It's been more than 25 years since I last visited El Salvador and other parts of Central America. Recently, I have rebuilt my website with a section dedicated to images from the region.
It might have all began with Madonna who strutted across the stage "Like a Virgin", and, over the years, along came Lady Gaga dressed in choice cuts of meat, and now Nicki Minaj’s controversial use of historic iconic images.
The perceptions we hold about others are not isolated events. Representations of “Bad boys” and “Good Girls” or vice versa are incessantly feeding our insatiable appetite for primal desires such as control, sex, lust, and love.
The message performers such as Nicki Minaj and others send to young people is a confusing ideology that capitalizes on a faux-resistance to power and injustice, while constructing a wildly distorted vision of truth and beauty. Minaj’s Nazi-like themes in her recent video, or the likenesses of Malcolm X or the pope represents the latest in a line of “shock pop” divas.
During the past few years, photography seems to have been rolled into the job description for many designers.
Not trained as photographers, the designers learned quickly that making publication-quality images wasn't all that simple. I guess that's why they used to hire photographers.
Even after taking basic photo classes, the designers remained frustrated with their inability to get exposures correct. I suggested Bryan Peterson's book, "Understanding Exposure" as a starting point, and then went on to talk about what I thought were bigger problems - communication breakdowns with clients and an over dependence on Photoshop. My theory is that if you spend 10 minutes making a pictures and another 2 hours in Photoshop trying to correct your mistakes there is a problem.
In an age where everyone thinks they are a photographer simply because they have an Instagram or Facebook account, the mechanics of what really goes into making great images appears to have less relevance. The immediacy of posting a hastily composed, poorly exposed selfie on Facebook seems to have corrupted our sensibilities to some extent and this mindset is pervasive. Since photography is so ubitiquous, companies looking to cut costs are placing more demands on designers to create images.
The issue here is that designers often do not have the technical expertise to produce images in a way that they are accustomed to working with. In addition, many designers do not understand how to talk about photography with clients since they often don't realize how complicated some photographs can be to produce.
Good Ideas Don't Always Make Great Pictures
When a designer agrees to produce a large poster for a client's basketball program and then heads into a dark gym to make a picture of the team, they need to understand that no matter how simple it is to put a camera on "A" or "P", things can go poorly very quickly. In the end, the designer turned photographer becomes frustrated with the project, even though the original design idea was interesting and compelling.
In today's visual envirnoment it is not quantity but quality that counts. You can make thousands of images only to learn that two-thirds of them are over or under exposed, blurry, off-color, or, in other words not usable.
My advice to designers is to experiement and practice making images that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also technically sound. Learn the grammar of photography such as Peterson's "photographic triangle" before tackling a challenging project.
Designers need to understand that images that are technically and compositional well executed in camera will not only save them hours in Photoshop, but could free them up to develop other projects.
Photography's ability to convey meaning compellingly and immediately is so pervasive in today's society that we seem to have come to take for granted that it is still both an art and a science.
Photo Tips for Designers:
Communication between the photographer and the publication’s design staff is critical. The photographer must provide a variety of images of an event that can solve a number of possible design problems. This means the photographer must think like a designer by understanding the limitations of space, color and medium, and other considerations.
The best results come from communicating the intended purpose of an assignment. What will the image be used for? How will it play - vertical or horizal? Who are the key subjects needed to support the text. If the designer isn’t clear with what he or she needs than the safest approach is to follow the general principle of Murphy’s Law.
The eye move constantly around the frame scanning and searching for patterns, shapes, and information that is relevant to the seer.
The photographer learns to make correct choices about where he or she wants the viewer’s eye to go. The most important element in the frame is called the center of visual impact - the equivalent of the “subject in a sentence. Photography has its own conventions and grammar, and one of the most important rules is make an image that is focused on what is most important.
In publications photography, the photographer is expected to produce images that have a strong center of visual impact. When making pictures, the designer needs to think through not only what makes a better image, but also the needs of the designer and audience. On every assignment make images of the same scene both in vertical and horizontal formats. Provide a Center of Impact in all frames. Make images that are dynamic by incorporating foreground, middle ground and background information if possible.
There are two types of pictures -- Good one and not so good ones. The intention of publications photography is to convey a visual message that is immediate, dynamic, and both emotionally and graphically appealing. Photographers who understand the value of composing images with clear intention think about the edges of the frame and the background first.
Photography is a process of substraction. It’s not what’s in the frame, but what has to get left out to make the picture less cluttered that is important here. Begin with the outside edges in the viewfinder and then move to the background.
March 31, 2014 in censorship, Citizen journalism, digital cameras, digital literacy, digital media and teaching, digital photo ethics, digitally altered pictures, DSLR photography, First Amendment, image ethics, media accountability, Media Criticism, Media Ethics, Media Manipulation, Media representation, Moral complexity, national press photographers association, photo digital manipulation, photo digital manipulation survey, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, photography and history, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Photoshop, Picture Editing, pictures and emotions, propaganda, public journalism, Social Media, social media, technology | Permalink | Comments (0)
| | |
The average American is exposed to more than 5,000 visually mediated images each day. Today, more than 350 million pictures are uploaded to Facebook each day and another 400 million pictures find their way to Twitter. In 2012, Instagram hosted more than 5 billion images. In recent years, more than 11 million digital cameras and 72 million iPhones were sold.
So, what’s the point of all this? Increasingly, digital images online and in the press have become susceptible to manipulation based on individual and cultural bias. The ways in which we perceive everything from ideal body shapes to major world events are affected by the images we see.
Exposure to manipulated images in the media normalizes the conditions in which we experience the world around us and our ability to distinguish fact from fiction. Ultimately, the reality of digital manipulation changes, forever, the role photography plays in society and the public perception of international affairs.
My research into the perceptions and attitudes of photographers toward digitally altered news images began more than a decade ago. At that time, during the start of the war in Iraq, I realized how implicit and explicit bias toward images shape public opinion of world events.
Public trust of international news coverage, especially visuals, is often reliant on familiarity, cultural bias and magnitude of events and issues. Bias signifies an attitude or mindset that can be explicit or implicit, favorable or unfavorable.
Unfavorable negative bias toward the veracity of images in an international context limits the course of discourse on substantive issue. I propose that bias extends beyond the physical altering of images for whatever motive, be it self-gain or ideological partisanship.
Today, we must learn to identify different forms of bias in visual reportage in terms of credibility, veracity, and accountability.
Photo manipulation contributes only a fraction, albeit a significant one, to unfavorable bias toward the mainstream media in reporting foreign affairs. Other factors such as visual censorship by news organizations, the practice of hiring in-country freelance photographers to offset the downsizing and staff reductions at U.S. news organizations, poor ethical standards and judgment, the increasing influence of spin-doctors and public relations specialists, mobile internet platforms, and social media such as Twitter and YouTube.
