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Produsers and Produsage

Hyperlocal Community News: A Case Study of myHeimat

If it's Thursday, this must be Cardiff, and my third conference paper for this brief European tour; I'm here at Future of Journalism 2009 with a presentation drawing on the interviews with the myHeimat crew which I conducted in October 2008. As always, the Powerpoint is below, and I'll add the audio as soon as I can I've now added the audio, too; the full paper is also online already.

Local Journalists' Attitudes towards User Contributions to the News

The next speaker at Future of Journalism 2009 is Jane B. Singer, who presents a study of local journalists and their engagement with user-generated content. Such journalists are potentially a very different group, as they're already closely connected with the local community, but similar to other colleagues have to come to terms with changing news values, norms, roles, and processes. Like their colleagues elsewhere, they are concerned about how the rise of user-generated content is affecting the news.

The Big Picture for e-Participation

For the final paper at EDEM 2009, we're on to Ursula Maier-Rabler, whose interest is in e-politics from administrative through to communicative democracy, and from individual citizens through to state institutions and parties. This creates a two-dimensional matrix: e-Government is administrative and driven by institutions, e-democracy communicative, but still driven by institutions; e-voting is administrative, but relies on the individual, and e-participation is individually driven and communicative.

e-Participation supports the empowerment of people oo integrate in bottom-up decision making, make informed decisions, and develop social and political responsibility - and to achieve this, it is necessary to start with young people in order to develop a participatory culture (which may be different in its specific shape from country to country). This ties into Web 2.0 and similar participatory platforms,and must be integrated also into general political education in order to create a new homo politicus in the online environment.

Designing for e-Democracy in Australia

My paper is in the next session at EDEM 2009, but we start with a paper by another Australian-based researcher, Mary Griffiths. She begins by highlighing the extremely broad range of digital media channels which are now available to users (in Australia and elsewhere) to engage with each other and with various organisations and institutions. There's only limited research at this point which provides a full picture of this digital landscape, and the visions which emerge of it so far remain quite utopian.

Web 2.0 cuts across these different areas, and there is a great deal of hope for social media, societal change, and e-democracy developments. But the difficulty is that in business and the corporate world there is an uncomplicated sense of this fragmentary landscape; the diverging agendas and the diverse literacies of users within this environment are not fully recognised. It's a substantial distance from Web 1.0 to full online engagement and content creation; indeed, not all these literacies may matter to citizens engaging with one another in political deliberation.

Challenges Ahead for e-Governance

From Transforming Audiences in London I've now made my way to a surprisingly sunny Vienna, where the 2009 Conference on e-Democracy (EDEM) is about to begin. We begin with an opening speech by Roland Traunmüller, outlining the challenges ahead for e-Governance, and he notes that IT and governance concepts have changed substantially over the past few decades. There has been some academic interest in e-governance of some form or another for the past three decades or so, ever since computer technology became more mainstream, ad the International Federaton of Computer Societies has been examining the opportunities since 1990.

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.

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.

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.

From Social Media to Democratic Participation?

The first day at Transforming Audiences finishes with a keynote by Natalie Fenton and Nick Couldry. Natalie points to creativity, knowledge, and participation as the three central themes of this conference - in that context, what does it mean to be political in the new media age? What are the principles for the way we conceived of and carry out our citizenship? How do we engage in political life?

There are multiple conflicting views on the impact of social media on political participation, of course - a sense that social media break down public/private barriers and lead to new forms of participation, and those who characterise such participation as an incessant meaningless conversation which never leads anywhere. Taken by themselves, both are likely to be wrong - so what is the real story here?


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