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Research, rants, and random thoughts by Axel Bruns.


From Talk-Back to Facebook Live: Politicians' Strategies for Bypassing Journalistic Scrutiny

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 03:16:15 +0000

PoliticsElectionsGovernmentJournalismSocial MediaStreaming MediaANZCA 2017The final paper in this ANZCA 2017 session is presented by Caroline Fisher, whose focus is on Australian politicians' approaches to bypassing the scrutiny of the parliamentary press gallery. This is based on a set of 87 interviews with key media actors from the Howard era, including the former Prime Minister himself, as well as on an analysis of the social media activities of five Australian political leaders and interviews with their press secretaries.Politicians have always sought to control the information flows that cover their activities; through social media they have become more easily able to bypass conventional journalistic coverage and broadcast directly to their followers, but previous media channels such as talk-back radio have also aided in this. Current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is on record as saying that for him, Facebook Live is the new talk-back radio, in fact. This is a form of self-representation that seeks to bring back a one-step flow from politicians to the audience, and digital communication technologies present opportunity structures for this.John Howard made very effective use of talk-back radio, and has stated his love for the medium openly. He perceived the media as hostile and did not like to be interviewed, and so opted for live rather than pre-recorded interviews in order to avoid subsequent journalistic story shaping as much as possible. In turn, journalists became reliant on transcripts and camera pool vision of such interviews. Eventually, during the 2007 campaign he also experimented with pre-recorded YouTube videos, but failed to make an effective transition to that medium and produced some widely ridiculed efforts.Other politicians have taken to YouTube and social media platforms much more effectively; Pauline Hanson has been engaging in a great deal of livestreaming as part of her recent political comeback, for instance. Malcolm Turnbull has also experimented with making policy announcements directly via Facebook videos; his staff are on record as hoping to make Facebook Live his version of talk-back radio, which has generated considerable, entirely predictable backlash from talk-back radio hosts. This is also connected to the return of Tom Tudehope to Turnbull's Office as a media advisor.Indeed, for minor parties such approaches are now a key way to get their message out; their policies are poorly covered by the mainstream media as it is, and some of their key audiences may be particularly affine to social media. For more major parties social media simply become another tool in their media arsenal, and the balance between the different tools may gradually be shifting in favour of social media. Such direct communication has its place, but is also problematic if it means a decline in the media scrutiny of democratic governments. [...]

How the #notmydebt Campaign Played Out on Twitter

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 02:35:16 +0000

The next paper in this ANZCA 2017 session is by my colleagues Brenda Moon, Ehsan Dehghan, and me, and I'm presenting it, so I won't liveblog it, of course. Below are the slides, though:

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Everyday Political Talk about Housing Affordability on Facebook Pages

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 02:29:22 +0000

PoliticsGovernmentJournalismSocial MediaANZCA 2017The next paper in this ANZCA 2017 session is presented by Ariadne Vromen, whose focus is on debates of housing affordability on Facebook. Social media are of course being used for everyday political talk, but the private pages of individuals are very difficult to observe effectively, and for good reason. But the Facebook pages of mainstream media outlets serve as a kind of intermediary, semi-public spaces for such talk; here, it is possible to observe engagement, interactions, and sentiment, as well as reactions to media framing of current issues.Housing affordability is a major political issue in Australia, especially for Sydney and Melbourne; 88% of people are concerned or very concerned about housing affordability for future generations. various solutions to the issue have been proposed, with differing responses; there is no strong support for any one of the measures proposed. The present study gathered data from 12 media outlets' Facebook pages, with major spikes in discussion during October 2016 (around the 'smashed avocado' controversy kicked off by an opinion piece in The Australian) and February 2017 (when minister Sukkar suggested prospective homebuyers only needed to get a well-paying job). This captured 135 relevant Facebook posts, representing generational, governmental, international, housing market, and rental market frames in the coverage of housing affordability issues. The study then examined user engagement with those Facebook posts, including manual coding of comment themes, sentiment, focus on policy solutions, and other aspects.Most of the original news articles addressed the buying rather than renting of homes, with market, governmental, and generational frames roughly evenly prominent. Rental market and international frames were a great deal less common. Average engagement with these articles was high (over 700 shares, likes, and comments, but this also differed widely across articles; the most active discussions did not address concrete policy solutions. Liking and sharing patterns were largely aligned with commenting activity; high engagement also correlated with positive sentiment in comments. Stories about renting, on the other hand, were distinct for the comparatively negative sentiment in their comments. Governmental frames showed lower overall discussion but more focus on policy; generational frames had more positive sentiment but limited focus on policy; rental market frames had high overall levels of discussion as well as more negative sentiment.The generational frame – with the highest engagement – also has the lowest level of policy discussion; this, then, could be seen as absolving the state of coming up with solutions to housing affordability, instead individualising the problem and looking for personal strategies towards building up the wealth necessary to enter the market. But do platform effects on Facebook operate in tension with the political in everyday political talk? Would such conversations look different on people's personal profiles as opposed to the pages of media outlets?[...]