In addition, the proliferation of faster, cheaper, and easier to use digital camera and video technologies such as smart phones, prosumer DSLR, video cameras, and tablets enable the dissemination of images across multiple platforms without editorial oversight. The pervasive, permanence and ubiquity of these realities signify the potential to bias the public perception of international affairs in unfavorable ways.
To be continued......
 Lester, Paul Martin. Visual Communication: Images with Messages. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishers. 1995.
 Griffith, Adam. "Crunching the Numbers: Four Insights We Can Glean from Camera Sales Data." PetaPixel. 18 Dec. 2013. Online. <http://petapixel.com/2013/12/18/crunching-numbers-4-insights-camera-sales-data/>.
 Staff. "Global Apple IPhone Sales Q3 2007-Q1 2014." Statista. 2014. Online 30 Mar. 2014. <http://www.statista.com/statistics/263401/global-apple-iphone-sales-since-3rd-quarter-2007/>.
 Farid, Hany. "Photo Tampering throughout History." Four and Six Technologies. Online. Mar. 2014. <http://www.fourandsix.com/photo-tampering-history/>
Faking photos online is hardly news. Although the practice of digitally altering images, whatever the reason, is a major concern for mass media, there doesn't seem to be an easy fix.
As Ricchiardi contends, “With new technology, faking or doctoring photographs has never been simpler, faster or more difficult to detect. Skilled operators truly are like magicians, except they use tools like Photoshop, the leading digital imaging software, to create their illusions.” Moreover, “Digital manipulation technology negatively affects news content and presumably damages credibility” Gladney and Ehrlich (1996).
Since 2006, I’ve been conducting research asking professional and amateur photographers what constitutes digital photo manipulation and how it might affect public confidence in the media.
In 2007, for instance, 87 percent of respondents defined photo digital manipulation as changes to the content of a picture after it is made through electronic means. In 2014, however, more than 95 percent of participants agreed with the definition.
Although these results may not come as a surprise, it is important to clarify how people define the terms they use to describe phenomena. In addition, when asked in 2007 if photo digital manipulation is an increasingly important issue in society today, more than 85 percent agreed that it was.
It should be noted, however, that the sample size of the survey differ significantly, with n=112 this year compared to n= 784 in 2007)
Results from the latest survey (March 2014) of 100 participants suggest the following.
In my survey on digital photo manipulation in 2007 I sought the participation of photojournalists and photographers, professionals and enthusiasts, from around the world to help us understand how attitudes toward digitally altered images may be changing.
Last year, more than 745 respondents participated in the annual survey on digital photo manipulation. Part of the study seeks to clarify how photographers define photo manipulation and another part explores how attitudes toward image altering my be changing over time. The study is part of a long-term evaluation of attitudes people have toward accepting digitally altered images in the media and elsewhere.
For example when asked, "I can tell when a photograph has been digitally altered," 42 percent of respondents (n=738) agreed or strongly agreed that they could tell the difference last year. However, 58 percent either disagreed or were undecided about whether they could tell a picture has been altered. Could it be possible that over time, given advances in image editing software, more people will be unable to tell. The survey encourages the participation of both professionals and amateurs photographers and explores other issues such as if it is okay for images of Hollywood celebrities to be altered but not okay for images of politicians.
In terms of defining what constitutes digital photo manipulation four questions were presented:
1) I define photo digital manipulation as changes to the content of a picture after it is made through electronic means.
2) I define photo digital manipulation as a process that helps to make the picture better aesthetically.
3) I define photo digital manipulation as a process that helps to make the objects in the picture more visually interesting.
4) I define photo digital manipulation as a process that changes the content of a picture by adding or removing visual elements from the original.
Other areas worthy of tracking over a long period of time include how photo digital manipulation is defined and whether the issue remains important in the public sphere.
More than 87 percent of respondents agreed to define photo digital manipulation as changes to the content of an image through electronic means, while 44.9 percent believed it to be process that helps to make the objects in the picture more visually interesting. When asked if photo digital manipulation helps to make the picture better aesthetically, 37. 8 percent disagreed, 23 percent had no opinion, and 38 percent showed agreement. In the last question, "I define photo digital manipulation as a process that changes the content of a picture by adding or removing visual elements from the original," more than 85 percent expressed agreement with the statement.
Today, information management is a Pandora’s box. Terms such as blogging, tweets, curation, crowdsourcing, citizen journalism, aggregation, and really simple syndication have entered the vernacular. Until recently, publishing information was expensive and typically tied to attracting advertisers to pay for content. Publishers had to assume financial risks in the hope that people would be willing to buy a newspaper, magazine or book. Steven Rosenbaum, author of the book Curation Nation observes, “It used to be that making and moving information was so expensive that the question of who was going to get permission to speak was a central social and political issue. But now speech is more democratic.” The unintended consequence of “democracy” in the chaos that has become the web appears to be determining who gets heard. When the term “chaos” is used to describe the amount of data flowing across the Internet is an understatement. Today, the Internet has seen the creation of more than 133 million blogs, Twitter, the macro blogging service, claims it has 75 million users, and the giant social networking site Facebook has more than 500 million members. According to Search Engine Land, members update their profiles on Facebook at a rate of 700 per second, there are more than 600 tweets per second on Twitter, and Google receives 34,000 searches per second. Add to all this, the video sharing site YouTube receives more than 2 billion viewers a day. These staggering statistics are both a boon and a burden for many journalists, since much of the information appears more like chatter than substantive news.
Today, a majority of Americans seek information online. In fact, new research finds, "When Americans first learn about a breaking news story, 83 percent seek out a second source to get more information. For a publisher to be successful in the “print” world he or she would factor in the cost of their time, know-how, amount of ink and paper needed, as well as keeping technologies such as linotype machines and a printing press all up to speed. Therefore, publishers were less about how many books they printed and more about how many books they could sell. Printers, therefore, acted as quality control filters on what got printed and sold to the public. Clay Shirky contends, “What is quite obviously happening is that the number of things that are available for short attention are increasing. But, so is the ability to consume complicated, long-form information.” Shirky believes that information overload is not really the problem with news content today – it’s the ability to control the quality not quantity of information that really counts. This notion could easily be applied to scholars as well.
