Weeks Pages/Week9

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Community Media goes Beyond Broadcast

Page Designers:

Cara Viglucci Lopez

Alison Healey

Tawfiq Ali

Ankur Garg

(from Syllabus)

Monday, Nov. 6 Guests: Deborah Scranton, Producer of The War Tapes;

Tuesday, Nov 7. Practice Day: Internet distribution of media. Guests: Dean Jansen

Lecture Videos

The lectures for this week are on Monday, Nov. 6th at 1:15pm and Tuesday, Nov. 7th at 1:15pm. Both will be taped. They will be available here in QuickTime format approximately 24 hours after they occur.

Monday 11/06/06 (watch first)

Monday 11/06/06 (watch next)

Tuesday 11/07/06 (watch first)

Tuesday 11/07/06 (watch next)

Get the Videos Delivered (or if you have trouble w/ playback)

  • Democracy Player is a free and open source video player/aggregator that will download and play back your class videos (sort of like a TiVo for your computer).
  • Mplayer is another free and open source video player with its own codecs for playing Real(tm) and Quicktime(tm) (as well as all the other common formats). Some people who have problems with Democracy Player can play the videos with mplayer.
  • VLC is another video player. It is, in my opinion (this being Dean), far easier to use than Mplayer.

Theme of the Week:

"So my big interest in filmmaking and in this project is giving a voice to those that are basically on the outside of our main society. Whether its small groups, whether you’re a woman or you’re gay or whatever. I like to have and present that alternative reality because a story might be an hour long but it’s infinitely wide. It’s as wide as every person living that same hour... I feel very strongly that the only way people feel included is to see themselves represented." - Deborah Scranton, talking about her documentary "Stories from Silence: Witness to War," November 2003 interview in New England Film by Dan McCallum.

It is critically important to put tools in the hands of a community and then aggregate the creation of that effort in such a way that benefits them—and thereby enhances society—and produces something amazing.

Points to Ponder:

How do we get the tools in the hands of the people? What is our process for distribution of these “tools”…and subsequently, how do we aggregate and edit products in such a way that they become meaningful? What are potential positive results? Are there negative consequences?

Introduction to "Community Goes Beyond Broadcast"

As Yochai Benkler notes in his introduction to The Wealth of Networks, “Information, knowledge, and culture are central to human freedom and human development. How they are produced and exchanged in our society critically affects the way we see the state of the world as it is and might be; who decides these questions; and how we, as societies and polities, come to understand what can and ought to be done.” Thus, the explosion of technology has enabled—and continues to enable—us to express ourselves in myriad ways, to seek information on a host of subjects, and to strive to find open, unedited content so that we can decide for ourselves what to believe. The diverse array of “social production” provides virtually(!) endless opportunities to enhance individual freedom, cultural diversity, political discourse, and justice. Yet people must mobilize and choose to take advantage of the numerous resources, as information and knowledge that is available can either constrain or expand the ways we create and express themselves. Benkler discusses the emergence of the networked information economy, which has 1) produced an economy centered on information and cultural production, and the manipulation of symbols; while paradoxically 2) resulted in a shift that allows for an increasing role for nonmarket and radically distributed information. (See The Wealth of Networks Introduction). The question arises whether, in the twenty-first century, decentralized production of information will be permitted to emerge at the core of our economy, rather than being only tangentially incorporated in our society. The choice is ours to make…

Examples in which People + Technological Tools have produced incredible results:

The War Tapes, produced by Deborah Scranton, is a documentary shot by U.S. soldiers from the front lines of Iraq, Director Deborah Scranton had the necessary funding and approval to work as an embedded journalist in the second Iraq war; instead, she went forward with her unique vision—directing a documentary film from the Internet. Ten self-selected soldiers from the New Hampshire National Guard were connected with Deborah, given consumer hand-held camcorders, and briefly trained to use them. The soldiers were then deployed for a one year tour in Iraq, and were in constant contact with Deborah over instant messenger and email. Please visit the website and watch several clips from the movie.

