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ICA 2006

International Communication Association 2006 conference in Dresden

Habermas and/against the Internet

One of the advertised highlights of last year's International Communication Association conference, which I attended, was the keynote lecture by communication studies warhorse Jürgen Habermas. For most of us in the audience, this was an only moderately enjoyable experience, however - unfortunately, the acoustics of the plenary hall combined with Habermas's accent and pronounced lisp meant that much of the lecture was very difficult to understand, even in spite (?) of the Powerpoint slides (photos of some of which I included in my blog post at the time).

Resuming Our Regular Service

So, I'm back in Brisbane and I've finally had a chance to post those remaining blog entries from ICA and CATaC. I've also uploaded my photos from the trip to Flickr, and I'll add them and some other materials to blog posts soon. Unfortunately, while I was away there were some problems with my Web and mailserver, so if anyone's emails to me bounced over the last couple of weeks, please resend them.

As I understand it now, the problem may have been caused by the Windows w3wp.exe service, which is part of the Internet Information Services (IIS) suite. This service handles Web server requests and can max out the CPU if too many requests come in at the same time (and at peak time, we sometimes get up to 1000 spam trackbacks per hour - none of which you see because they're usually all caught by the spam filter on the Website). I've now tweaked IIS by setting the 'worker process recycling' values to far lower limits - this means that the server will consume less system memory and CPU time before it starts to clean out old server processes. Hopefully this fixes the problem - and if anyone has useful suggestions for how to set the server limits, please let me know.

Reporting the 'War on Terror'
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The second session starts off with Douglas Kellner, presenting on the reporting of the Iraq wars. There has been a move from a fairly tightly controlled pool system in the first Iraq war, where reporters were held to tightly drawn contracts and media corporations sued the Pentagon after the war because of these restrictive measures, to the idea of embeddedness. Embedded UK reporters were found to be just as critical as other reporters and news anchors, but the case was rather different for U.S. reporters - the framing of stories here was very much in line with the intended message of the Pentagon.

Preparing for the Participation Age

Finally, then, there was the panel I participated in, on participatory journalism. Obviously I didn't get around to blogging it, but I made an audio recording - and if it turned out OK I'll try and put it up here soon. Some very interesting international perspectives on the challenges for journalism brought on by participatory media - and I thank my co-presenters Christoph Neuberger, Jane Singer, and David Domingo, as well as Mark Deuze who proposed the panel and brought us all together. Let's see if we can do some more follow-up work on these issues. Here's our abstract for the panel:

Perspectives on Blogs

The last day of ICA2006 starts with a panel on Weblogs. The first speaker, Jae Kook Lee, couldn't be here, but there's a video message and a recorded presentation by him instead. The first question is whether the blogosphere is a public sphere - to analyse this, the structural and functional mechanisms of the blogosphere, the contentions surrounding the concept of the public sphere, and the possibiity of the blogosphere as a public sphere need to be examined.

To begin with, the blogosphere is the network of blogs connected by hyperlinks. It enables direct audience participation by posting and searching for relevant information, and has grown exponentially in recent times. The public sphere is a space where informed citizens exchange rational discourse, but there are questions over whether it has ever existed, whether it excludes certain groups, and whether rational discourse is actually functional. Thus, the public sphere is really more an ideal form rather than a reality. But how closely can the blogosphere approximate the public sphere? Yardstick requirements are inclusivity: whether all individuals can participate (and on the Net, there is a low barrier of entry and a minimal cost for participation in the blogosphere, and high interconnectedness); equality for all partricipants: retrieving and disclosing information without revealing their identities, and free expression and exchange of opinions are possible (but elites may dominate exchange in the blogosphere); rationality: the blogophere is a knowledge repository and enables the process of meaning-building (but inappropriate behaviours, production quality, self-segregation tendencies, and skewed distribution of attention in the blogophere are problems); and autonomy from state and economic power: no-one is fully independent, but low barriers mean there is no need for advertising to support blogs, and there is no intervention from state at least in democracies (but publicity is distributed unevenly and some commercial models are emerging).