Although information overload is not fatal, the sheer quantity of news content accessible to readers is overwhelming -- the influence of infoglut is impossible to calculate. Some critics argue the 24/7 news cycle of the Internet is undermining journalism’s ability to reliably and accurately report the news. Other contend, however, that while the news industry is struggling to transition to the quixotic nature of the Web, the actual practice of connecting with audiences through the creation of compelling content remains strong. Instead of a mass media once dedicated to serving an entire community, the Internet is creating, as Shaw suggests, forms of media aimed at specialized audiences. For a free press to function in a democracy the media must strive to be unbiased, objective, and fair-minded. However, with so much information available on the Internet, opportunities to mislead the public abound. Reid Goldsborough warns, “To try to keep up with the "infoglut", we start the day earlier and end it later, in some cases never ending it. With the help of the ever-expanding choices of ever-cooler portable communication devices, many of us are, less than blissfully, connected 24/7.” According to research conducted by the University of California at Berkeley in 2008, every year the amount of information produced globally increases by 30 percent. Further, consider the fact that Internet giant, Google, reached a breakthrough with exceeding one trillion unique links on the Web in the same year as the Berkeley study. Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Bree Nordenson observes, “Say goodbye to the gigabyte and hello to the exabyte, five of which are worth 37,000 Libraries of Congress. In 2006 alone, the world produced 161 exabytes of digital data, the equivalent of three million times the information contained in all the books ever written. By 2010, it is estimated that this number will increase to 988. Pick your metaphor: we're drowning, buried, snowed under.
Joanne Teoh Kheng Yau and Suliman Al-Hawamdeh (2001) suggest, “With the unit of information shifting to bytes, knowledge acquisition, once based on book learning, is becoming increasingly non-linear. As myriad world views are opened up by the Web, journalists, editors, and information designers are being called upon to turn information to useful knowledge.” In other words, journalists are must adjust to new ways of gathering, writing and disseminating news. According to the technology website, Techdirt, “The biggest problem that news organizations face these days isn't scary "news aggregators," but that there are now many, many, many other communities that people can join, and most of them treat their members a lot better.” In other words, journalists need to be entrepreneurial and intelligent about how they gather and deliver the news.
Recently, Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust in England, attended the Future of News and Civic Media conference and left with a feeling of hope and surprise. For Moore, There are growing numbers of people in the States who have moved beyond the increasingly circular debates about how to sustain the incumbent news industry. Instead, they are working on lots of projects that use the Internet and mobile to provide the public with timely information, in an accessible way. In other words, deliver what journalism did – or was meant to – deliver, without calling it journalism.”
Today, there is a lot of speculation about why people don’t read newspapers like they once did. A student sits on the edge of his desk in the stuffy confines of a college newspaper waiting for an editor to look over his story. He shakes his head as he is told of the urgency to move from print publication to the web. “I just like the way it feels in my hands,” he said quietly. When asked how many times a week he actually sat down to read a newspaper, the room became silent. The student’s reaction seems typically as we transition from print to the world of the web. Nevertheless, people are emotionally attached to things and rituals. Even though he may not really read a newspaper daily, his parents or grandparents probably did. There are many factors involved in why people, even journalism students, are slow in embracing new technologies, but as John Garvey muses, “The loss of newspaper readership may be traced to general indifference rather than to competition from the Internet, and to the feeling that we get enough news from the casual information provided by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (not that there's anything wrong with that) or, God help us, from Twitter” (Commonweal, 2009). How much information is too much?
Others share Moore’s enthusiasm in the profession and are not hanging on entirely to traditional ways of connecting with audiences. For example, mobile technologies make keeping up and contributing to social media such as Facebook or Twitter easy. For journalists, a recent study found nearly 41 percent of media outlets offered readers links to Twitter, 48 percent provided journalist offered blogs, and more than 20 percent made podcasts and video available for users. In addition, devices such as smart phones, iPhone, MP3 players, and other wireless technologies allow both professional and citizen journalists and opportunity to break news when it happens.
As Susan Getgood argues, “Think about it. Obama’s presidential campaign. The Iran elections. The Indonesian tsunami. The use of social media to report these stories became a part of the story. I don’t see the same thing with the oil spill disaster. Social media is just one of the channels from which we get the news. No big deal.” Journalists have begun to understand the value of Twitter and other social media such as Facebook. Mallory Jean Tenore observes, “At its most basic level, Twitter is a networking tool that helps users keep abreast of what friends, or strangers, are doing. For news organizations, it is a resource for publishing work, communicating with other journalists and finding story ideas.” In a June 2009 Slate “Doubting Twitter” opinion Jack Shafer suggests people often use Twitter to keep an issue circulating after the spotlight of media attention has moved onward. Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic Monthly proposed that Twitter is less about hard facts and more about mood. In fact, followers on Twitter, as illustrated by Mike Wise’s false tweets, can be misled and duped by the media. During the Iranian protests, mentioned in chapter one, government agents posing as journalists used Twitter to spread rumors and influence public opinion.
In a digital age journalists look for ideas and sources for stories in many places, but increasingly they are finding them online. Erica Lacono of PRweek suggests, “Heavier workloads, shorter deadlines, and increased competition are causing journalists to seek out new sources of information to help them get their jobs done, including social networks." According to Sacramento California’s Social Media Club, “Technology continues to revolutionize the way news is reported and consumed. Anyone with a smartphone, a blog or a Twitter account can break a story hours before the morning paper or evening news. In this new digital reality, media outlets are scrambling to find ways to use social media tools to reach and engage their audiences in meaningful ways. Journalists are live blogging and scanning tweets.”
Today, 95 percent of journalists use Google for sources and 47 percent use Wikipedia, PRweek reported in its 2010 Newswire Media Survey. Further, about 35 percent of journalists are using social media as sources of information. At the same time, when news breaks it appears as though social media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs is the place to go. Increasingly, citizen journalists or non-journalists submit images, words, and video to mainstream news as eye witnesses to breaking news events. At the same time, when tragedy strikes, journalists mine through blogs, Facebook profiles, and Twitter feeds looking for leads. Recently the State Bar Association, an organization concerning the interests of lawyers across the country, weighed in on the importance of changes in the media environment. “Social media has truly become the defining tool for communication in the Information Age. Social media is the new mass media: it provides effective outlets for journalism, advertising, public relations, marketing, and other crucial communication purposes.”
We are living in an era of splintered-news – a time in which information moves from source to user in an instant without the user really knowing anything about the source. Credibility in the news, therefore, is called further into question when users feel duped or mislead by a source. In August 2010, Facebook estimated more than 500 million users were connecting on the site each month. At the same time, Twitter has more than 11.5 million members worldwide. Matt Baume of the Poynter Institute contends, “Social networks -- particularly Facebook -- are quickly becoming a key way to learn about breaking news, a phenomenon that Facebook is only too happy to embrace.” Baume suggests that many news outlets are developing new strategies in which to drive readership. Journalist Alison Gow agrees that reporters are beginning to use social networks in a professional capacity. For Gow and others, Facebook has become a place to promote work, seek feedback, gauge public opinion, and be engaged in personal/professional networking. Using social networking sites to gather information has become common practice in journalism. For Jason Spencer, “These aren't just venues for hormone-driven kids or garage bands waiting to be discovered. All kinds of people--millions of potential news sources--are corralled into their own corner of the Web.“ At the same time, many journalists also maintain profiles and join groups relevant to specific causes and topics.