Malcolm Turnbull's Twitter Conversations about the NBN

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 02:07:19 +0000

The final paper session at ANZCA 2017 starts with Caroline Fisher and Glen Fuller, whose focus is on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conversations about the National Broadband Network project on Twitter. Turnbull was a comparatively early adopter of social media, and one of the big challenges in becoming PM was whether he would continue to use Twitter in the way he had before, or would lapse into a more broadcast-oriented tweeting style.

Turnbull's social media activities can be understood as an attempt at authentic engagement, and he has at times engaged in real conversation with interlocutors on the platform; he has not least argued at various times with media organisations and journalists on Twitter. Turnbull was active in Twitter conversations early on, but this declined in late 2009 and 2010 as he lost the opposition leadership; from late 2010, he became considerably more active again, dropping back in late 2013 when he becomes a minister in the Abbott government and even more so when he becomes Prime Minister and fights the 2015 election.

The majority of his interactions during the most active period (in opposition during 2010 to 2013) are with members of the public rather than journalists and other public figures; some of those conversations are about general life as a politician, but the second most distinct topic is the NBN itself. Some of these conversations – with journalists Renae Lemay and Nick Ross – were indeed quite heated, and Turnbull pushed back strongly against what he perceived to be misrepresentations of his statements. After Turnbull became communications minister, however, conversations about the NBN disappeared almost completely.

Once in government, Turnbull's communication efforts were focussed much more strongly on mainstream media; Twitter communication became a much less central part of his activities. Future research will be able to show how subsequent political developments have affected his communicative strategies, of course. There are also significant opportunities for additional comparative research taking in a broader range of political leaders.

Cosmopolitanising Journalism, Media, and Communication Education

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 01:20:57 +0000

PoliticsJournalismANZCA 2017General Teaching WorkThe final ANZCA 2017 keynote is by Wanning Sun, who continues our focus on China. She begins by highlighting the challenges that journalism, media, and communication educators are now facing in teaching an increasingly international cohort of students – many of whom, in the Australian context, come from China: how should they present the global media environment and its central issues, including questions such as freedom of speech and media bias, to such a diverse group of students?The key problem facing international students, to begin with, is a lack of English proficiency, and this is still pronounced especially for Chinese students; they often have trouble working through English-language scholarly materials as well as to express their own perspectives effectively, and their own cultural upbringing further leads them to remain quiet and refrain from participating fully in group discussions and assignments. This is alienating for Chinese students, and in turn leads to disengagement by their non-Chinese peers.More generally, too, universities often admit overseas students without adequate research skills; this is related to language proficiency, but goes well beyond that issue. The requirements of scholarly argument and substantiation are not necessarily well understood, and students have difficulty finding the resources that would support their perspectives. Arguably, this is a great deal more pronounced for overseas students in journalism, media, and communication than for students in science and technology disciplines.But also, how will students put these skills to practice when they return to their countries of origin? If Chinese students learn here how to read the ideological biases of media reporting, what us is this once they return to China where the processes of agenda-setting and news framing by state authorities are fairly obvious and well-understood? This is a question that seems to be on the mind of many educators around Australia as they engage with students from China. They have benefitted economically from a growing influx of Chinese students, but feel that they are not yet adequate catering to thse students' needs; the Australian paradigm of journalism taught here does not necessarily serve these students well once they return home.This is a challenge of theory and methodology, not just language proficiency. Should western journalism theories be taught as universally applicable, or as historically and culturally contingent? Are there other, alternative theories to be added to the curriculum in order to offer a broader set of perspectives? Is the old approach of including one or two token weeks on 'Asia' or other international perspectives sufficient, or can global perspectives be incorporated more fully throughout the curriculum? Can the knowledge and opinions of international students be harnessed more effectively, too?How do international students themselves think of this? One response from them is apathy; they take whatever is on offer simply so they can pass their exams and get their degrees. Another is quiet frustration, and this may be common especially amongst Chinese students. Third, some students do speak up, but the lack of critical language on the side of both domestic and international students makes it difficult to have any effective discussion about these issues. None of this is made easier by an understanding of university education as a vocationally oriented commercial service that ends with the award of a degree, of course, which limits students' deep engagement in the concepts and theories they encounter.Staff might respond to the by articulating more clearly what they offer, how that body of knowledge has been constructed, and what its future benefits to the student may be; additionally, they might also encourage international students to reflect more fully on their own backgrounds (for instance in authoritarian regimes), and[...]