Towards More Democratic IT Infrastructures?

We're continuing in a law and policy vein. The final session for today is on the potential for a democratisation of IT infrastructures. Dan Wielsch is the first presenter, focussing on infrastructure governance. He notes that the governance principles of distribution technology are changing - more people than ever before have access to the means of information production and exchange, drastically reducing entry costs to communication (also known as 'cheap speech'). This is markedly different from the previous industrial information economy, of course. In the new network information economy there is a serious increase in non-market content production, leading to more and more diverse content and content producers.

Dealing with Digital Content in a Convergent Environment

We've now moved to a plenary session on converging media policy. Now that media convergence is finally starting to happen, there may be a number of crucial effects of this development, and there need to be new policy approaches to address them. The first speaker is Edgar Berger, the CEO of Sony BMG Germany. He begins by discussing the impact of digital technologies on the music industry. To begin with, business is now no longer done only with specialised retailers - music is also being licenced to telcos, games developers, online content providers, and many other partners. The music video market is also changing: videos are now being downloaded for a fee by users rather than being distributed for free to music television stations. For the consumer, the experience of music has also changed thoroughly - it is now available anywhere, anytime through the Internet and mobile devices in a wide variety of forms including ringtones, mobile video, and other new digital formats. There is special growth in the mobile world, and in what's called dual delivery - consumers buying a song once for access on mobiles and PC-based media. Digital media also changes the creative process: consumers discover musical acts on the Internet and it is only after this discovery that contracts are signed with music industry players. The question of 'piracy' is also raised here, and Berger restates very clearly Sony BMG's commitment to pursuing 'piracy', while balancing this with consumer rights (but remains vague on how he intends to do this). Is digitisation a risk or an opportunity for the music industry, then? There is a dual strategy here - of combatting copyright infringement while embracing the opportunities of digital media at the same time.

Football and the Global Media

The next panel is on the 2006 Football World Cup - it's a high density panel, so there will be some very short and fast presentations. Cornel Sandvoss notes that more nations partipated in the World Cup qualifiers than are members of the United Nations - clearly this is a highly international, global event which also evokes a good deal of national enthusiasm: even in the normally flag-shy Germany we do see small flags on people's cars at the moment. Behind modern, association football and its formation was the rise of industrialism which turned it from an unregulated village contest to an organised inter-city game, thereby also giving rise to professional football, of course. More recently, there was also the emergence of important international competitions.

Examining the Use of Mobile Phones in Public Places

ICA2006 day four has started with a session on mobile telephony. The first paper is by Scott Campbell and deals with cross-cultural perceptions of mobile technologies. The theoretical framework here is something called Apparatgeist, which explains multi-national trends in how people think about and use personal communication technologies (PCTs). There are tensions between autonomy and privacy, around how these technologies are used, etc., and Apparatgeist (literally the spirit in the machine) helps explain how people are oriented towards these technologies. There is a socio-logic of perpetual contact by which humans are naturally driven towards social connection, and essentially the concept draws attention to some apparent universals in how we think about and use PCTs.

The Democratic Responsibilities of Journalism

The next session is on citizenship and the democratic responsibility of journalism. Margaret Duffy is the first speaker. She begins by presenting some research by the Newspaper Association of America on entertainment preferences by media users. There is a significant preference for television and the Internet over print media in this, and trends in the time spent with media are also significantly negative as far as TV is concerned. Obviously, this is bad news for newspapers.

To add to this, this study worked with the U.S. Life Styles database, from a large study of consumer behaviour. Findings pointed to complementarity: the more people used any media for information, the more they used other media for information, and there is a mixed relationship between media used for entertainment and information purposes - only entertainment television has a strong and negative impact on use of other media for information (probably due to TV's usurpation of time). More new media use has a positive effect on commmunity particpation, and as it turns out owning new media products also has a negative impact on cynicism.


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