Floating Over Kolkata: A 10-minute docu-fiction on the streets of India, depicting the life of a girl who becomes one of the street kids. Director/Producer Paramita Guha,with a shoe-string budget and solicited donations and volunteers, worked to capture the character of Kolkata and the real-life situation of 50,000 children living in the streets.

Katrina documentary: New Orleans native Jamie Bonck documents Katrina's rising waters from his home.

A Little Bit of Controversy: Deborah Scranton Refuses to Discuss Her Own Political Views

After showing 10 minutes of her film "The War Tapes" during Monday's class, some students asked Ms. Scranton how her political views might have affected the making of the film, or conversely, how making the film might have affected her political views. Ms. Scranton refused to answer the question, saying that she shared her personal views only with some of her close friends, never publicly. She described her intention as one to tell the stories of the soldiers in the most authentic way, not to tell her own story. She expressed concern that divulging her views would detract from that enterprise.

During Tuesday's class, we discussed how best to interpret Ms. Scranton's refusal to discuss her personal views. Some members of the class found her to be "guarded." Others went so far as to suggest that she was being disingenuous or naive, suggesting, for example, that Ms. Scranton was unwilling to admit how her views might have shaped the way she told the stories. Another member went so far as to suggest that Ms. Scranton has a financial incentive to publicly feign neutrality so that the film will have broad popular appeal among audiences with different views of the Iraq War. Other members of the class were more sympathetic to Ms. Scranton, noting that artists often want their art to speak for themselves. Another theme that arose was that "The War Tapes" may in some sense be a journalistic enterprise. The journalist's public detachment from her story is often considered not only ethical, but also obligatory, lest the journalist's view slant the story in such a way that it is no longer a fair and balanced account of the events and characters.

Key Discussion Questions:

1. What are we willing to do to develop and disseminate information? <b>Comments Question 1</b>

2. What type of information are we content to receive? From what sources? Are we satisfied with the limited, edited, often slanted information that we receive from news sources? (e.g., TV media does not show coffins of soldiers returning from Iraq; government documents, such as unemployment rates & economic information, strategically released or withheld during election time.)

<b>Comments Question 2</b>

3. Should ANY constraints be placed on 1) who can contribute and/or 2) what type of information can be posted on the Internet? Do we need laws to govern cyberspace? If so, what should they look like? Who should create them? Should Internet users mobilize and self-govern? Does the government have a role (duty?) to censor any type of information? Or should the Internet be open, free, and unmonitored?

<b>Comments Question 3</b>

4. If we routinely start receiving "unslanted" information, in a way that we have not in the past, will we have difficulty in accurately weighing its value and finding its proper place in context? Is this a role that traditional news sources have played to such an extent that we are not aware to what degree we rely on "digested" information? Is it fair to assume that citizen media pieces will be less biased than items coming from traditional mass media and be more faithful to the eventual development of all sides of an issue?

<b>Comments Question 4</b>

5. Should citizen media pieces be considered a genre completely different from news?

<b>Comments Question 5</b>

Relevant Readings:

Excerpts from Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks.

Chapter 5: Individual Freedom: Autonomy, Information, and Law. Intro/Summary: The emergence of the networked information economy has the potential to increase individual autonomy in three ways. First, it increases the range of things that individuals can do for and by themselves. Information networks can lift many of the material constraints and costs of the industrial information economy. Most of the tools necessary for effective action and communication are now widely available to people in networked environments. Second, the networked information economy provides alternatives to the proprietary sources of information/communication typical in the industrial economy. The presence of these nonproprietary alternatives decreases the extent to which individuals are being acted upon by the owners of the communications facilities. This decreases the extent to which individuals are subject to and manipulated by communications and broadcasting companies. Although this culture lives on, it is losing its dominance in today's information environment. Third, the networked information environment qualitatively increases the range and diversity of information available to individuals. It does so by enabling all sources-- both mainstream and fringe-- to produce information and communicate broadly. This diversity and accessibility of information radically changes the universe of options that individuals recognize as open for them to pursue. An increase in available options creates a richer basis to form critical judgments about how one can live life, and why one should value the life one chooses (pp.133-34).