Journalists are constantly redefining how they gather and use information they obtain online and off. They key to the process, as Simon Rogers of Datablog, suggests is in usefulness not effort. The primary function of journalism on the Web is to make information accessible and findable. Increasingly a greater amount of information is being found on sites like Facebook and Twitter. In addition, journalists respond to perceived needs. Many may not totally agree with the use of social media as the best place for their work, but the handwriting is on the wall. It’s not that print publications are fated to the dusty morgue of history, but that technology has afforded more layered and dynamic forms of communication. Some people associate emerging media such as social networking with the decline of literacy in society. Such rhetoric overlooks the fact that people actually have more content to read than any time in history. The more important issue here is in understanding the constraints on an individual’s time to make sense of and act on the information they access. As Danielle Maestretti points out in a 2009 Utne Reader essay, “The Internet has added a seemingly limitless supply of stuff to an information landscape already overcrowded with books, magazines, news reports, radio shows, and cable channels. As greater numbers of people avail themselves of online resources, however, few understand how it all works and what it all means.” For journalists, as Lawrence Vaughn notes, “Many news sources such as CNN have admitted that their reporters very regularly search Facebook for hot new stories. With over 500,000,000 active users on the social network, it's no wonder the press has been using it as a source of recent news.” A January 2010 survey conducted by George Washington University found, “Among the journalists surveyed, 89 percent said they turn to blogs for story research, 65 percent to social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and 52 percent to microblogging services such as Twitter. In addition, 61 percent use Wikipedia.” At the same time, 89 percent of respondents admitted that social media sources were slightly or much less reliable than traditional sources. One of the issues facing mainstream media today is the lack of control or the filtering of information flowing across the Internet. In the past, if someone wanted to look up some information about a specific topic or keep on top of current events they could go to a library, read a newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch television. At the library, a specialized group of people, librarian, would catalog information according to subject for retrieval by the public. The categories to be catalog are generally limited to key words, title, author, and so on. In the news business, editors were assigned to collect, report and present information according to sections such as breaking news, sports, features, business, and more. In this way information was kept in fairly tidy boxes so that people could find what they were looking for more or less. Then, along comes the Internet and all hell breaks loose. Cataloging information on nearly 3 million blogs worldwide, 300 million Facebook users and with more than 190 million people posting to Twitter, would be herculean if not impossible. During the aerial assault of Libya by allied bombers in 2010, Twitter users were posting nearly 18,000 messages every hour. For journalists, the handwriting is on the Web. Despite a decline in viewers and readers across all media platforms including network and cable television news, radio, magazines, and newspapers in 2010, The Project for Excellence in Journalism online news consumption online jumped 17 percent in 2011. Today, journalists are presented with new challenges including the ability to serve audiences while maintaining public confidence and credibility. The nature of news is also changing. For Vadim Lavrusk, “Social media has created a human filter for quality content. The social web, like the old water cooler, favors conversations around news and even in-depth journalism that may not otherwise receive the exposure it deserves.”
Journalism in Real-Time
Information in a digital age is no long a one-way affair; delivered directly to a subscriber’s doorstep of available with a spin of the dial. Today, people from around the world send bits and bytes of information in words, pictures and video to anyone who takes the time to view or read it. Interestingly enough, the majority of this information stream does not come from mainstream media, but from a form of user-generated content called “crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing refers to user-generated content that contributes to blogs, website, other social networking sites, and the mainstream media. Online Journalism Review editor Robert Niles describes crowdsourcing in journalism as “The use of a large group of readers to report a news story. It differs from traditional reporting in that the information collected is gathered not manually, by a reporter or team of reporters, but through some automated agent, such as a website.”
Some of the most common crowdsourced content includes Wikipedia and wikis, Twitter, blogs, Facebook and reader submitted feedback to mainstream media stories. When someone witnesses and earthquake, riot, fire, or anything counting for news, they can upload their accounts. Such reports are often looked at with suspicion by legitimate news sources, unless editors can verify the story or there are so many similar accounts being streamed at one time that corroboration of accounts occurs. The trend toward crowdsourcing has prompted a new form of live-journalism – a practice that mixes on-the-scene reporting with user-generated content. What user-generated reports often lack in quality is made up for in immediacy and access. The practice of obtaining information from eyewitnesses is hardly new. Reporters look for individuals who can provide a better sense of what happened. But now the rules have changed and reporters often find themselves catching up and verifying what has been already posted to the web – fact or fiction. In the ever-changing world of new media crowdsourcing is both a boon to journalism as well as a burden. With the “truth” at stake and so many players involved in generating content, mainstream journalism appears divided on striking the right balance.
According to Forbe’s magazine write Jeff Bercovici, crowdsourcing, curation, Facebok and Twitter are changing the basic structure of journalism. Bercovici suggests, “Institutions, experience and credentials are less important than they used to be; networks, individual enterprise and personal “brands” are far more so.” Arguably, however, these changes may very well be fomented by demographics and special interests. As more people contribute more original content to the web the media is forced to take notice. At the same time, Jeff Howe, author of the book “Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowed is Driving the Future of Business” contends, “Crowdsourcing projects are generally characterized as being the product of a few super-contributors and a mass of people who contribute some minor bits. Howe’s point of view comes from experience. True crowdsourcing, suggests Robert Niles, “Involves online applications that enable the collection, analysis and publication of reader-contributed incident reports, in real time.” Despite the fact that crowdsourcing appears to be the work of many, it still take the right people with the right skill to make it work in journalism. For example, one of the biggest issues with crowdsourcing in journalism today is the ability to organize and manage content in a reliable and efficient form. After many years of trial and error, new organizations are beginning to understand how to best utilize user-generated content effectively through aggregation and curation.
Shortly after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in February 2011, news of possible radiation leaks at several of the country nuclear reactors raised worldwide concern. In addition to the chatter and first-hand accounts of the disaster, people began to collect and organize data from real-time radiation sensors and other data sources outside governmental control. At the same time social media such as Twitter and blogs had a direct impact on getting governments to take notice and take action. Less than two weeks after the earthquake, for example, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, John Roos received messages from his Twitter followers for help. Relief workers wanted Roos to help relocate more than 80 patients at a hospital out of harms way. As Steven Sternberg accounts, “Japan's disaster has spotlighted the critical role that social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube and Skype increasingly are playing in responses to crises around the world.” Originally designed for online socialization, social media is empowering people to share, images, audio and text in unfiltered or censored ways.