Towards a New Globalisation under Chinese and Indian Hegemony

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 00:15:20 +0000

PoliticsGovernmentJournalismInternet TechnologiesANZCA 2017The final day of ANZCA 2017 begins with another set of keynotes. We start with Daya Thussu, whose focus is on the global media and communication environment. Globalisation is central to this, but the discourse of globalisation itself is now changing, and this forces us to rethink the whole notion of 'the global'. Daya focusses here on developments in China and India, in particular, as representatives of the wider group of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), where these processes are especially apparent at this stage.These are very different countries with different political and media systems, but the rise of these nations is altering the global status quo in significant ways. The share of the global GDP held by the two countries has risen considerably over the past 25 years (though more rapidly for China than India); both countries also have substantial numbers of expats living in nations such as Australia; and a growing number of companies – especially from China – are now listed in the Fortune 500 (while at the same time, U.S.-based companies are in decline); four of the top ten companies are Chinese, and they operate in key strategic areas such as banking and telecommunication.The difference between China and the United States is especially stark. China is now the largest trading partner for some 124 countries in the world, while the U.S. holds that distinction now for only 56 countries; China has also focussed strategically especially on previously underrepresented countries such as the African nations. Partly in pursuit of this strategy, China has also embarked on the 'Belt and Road' infrastructure project to build a new 'silk road' (incorporating road, rail, and shipping) to connect it more directly with its major global markets.Where these countries lag behind is in communication and media – much of the global infrastructure here remains dominated by American companies and interests, but this too is beginning to change. Increasingly, people in countries with large populations are no longer predominantly watching U.S. media; outlets from Al Jazeera to Russia Today have started to provide a widely visible counter-narrative, in English and other languages, to counter American perspectives. China's own network, recently renamed from CCTV to CGTN, now has a strong international presence, too – but (in part due to its focus on 'constructive' rather than critical news) it has yet to become a major source of original news.China Radio International, another part of this strategy, operates slightly differently by working with 'client' radio stations around the world that draw on its content. Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, now has almost as many bureaus as the major international services – but here, too, the focus on 'constructive' news has meant that it has yet to break a major new news story. Its content is often bundled into the broadband infrastructure development deals that China has made in developing countries.India's media power is based less on such news and information offerings, and more on entertainment – especially on Bollywood, the largest film industry cluster in the world. This focusses equally on cinema exhibition and on digital access; it serves English and Indian languages as well as Arabic and Chinese. There is now substantial interest in Indian film in China, even in spite of the severe import restrictions that China maintains for foreign movies. In all of this, India also draws on its huge, English-speaking global diaspora.Its presence in the global news space is almost negligible, however; while there are many domestic news channels (often of questionable quality, though), its major news brands attract very limited interest outside of the Indian diaspora itself, and appear to have no real interest in breaking into the global market.The greatest transformation is pe[...]

Prominent Metaphors in Propositional Journalism about Tasmanian Development

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 05:23:10 +0000

The final speaker in this ANZCA 2017 session is Bill Dodd, whose focus is on 'propositional journalism': journalism that proposes change and assesses possible future solutions and opportunities. This has been suggested as a way to re-engage audiences with democratic processes and might be seen as empowering, but whose ideas are presented and how they are framed in such journalism – that is, who is chosen to be empowered – can also reveal democratic deficits.

