process. Mervi examined the coverage of these protests by CNN, BBC One, and the Finnish broadcaster YLE.

Citizen-provided images are used to support the journalistic mediator’s claims about the truth of the event; they are valued as evidence of the events, and provide immediacy and a heightened reality effect. At the same time, they also present a risk to the journalist’s trustworthiness, especially if there is confusion about the origin of these images. Additionally, there are questions of responsibility here – some of the images show scenes which journalists themselves would not have covered or shown, for ethical reasons; amateur footage of violence, for example, can be used as an excuse from standard journalistic ethics. Transparency is the new strategic ritual in journalistic justifications in this context; it serves as a means of letting the audience know where these images come from.


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