Alex Williams of ReadWrite Cloud, explains, “Crowdsourcing is a manifestation of that desire to contribute in a way that helps us understand and better define the overwhelming amount of data available.” Real-time data infrastructure platforms such as Pachube, (pronounced "PATCH-bay") links Internet enabled technologies such as sensors, radio frequency detection, smartphones and other devices through the Web. The use of connecting data from an array of sources and devices scattered across large area is part of a growing trend called “The Internet of Things.” Much like other terms emerging from technology jargon, such as blogging, The Internet of Things underestimates it far-reaching potential and importance to journalism.
Today people do much more than consume news – they are contributing to its creation through gathering and reporting information in real-time. For Stanley Palisada, “All it takes is a mobile phone camera or a computer to upload images and stories for mass distribution. This mutated form of reportage we call Citizen Journalism-- and its disciples, citizen journalists.”
As science writer Richard MacManus notes, “The Internet of Things” is “A network of “Internet-enabled objects, together with web services that interact with these objects.” The significance of crowdsourcing is evident in the Japan as hundreds of Geiger counter reading from across the country are collected, analyzed and shared in real-time with the world. William concludes, “The Internet of Things is a powerful way to collect radiation data and visualize it. The challenge over our lifetimes will be in interpreting this type of data so we can really understand what it means and what we should do about it when disasters strike.” Another example of the power of collaborative thinking on the Internet is the use of Wikipedia – a site where people contribute and edit information related to specific topics.
In another instance of the power of the crowd, a group of scientists from the Smithonsian Museum needed to identify more than 5,000 fish in its collection. Help was found a click away as scientists turned to Facebook. Within 24-hours, more than 90 percent of the fish had been identified by the crowd, comprised mostly of other scientists.
Citizen journalism, in a world of camera phones, texting, and the Internet, is as old a social media has been around – about a decade or so. Recently, when Shawna Redden and other passengers boarded Southwest flight 812 from Phoenix to Sacramento on April Fools Day they had no idea what to expect. Shortly after takeoff, a six-foot rip in the aircraft’s roof appeared, sending the more than 120 passengers and crew into emergency mode. Redden, an active blogger and Twitter user, pulled out her phone and documented the scene. Once the tweets and hit the Internet, the mainstream media and her followers sought her out to verify her account.
At the same time, Redden’s followers on Twitter reacted with messages of relief and questions about the incident. Similar to a 2009 plane crashed New York’s Hudson River, eyewitnesses using social media provide real-time accounts that are often unattainable by news organizations. The collaboration between people like Redden and the media is critical to the evolution of journalism. Increasingly, the trend is that news has become not only about facts but also about a conversation between reporters, sources and the public. Redden, a communication and journalism major, felt she had an obligation to share her experiences with the world. Redden notes, “Telling stories is how we live our lives, process experience, make sense of the world and, as I've learned again in the past 30 hours, develop connections with others. And pictures, well you know what they say.”
Using the name BluestMuse, Redden’s 140 character tweets were at re-tweeted or sent out by news outlets such as CBS. NPR, and the AP. At the same time, dozens of bloggers and hundreds of Twitter users were following and re-tweeting the saga. The writing style used by many Twitter users and bloggers is indicative of a shift in how people communicate with social media. While some posts and tweets are declarative and concise, others appear more personal and emotional.
Loss of cabin pressure, hands down the Scariest experience of my life.
Held my seat mate's hand and tried not to cry. Super loud! Flight crew was excellent. Stayed calm and checked on everyone.
Happy to be alive. Still feel sick.6 foot hole in the skin of the plane five rows behind me. Unbelievable.
Later, after safely arriving in Sacramento, Redden writes, “Can't sleep, too wired and the media keep calling.” Comments like this one suggest that the rip in the plane’s roof is only one part of the story. The other part is a subtext – one that focuses on the passengers who took it upon themselves to give personal accounts using social media. However, as David Briggs of the Columbia Daily Tribune notes the Internet is problematic for journalists in an “around-the-clock” news environment. Briggs notes, “The evolving — and more informal — forms of news-sharing have created a real-time stream of information.” Using Twitter in breaking a story, for instance, may run contrary to long-standing journalistic belief suggesting it is better to right and last in reporting the news than it is to be first and wrong. As we have seen misleading information and rumors not only circulate faster on the Internet they are also picked up by others without verification.
The Facebook Presence
Most people think of Facebook as a place to keep in touch with family and friends. Facebook fits the perfect description of the web – the software is immediate, persistent, and ubiquitous. In recent years, Facebook as become an indispensable tool for reporters who can collect story ideas, find photographs for breaking news coverage, contact sources, and follow colleagues on groups. For Furhana Afrid, “Facebook, like many other social networks is evolving.” Afrid uses the site for story ideas, networking with other journalists and experts, as a platform to post content, engage with her audience, share news worth articles and studies, hunt and for jobs. In other others, Facebook provides journalists with many of the tools it would take several software applications to perform. More importantly, Facebook is now a mainstay of life on the Internet. Rick Dockai is a journalist who wears many hats. Docksai writes for a science and technology magazine as well as contribute articles on public policy and community news for other publications. “Facebook has helped me on all three beats,” Docksai writes. “When I'm looking for sources on a given topic, say "climate change" - I'll type climate change into the Facebook search app and pull up hundreds of groups and individuals involved in climate change.” In addition, the reporter sends out messages to possible sources for stories he is working on and finds this method far more effective than sending out mass e-mails. The best way to explain this sort of success with Facebook is in understanding the difference between a “push” and “pull” message on the web. When someone sends a message through e-mail, they are “pushing” it out to individuals who most likely have an inbox full of unsolicited spam. On Facebook, however, even the user puts the message out for a wide and general audience and then individuals who have opted to participate in a specific group can respond. This is called “pulling” selected messages – a process that yields a higher and much faster response rate. Docksai believes he is successful because, “With a Facebook message, they can see my face and see who I am, so there's more trust. Also, most people today still receive fewer Facebook messages per day than they do voicemails or e-mails, so the chances that they will get around to reading my Facebook message are higher than the chances that they will play back a voicemail message or respond to e-mail.”