Bill addresses this through a case study from Tasmania: here, political discourse has long been proposition-centred, especially in response to questions about the balance between economic development and environmental protection. The political process here has been seen as taking place in a boys club behind closed doors, and this has given rise to oppositional movements, including most prominently the Australian Greens; this has led to calls for a "New Tasmania" in recent years that would be a much more progressive and open place.

Bill examined news coverage by propositional journalism in The Mercury, The Examiner, and ABC Tasmania during 2014, exploring for instance which professions received most coverage. Politicians were most prominent here (36-44%), followed closely by business and industry representatives (~30%). Civil society representatives were far less prominent, (~12%). There was also a strong gender imbalance in favour of male voices, and voices of non-European ethnicity were entirely absent.

Further, the framing of propositions was facilitated especially frequently through navigational metaphors (which is itself often a form of gendering the issue in favour of male actors), nurturing metaphors (especially in relation to the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister to Tasmania), construction metaphors, business and gambling metaphors, and entertainment and show business metaphors.

This shows the relationship between the relative prevalence of specific metaphors and the discussions of what good leadership in Tasmania would look like. One solution would be to pay more attention to the pursuit of internal rather than external goods.

Local Newspaper Journalists' Attitudes towards Their Changing Industry

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 04:53:37 +0000

JournalismIndustrial JournalismANZCA 2017The next speaker in this ANZCA 2017 session is Kathryn Bowd, whose interest is in the work practices of local journalists in regional areas in a changing communicative environment. Local journalists have long been key members and organisers of the local community, but like their metropolitan colleagues they are now feeling considerable economic pressures; regional newspapers have perhaps held up for longer than their larger city and national counterparts, but are now also struggling – and here, given their smaller staffing bases, the loss of a handful of journalists can have a disproportionately large impact on the news outlet.Kathryn's focus is on regional or community newspapers in Australia and Canada; she studied these through an online survey of journalists in both countries, and especially also explored the impact of social media on professional practices. Additional interviews with selected journalists are slated to follow up on the survey results.Most of the journalists surveyed were under 40; more than a third were aged between 21 and 30, and some 58% were female. 65% had bachelor degrees, and only 9% had postgraduate qualifications. 25% had more than 20 years' experience, and other large groups had more than 10 or more than 5 years' experience. The majority of them (54%) say that relationships between papers and community had changed dramatically over the past 5-10 years, and another 40% saw at least some change.Key reasons for such changes included a broader range of choices for audiences; more opportunities for immediate feedback; audience moves away from print; limited local news interest amongst younger users; changing audience expectations; changing news priorities; decline in news quality; and decline in trust in the news media. Local media are far from unique in this: many such factors would be similar to the factors that metropolitan journalists are reporting, too.There is a perception of substantial demographic differentiation between older and younger news users here – younger audiences, in particular, are supposed to have moved away substantially from reading local newspapers, and to access news online and via social media instead. More generally, journalists assumed that the growing ownership concentration in the media industry has led to a decline in audience trust, and that the increase in basic technical issues has led audiences to be frustrated with the declining quality of local news.On the positive side, journalists appreciated the closer connections to their audiences, especially through new communication channels; however, there are also still significant splits within the journalistic cohort about these issues. But overall, 58% now feel that their papers are in a weaker position within the community than they used to be, with 20% feeling their connection to be stronger. Views on whether local newspapers had still a positive future remained surprisingly positive on balance, however – journalists felt that there was still an important role for them to fill.[...]