Chapter 6: Political Freedom Part 1: The Trouble with Mass Media. Intro/Summary: The concept of public sphere can be narrowed down to the “set of practices members of a society use to communicate about matters they understand to be of public concern and that potentially require collective action or recognition” (177). This chapter argues that as a way to structure these practices, mass media has weaknesses: it offers no return loop from the edges to the core (feedback is local or one-to-one) and relies on a passive consumer culture. The Internet and the emerging networked information economy provide a better public platform.

Design Characteristics of A Communications Platform For a Liberal Public Platform or a Liberal Public Sphere

There are several basic characteristics of the public sphere necessary, in a wide range of democracies, to communicate private opinion and convert it into public, political opinion and later into formal state action:

• Universal intake. This does not mean that every voice is heard and every concern debated and answered, but rather that in principle anyone's situation can be considered when someone believes it requires public attention.

• Filtering for potential political relevance. Necessary so that the public can focus on important issues.

• Filtering for accreditation. To ensure that the information communicated is credible.

• Synthesis of public opinion. What counts as public opinion varies between and among deliberative conceptions and pluralist conceptions of democracy, but some combination of clusters of individual opinion is essential.

• Independence from governmental control. Though the government can participate in explicit conversations and the administration receives instructions from their output, neither controls the platform itself. The first and last requirements are the most controversial, for they raise the issue of so-called authoritarian public spheres. Benkler beings this section with Harbermas' descriptive definition of a public sphere and asserts that it can be liberal or authoritarian. The difference is that people in the idealized Athenian agora or New England town halls express, listen to and evaluate proposals, facts, concerns and opinions with complete freedom, while in authoritarian regimes “communications are regimented and controlled by the government in order to achieve acquiescence and to mobilize support” (181). In both cases at least some private opinions are communicated and converted into state action. Yet when Benkler sets out to define the above criteria (182), he only has "a wide range of conceptions of democracy" in mind, not authoritarian regimes where the public sphere may be partially independent and theoretically universal. It thus seems to make little sense to speak of authoritarian public spheres; in fact, regimes that allow a political, public opinion to form and to influence or “convert into” state action are usually considered democratic. But the extent to which they do so is difficult to assess, since sophisticated executives in any regime both listen to public opinion and retain their own agenda

For more insight, refer to the Chapter 6 Wikipedia page

Chapter 7: Political Freedom Part 2: Emergence of the Networked Public Sphere. Intro/Summary:: Network architecture and the cost of becoming a speaker are the two fundamental differences between a networked information economy and mass media. The former is a distributed architecture with multidirectional connections among all nodes in the networked information environment, while the latter is a hub-and-spoke model with unidirectional links to end points. Moreover, the emerging networked information economy model eliminates communication costs as a barrier to speaking across associational boundaries (212). It facilitates active participation by anyone and everyone who desires to communicate, decreasing dependence on a small group of news sources and virtually eliminating governmental control. The result produces significant qualitative and quantitative changes, where the power of mass media and its tendency to foster inert polity is moderated by nonmarket actors(212-3, 219-20) Basic tools of networked communication: (Exs. Sinclair Broadcasting and the 2004 presidential election; the development of the public criticism of Diebold Election Systems’ voting machines.