As a reporter for the North County Times in San Diego, Californis, Dorrine Mendoza recently used Facebook or (FB), as it is known by followers. Mendoza explains, “For example, if we get the name of an accident victim, I will search for their name in FB for their profile, and to see if anyone has mentioned their name as a way to get in touch with surviving family, friends.” Further, Ted Schnell, a journalist working in the Chicago suburbs, followed the constant stream of tweets created by the city manager as he rode on a snowplow during a recent blizzard. “The bottom line,” writes Schnell, “Is that that tech-savvy city manager was putting out a stream of real-time information that was immensely valuable to the residents, who likely got more information from following the city manager on Facebook and Twitter than they did from my story -- although my information was broader, encompassing school closings and issues in outlying areas.” Jason Olson, a sports reporter also sees opportunity in social networking, "As a sports editor for a weekly, community paper Facebook has offered up a vast database of resources from specific teams, schools and of course several story ideas and/or background information.” Facebook, however, isn’t for everyone. There are many editors and reporters who are concerned that using a social network such as Facebook sets a dangerous precedent. As John Le Fevre points out on a recent discussion about how journalists use Facebook, “How do you verify that a page or profile on Facebook is genuine? Anyone can start a page and through up information that looks genuine. If you're getting your information from an official company/ government department website there's a greater chance the information is accurate, than off a Facebook page.” Another discussant wonders if Facebook posts can be treated as “on-the-record” and whether the courts can subpoena a reporter’s account? John Einar Sandvand, a Norwegian journalist studying the impact of digital media on society outlines five important trends – of which help to explain why journalists are turning to social media as tools of the trade. Sandvand suggests, localization, mobility, fragmentation, new business models, and that everything is social are the key trends affecting media today. All of these trends are not new, they just appear to be reaching critical mass.
Curation and Aggregation
People want news and they don’t really care where it comes from as long as it is accurate, timely and relevant to their lives. At least that’s what Sam Taute, a social media tech writer, thinks, “Readers don’t care about which news source scoops a story, they care most about which source gives them the most comprehensive picture of the day’s news. This has created a shift in the culture of journalism, in which writers and editors recognize the need to share with and be plugged into rival news sources.” The problem, as Mirna Bard points out is, “Social journalism often consists of more content curation than reporting, so this may hinder the depth of the information being reported. Also, many readers online don’t know the difference between content curation and content reporting.”
Current trends in newsgathering and reporting such as crowdsourcing, curation and aggregation have become part of the journalistic vernacular. At the same time, traditional “tried-and-true” methods of reporting remain critical to newsgathering. Today there are two types stories reaching audience – original content and re-proposed or aggregated content. Many news organizations resent having to pay reporters, editors, photographers to create unique content when news aggregators re-publish the work on their commercial sites without compensation. For example, YahooNews!, GoogleNews, the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post all aggregate the news from sources around the world. Very little of content is paid for by these sites, but the links do redirect readers to the original source. But why go to the original source when you can read the entire story on Google? There are dozens of web-based aggregators available to help readers organize content, YahooNews!, being the most popular. Some browsers such as Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox have built-in RSS (Really Simple Syndication) news feeders or aggregators. In addition, there are aggregators that feed news to users directly through email programs such as Outlook and Thunderbird.
C.W. Anderson, a teacher and researcher, defines news aggregators as “hierarchizers, interlinkers, bundlers, rewriters, and illustrators of web content.” News aggregators at mainstream news organization typically work on the periphery of the operation – monitoring, editing, organizing, and posting content to the web. Anderson suggests, “A news aggregator coordinates amongst a series of quasi-institutionalized (or entirely independent) content producers. The primary task of this news aggregator is, then, to build links between independently produced news stories, and to rank these bundled news stories according to a rapidly shifting criteria of importance, popularity, and newsworthiness.”
Bill Keller, former executive editor of The New York Times, had has a few feathers ruffled in his days but nothing seems to annoy him more than web search engines, blogs, and websites accumulate, or pirating content from news outlets that originally produced the content. In 2011, Keller published a commentary criticizing the online news media such as the Huffington Post, AOL, YahooNews!, and Google News for appropriating content and well as undermining and sensationalizing the news. Keller notes in his column, “We have bestowed our highest honor — market valuation — not on those who labor over the making of original journalism but on aggregation.” What Keller suggests here is that news aggregators, including many bloggers, understand that “words written by other people, packaging them on your own Web site and harvesting revenue that might otherwise be directed to the originators of the material.” Keller’s critics, and there are many, believe that to some extent all media aggregate or accumulate news from various sources. TechDirt’s Mike Masnick notes, “Journalism is a form of aggregation as well. After all, you're taking content from the people who actually make news, and aggregating it into a publication.”
In response, Arianna Huffington, who recently sold the Post to AOL, argues, “I think there is a convergence happening. There was a big debate over the last few years about whether the newspapers will survive, whether the future is going to be only online. And I think we are realizing now, increasingly, that online, purely online news operations like The Huffington Post are more and more adopting the most traditional, basic tenets of journalism.”
For Marisa Peacock, aggregation is undermining legitimate journalism. Peacock observes, “Considered to be the equivalent of outsourcing, aggregating news, is seen as a necessary evil. It helps to cater to the user's lack of time and attention and it helps to generate revenue. But with it comes the caveat that it cheapens the content.” The key to journalism’s future may very well be, as Peacock argues is that, “News aggregation shouldn't be looked at as an appraiser of content, but as a mechanism for pushing out content to a wider audience, who can then decide its value.”
Some critics maintain that the impact of social media on journalism actually devalues the work of reporters and editors. John Reinan contends, “What's gotten less attention is how the growth of the Web has devalued writers, photographers and other content providers. The model that's developing in today's communications business mimics the distribution of wealth in America: a few rich people at the top and a big group struggling at the bottom.“ Curation, it could be argued is a response to the vast amount of content available on the Internet, even if journalism become subsumed by user-generated content. “What does this mean for you as an information consumer?” Reinan wonders. “It means fewer professional journalists delving deeply into important topics — or even less important ones. It means you'll rely more on information from unpaid sources….”
Despite concerns of diluting the power of journalism, aggregation is also a tool for reporters. For example, GasBuddy.com, is a website that provides statistics and real-time prices for gas across the U.S. and Canada. As a form of aggregated news, users of the site report the cost of gas in their area. Reporters, then, can track and compare gas prices with other data to make stories more comprehensive and complete.
One of the primary conduits for content on the Internet is the use of RSS or “Really Simple Syndication” news feeds. For Richard Karpinski, “Few technologies have simultaneously been as popular and as confusing as RSS, the simple yet-still-far-from-mainstream platform for syndicating blog and other Web site content.” RSS feeds allow users to tailor their information needs into an easy-to-view formatting such as descriptions and headlines. For example, Google Reader is a free aggregator of websites users can customize. For journalists, being able to track stories across the web by an array of sources – mainstream and independent. Increasingly new software tools are being developed to help individuals, institutions, and organizations keep ahead of the deluge of information they wade through daily. SwiftRiver, for instance, is an opensource (free) software program designed to “understand and act upon a wave of massive amounts of crisis data,” especially within the first 24-hours after a disaster.” When journalists need to manage dozens of Twitter feeds, blogs, Facebook pages, news websites, and more, aggregation technologies are critical.