The Role of Unions in a Changing Journalistic Work Environment

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 04:30:01 +0000

JournalismIndustrial JournalismANZCA 2017The post-lunch session at ANZCA 2017 starts with a paper by Penny O'Donnell, on the continuing transformation of journalism. She suggests that journalism unions still play an important role in promoting occupational cohesion and jurisdictional control over what is journalism, even in spite of the substantial changes to journalistic practices.Penny's study builds on the New Beats study, which examined newly redundant Australian journalists. Some 3,000 journalism jobs, or a third of the total workforce, have been lost within five years; often this has been facilitated through voluntary redundancies, partly as a result of negotiations between employers and the key journalism union Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance (MEAA). This is even in spite of significantly declining union membership levels over the past three decades.What is the role of unions in the rapidly restructuring workplace of journalism, then? Canadian studies have found that unionised journalists had higher incomes, better employment benefits, and better work/life balance; in Australia the differences may be less stark because through enterprise bargaining processes even non-unionised workers still benefit from the working conditions negotiated by journalism unions. Further, a less tangible outcome of unionisation may be the definition and maintenance of professional identities, even at a time of rapid change; union structures and activities introduce a level of inertia through everyday their engagement with questions such as "who is a journalist?" and "what is journalism?" This is a form of boundary management, and as a result unions also have a vested interest in maintaining an industry structure that supports the large and stratified workplaces where such boundary management practices are necessary and prominent. By contrast, in smaller and especially in born-digital workplaces there is considerably less unionisation – and unions have traditionally done relatively little to reach out to the younger staff with less conventional training and work histories that are common to such workplaces; this, however, may be changing. Journalist unions have a long history (going back to 1910 in the Australian case), but their membership is declining; in the MEAA, which covers a range of media professions, journalists now no longer constitute the largest group of members. At the same time, the workforce and remuneration of journalistic workers still remains greater than that in Internet publishing, for instance. The transformation of journalism has also been driven largely by market forces rather than by normative ideals of what journalism is or should be, and in spite of considerable occupational consensus within unions about how their members define journalism, this is not necessarily reflected in the corporate choices made by media organisations. Australia is now at considerable risk of losing a further substantial chunk of its remaining public interest journalism workforce and outlets, against a very limited amount of public opposition or outcry – and unions like the MEAA represent one of the last remaining forces working against that loss.[...]

The Project and Its Attempts to Initiate Connective Action

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 02:37:46 +0000

PoliticsSocial MediaTwitterANZCA 2017TelevisionThe third paper in this ANZCA 2017 session is by Stephen Harrington, Tim Highfield, and me, and I'm including our presentation slides below. We explore the #milkeddry campaign initiated by Australian news entertainment TV show The Project. src="//" width="595" height="485" frameborder="0" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" style="border:1px solid #CCC; border-width:1px; margin-bottom:5px; max-width: 100%;" allowfullscreen=""> Infotainment and the Impact of Connective Action: The Case of #MilkedDry from Axel Bruns The Project, which has been running on Network Ten since 2009, combines panel discussion on current news and entertainment matters with celebrity interviews and comedy; it is influenced in part by overseas formats addressing a young adult audience, like The Daily Show, but also clearly distinct in its approach from these models. It may be best classed as 'infotainment', and like other such shows has been criticised for its irreverent and sometimes more superficial approach to the news, but at the same time also has a licence to be more strident in the political statements it makes. Debates over the role of infotainment in stimulating political action, or alternatively in perpetuating nihilism, apathy, and disconnection, continue. We explore The Project's own role in this by examining a particular campaign initiated by the show. Co-host Waleed Aly has a regular feature called 'Something We Should Talk About', which highlights selected current issues and has at times generated considerable public responses. In May 2016, the subject of one such segment was the exploitative approach of major supermarket chains to their dealings with Australian dairy farmers; farmers are now being paid less money for their milk than it costs them to produce, and those changes were introduced retrospectively (meaning that farmers suddenly owed money to these distributors). Framed under the banner 'Milked Dry', with an associated hashtag, the programme promoted consumer choices that avoided major chain products and supported local, community-based dairy producers. But what is the impact of such calls to arms; do they create merely a brief and limited response, or can they become a starting point for connective action that continues even beyond the attention paid to the issue by The Project itself? We identified some 15,000 tweets that addressed #milkeddry, @theprojecttv, and the agricultural #agchatoz hashtag, yet this constitutes a fairly small social media echo to the segment; some of the images associated with the segment were shared widely on Twitter, as was a petition to the government to address the issue, but most of the activity immediately surrounded The Project's own Twitter account, without spreading further into the Australian Twittersphere. Notably, connections with the well-established #agchatoz community of farmers and agripolicy activists were extremely limited, suggesting that even this community did not get involved particularly strongly. Nonetheless, the segment did have some impact beyond social media; there were media reports about (at least temporarily) changing consumer behaviours, but it may be a stretch to regard this as a sign of successful connective action.  [...]