  • E-mail: the most popular application, is cheap and efficient but, due to commercial spam and indiscriminate messages, is less than ideal as a mechanism for being heard.
  • The World Wide Web: enables a wide range of applications, from web pages to blogs to virtual worlds to…

Exs. Internet listeners of Radio B-92 in Belgrade reported events in their neighborhoods after the station had been shut down by the Milosevic Regime. Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs describes how citizens of the Philippines uses short message service to organize real-time movements and action to overthrow their government. It is important to remember that “the networked public sphere is not made of tools, but of social production practices that these tools enable.” (219). In liberal societies, the primary effect of the Internet relies on information and cultural production activity of nonmarket actors (like us!). Critiques of claims that the Internet has democratizing effects include: 1) Information overload 2) Money will end up dominating anyway 3) Centralization of the Internet 4) Centrality of commercial mass media to the Fourth Estate function. (i.e., The “Fourth Estate” function describes the importance of the press to the political process). 5) Authoritarian countries can use filtering and monitoring to squelch Internet use. 6) Digital divide – access to Internet tools may further the division between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” 7) Who will serve the “watchdog” function? Benkler spends the balance of the chapter addressing these concerns, arguing that neither first nor second generation critiques are necessarily correct, and the Internet may not be either too chaotic nor too concentrated. Benkler notes that users are solving the “internet overload” problem by congregating in a small number of sites, and new nodes tend to link to already well-established nodes, in what may be deemed “preferential attachment”. (240-41). (We can observe that phenomenon ourselves by checking out google or YouTube’s most popular sites of the day.) Benkler argues that the networked public sphere provides broader intake, participatory filtering, and relatively incorruptible platforms for creating public salience, because 1) at a microlevel, sites cluster; 2) at a macrolevel, the Web and the blogosphere have giant, strongly connected cores; 3) as clusters get small enough, the obscurity of sites participating in the cluster diminishes, while the visibility of the superstars remains high, resulting in filtering; 4) the Web exhibits “small-world” phenomena, making most Web sites reachable thorugh shallow paths from most other Web sites. Benkler suggests the result is a reasonably attractive image of the networked public sphere. (247-61).

For more insight, refer to the Chapter 7 Wikipedia page. (Scroll down to start at the "Thoughts on Link Powerlaws and Blogs" section)

Additional Perspective

In Order to Mobilize People, Will Something Like PledgeBank work??

Is Richard DawkinsThe Selfish Gene applicable? Video introduction by Richard Dawkins. Thirty years ago, Dawkins, along with David Dennett proposed that Darwin's theory of evolution could be applied to culture, to explain how and why certain robust ideas appear seemingly simultaneously throughout a culture, and then begin to influence the culture and evolve with it, ultimately affecting its survival. Dawkins discussed the idea of "memes," which are remarkably robust ideas with sufficient complexity to be able to adapt itself to many cultural settings and situations. (The concept is well-illustrated by the movie, The Matrix). The following could be considered Internet memes:




social networking




tag clouds



peer networks

search engine

customizable start pages

Refer to E-learning queen 8/12/06 article for more insight.

Perhaps Marshall MacLuhen's idea of a global village, first proposed decades ago, is becoming a reality?

What about reliability & accuracy of information? See The publishing house: an exploration of the internet publishing revolution: An Oct. 2005 paper discussing the state of new media& describing solutions to the problems introduced by instant publishing.

What about the dissemination of too much information, leading to negative (potentially disastrous) consequences? Consider Iraq Document Web Site Shut After Report of Access to Nuke “How-To” Content or U.S. pulls Web site said to reveal nuclear guide. The U.S. Intelligence Government website was shut down on Nov. 3, 2006, after Iraqi nuclear documents were briefly posted; Graphs, charts, etc., were deemed too explicit and revealing.

Check out this NY Times article - Anti-U.S. Attack Videos Spread on Web. This thought-provoking article discusses how videos showing insurgent attacks against American troops in Iraq have become part of popular Internet video-sharing sites, including YouTube and Google Video. The "Readers' Opinions" section asks, "How closely should YouTube monitor videos of violence in Iraq that have been posted on the site by its members?"


Notes from Day 1. [1]