From Reporter to Curator
One significant shift in reporting the news in a world dominated by social media is keeping track of it all. How did the mainstream media learn of Redden’s tweets and pictures? It all begins with a tag, according to Technorati which specializes in online content, is “A tag is a keyword or short phrase that writers assign to articles to describe or identify the content: the subject matter, the people involved, the type of article, themes addressed. This helps people searching for a particular type of content to find articles using those tags.”
In this case, the media had already been alerted that the plane was in trouble. In newsrooms across the country, editors and reporters are scanning Facebook, Twitter, and blogs with tags that appear connected to the story. Once journalists get hold of a thread such as Redden’s they begin to tweet and post to their own news sites. News of the incident seems to spread like a virus on the web and Redden becomes not only a citizen journalist but also a celebrity.
In 2011, as anti-government protests rocked Egypt, National Public Radio’s senior digital media strategist Andy Carvin was busy redefining how news is managed. Carvin’s contribution to NPR’s coverage was to monitor, live-blog, “tweet” and capture moments of the on-going crisis in real time. Carvin is called a “curator” – a journalist who doesn’t necessarily create content but rather to find the best, most relevant, and stories on the Internet. Basically, Carvin’s job is to make sense of real-time events and pass the news along to others. At the same time as he is reading and tweeting, Carvin is also engaged with more than 4,000 of his followers on Twitter. According to the Atlantic Monthly’s Phoebe Connelly, Carvin’s “Twitter stream has been a non-stop curation of the Egypt protests. Carvin has turned himself into "a personal news wire for Egypt.” More importantly, Carvin’s activities as a curator act as a bridge between the people, communities, and the media around the world. Megan Garber of the Nieman Journalism Lab observes, “Carvin’s work cultivating sources and sharing their updates has turned curation into an art form, and it’s provided a hint of what news can look like in an increasingly networked media environment.” For Steven Rosenbaum, curation is a “a way to get value out of the information flood. But the role of the curator has been a contentious one, and not everyone has been on board with the concept.”
Serka Toto, a correspondent for the online journal TechCrunch notes, “Curation, the concept of filtering and organizing online content to separate signal from the increasing noise in social media, is currently one of the most discussed buzz words in the web industry.” At the same time, media analyst Jeff Jarvis, suggests journalists have “always curated information, collecting it, selecting it, giving it context in their stories. But now they have to do that across a much vaster universe: the Internet.” Moreover, on his blog, Terry Heaton comments , “The role of the curator in the news business is of vast importance today, and it will become even more important tomorrow. The "collection" that yesterday's editor had to display came from wire services, press releases, regional affiliations, group connections and, of course, her own staff.”
The job of a journalist, traditionally, is to report the news. However, as the Internet increasingly grows as a dominant source for information for many, curation and editing becomes even that more critical. For Lewis DVorkin, “Curation is in so many ways the next phase of edited journalism. Just as significant, curation-editing is fast transforming ‘who’ the media is.” DVorkin believes that news curators, reporters who sift through vast quantities of user-generated content, actually act as editors. Over the past few years, new software programs have been developed to assist reporters and the general public in curating, and aggregating content on the web. Chirpstory, Storify, and Curatedby are all services that provide users with the tools to filter and bundle online content. Still in its beta version, some of Storify’s users include PBS Newshour, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Yahoo!News. Since Twitter produces enormous quantities of information from a wide range of topics and sources, curative sites will play an even greater role in the future of journalism. One proponent of curative journalism is Doc Searles who has introduced the concept of “giant zero journalism.” Searles believes that social media “puts everybody zero distance from everybody and everything else. And it supports publishing and broadcasting at costs that round to zero as well.” For example, Microsoft’s relevantly new search engine Bing now offers Bing Social, a site that accompanies a search with Twitter feeds and enhanced sharing features. The service lets users “plug into” real-time Twitter streams to as the company explains, “help customers make more informed decisions in search by surfacing the kind of information you can only get from your friends, often in real-time.”
Wading into the Stream
There are many ways to begin tracking social media sites in covering the news. As mentioned earlier, news feeds or RSS are the logical first step. Several news feeders, short summaries of headlines and stories accompanied by links, all reporters to skim and scan for content relevant to their interests.
Google’s free suite of software applications such as Google Plus, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Google Reader are a good place to start. Many people are familiar with Google’s G-Mail without understanding that the search engine giants also provides an array of services including its own browser – Google Chrome.
Google Plus and Google reader appear to function in similar ways, but the former is really a home page with the RSS reader embedded into the template. From iGoogle it is possible to check email, a calendar, Facebook, Twitter, and a host of news sites. The panels for individual items such as Twitter can be moved around for better organization. The RSS reader, Google Reader is very effective and allows users to customize content. For example, if a user is interesting in tracking images and videos from Flickr, a massive photo storage website, they can add the RSS feed from Flickr to the Google Plus account. This way the user is not only tracking stories they are also keeping an eye on the millions of images made each day.
In addition to setting up an Google Plus homepage that accesses email, pictures, RSS feeds, and other features, Google News is customizable. In a review of the product, Jennifer Van Grove comments, “Google News is already a handy resource for staying informed on breaking news stories, but they’ve just become a news source that’s more dialed into your specific needs.” To set up a customized Google News link, go to the Google News main page and enter a desired keyword. Once a term, such as “space” is entered the personalized news entry will appear on the sidebar on the left hand side of the page.
Consolidating searches and keeping data organized is critical in this age of overload. The less places a user needs to go to keep on top of the subjects, themes, issues, events, and topics they are interested in the better. For journalists the practice of aggregating and curating news sources is becoming increasingly important.
Curation of news and information is really a convergence of pulling out and bundling relevant content with the desired aim of optimizing a user’s experience on the web. Even a simple query on a search engine such as Bing or Google is a form of curation. However, the problem for many users is that the search outcome is typically too broad. In fact, only 10 percent of people searching the web move beyond the first page. Abby Johnson of Web Pro News observes, “The subject of content curation also raises concern for content creators in terms of how their own content can get noticed in the midst of all the other content on the Web.”
In addition, another effective social media tool are social bookmarking sites such as Del.icio.us., Digg, Diigo, Newsvine, Slashdot, and more an 100 other services. Social bookmarking sites are unique simply for the fact that they are social and public. Users identify and select content by “tagging” stories with keywords. The tags are then made available to all users of the service and are also saved on the user’s account. The more people like a story (the more “thumbs up”) they receive from users, the higher they are placed on the website. Moreover, users can comment of stories and link to similar ones. Social bookmarking is another example of crowdsourcing, since the interests of the “crowd” drive the popularity or relevance of a story. Social bookmarking differs from the “bookmarks” tool located on web browsers such as Safari or Firefox. The social bookmarking sites can aggregate content by keyword and also summarize the search. In others words, bookmarking services act as an aggregator as well as a community forum. According to “Feed For All,” a RSS feed creation tool, “With Delicious, each "bookmark" of a specific webpage is seen as a vote of confidence. The more people who bookmark a specific webpage, the more credible the webpage is viewed.” At “Teaching Hacks,” a site aimed at helping teachers understand how to get the most out of the Internet, “Social bookmarking sites turns the hierarchical model upside down. In the past an individual might have saved their favorites or bookmarks on their local computer. Their bookmarks might have been organized under a few general headings. The social bookmarking web site allows individuals to store their bookmarks on the Internet and makes them accessible anywhere. For Paul Bradshaw of the Press Gazette, “The most basic function of bookmarking services is that they allow you to effectively manage “cuttings”, in other words online reports, webpages, and articles.” Bookmarking tools are effective for journalists because they can be tagged and organized with notes, Bradshaw notes. Also called “link journalism,” social bookmarking is a form of newsgathering with no limits on space.
Reporting from the Cloud
Among the many trends redefining journalism in an age of social media, mobile cloud computing is perhaps one of the most significant. Using mobile technologies such as smart phones and remote software applications, reporting is more immediate and based in real-time. Most people are familiar with cloud computing through GPS mapping in cars. Map programs are not stored in the GPS device itself but relay data through satellites and servers. A mobile cloud refers to how data is stored and processed outside the device itself. This means that the applications used by the device are not part of the device but are accessed through wireless Internet connections. Applications such as G-mail, Facebook, and Twitter rely on large groups of networked servers that are not tie to a local server network. A recent study by Juniper Research found mobile applications will increase 88 percent by 2014.
“With increasing use of social media, as well as improved technology for commenting on articles, the potential for a publication to cultivate an online community is growing,” Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb notes. Reporter-based resource sites such as DocumentCloud – a site that acts both as an application as a community of journalists sharing referenced documents and articles to the cloud. For Loren Steffy, a writer for the Houston Chronicle, “It's easy to see why cloud computing is catching on. For sheer convenience, it's hard to beat.” Steffy relied on G-mail to cover the Enron Scandal. She explains that G-mail acts “as a data storage vault for trial transcripts. I needed a program that could handle large files and that could be easily accessed by my laptop in the courthouse or my computers at home and in the newsroom.” In addition, Google Docs allows users to share and collaborate on articles through cloud-based computing. The downside to using such applications is that the author, by agreeing to the terms of usage with Google, technically gives up the legal rights to the contents they produce. Google uses the keywords found in the content to sell ads related to searches about that specific topic or issue. For example, if someone is sharing data about Ford Mustangs, Google can use the information to post advertisement about automobiles next to the search.
Journalists must be tech-savvy and smart in using the tools of the 21st newsroom. At times, seeming more like entrepreneurs than old-fashion beat reporters, journalists must be able to gather, organize, collaborate, and disseminate information across a variety of platform. Reporters using social media such as news aggregation and curation have to co-exist with a never-ending stream of crowdsourced pseudo-journalism in the form of tweets, Facebook posts, and blogs. Understanding the function and practice of these tools ensures a higher level of quality journalism.
Since 2006, I have conducted several surveys exploring the opinions and attitudes of journalists, editors, photographers, and the general public concerning digital ethics. This year's survey goes a little deeper into perceptions relating to the use of digitally altered International news pictures and images covering U.S. news.
Public trust in the so-called "objectivity" of news has been undermined by the ease in which images can be altered, but there is also another ethical issue that requires attention -- compassion fatique. A recent image of a man caught up in the conflict in the Ukraine is shown in flames. According to the Globe and Mail in Canada, there were only a handful of people who objected to the image.
How images if carnage and chaos, manipulated or not, does it take make people care in a society that seems to demand objectivity from its sources of information but lives in a time where relativism rules supreme.
Kansas Republican Candidate for Senate Milton Wolf's career may end up looking like one of the autopsy images he posted on his Facebook page. Wolf, a radiologist, is being criticized from all sides for posting X-rays of gunshot wounds and other medical injuries on social media. The Topeka Capital Journal reported the Senate hopeful poked fun at the images on his posts.
The first thing that comes to mind when issues such as this come to light is simply, "what was he thinking?" Wolf, has now become the latest in a growing list of politicians that have tanked careers through the misguided use of social media. Wolf's a smart guy, with advanced degrees, yet he seems to have no common sense when it comes to understanding the balance between getting attention for what he thinks is a "good cause" and simply pissing people off.
There's a really nice piece on CBS news Sunday Morning programabout the role of ceramic tiles in Portugese society.
Credit: Positively Portugal: Featuring an Azulejos tile
Portugal's long love affair with ceramic tiles dates back centuries. Loaded with symbolic references to the country's past, the tiles reflect its rich culture. The tiles carrying meaning within a culture through sharing a country's collective history, values, ideals, and social order. We might, then, only see the art in the tiles, but there is much more than meets the eye.
Here are few sites featuring the Azulejos tiles:
If your are looking to get a great deal of publicity, just stick a half-naked zombie man statue on your lawn, especially if that lawn happens to belong to a prestigious women's college near Boston. Forget flamingos.
To promote the Davis Museum's new exhibit New Gravity by artist Tony Matelli, Wellesley College curators decided to place one of Matelli's life-like pieces on the lawn.
Photo Credit: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe
The uproar over the statue was enough to wake the dead. When interviewed by the Boston Globe, Matelli said, "The sculpture is of a man who is hopelessly lost and out of place." Matelli's metaphor, however, seems to have been lost in the clamor.
It's easy to see how such an image could make some people uncomfortable. At the same time, art is meant to confront our sensibilities and make us think. Maybe there is no such thing as "deeper" meaning in this and that the art is just another shameless assault on the dignity of all men and women.
There's a reason Matelli created "The Sleepwalker" and it's a pretty safe bet to say that he wasn't out to offend women. If anything, the statue seems to be waking a few people up to the fact that the relationship between life and art is relevant to the way we experience the world the today.
Like Andres Serrano's 1987 "Piss Christ", showing a cruxifix submerged in urine, it's important to treat "The Sleepwalker" with reason. Art helps us to negotiate the various realms of meaning in art and in life.
As C.J. Ducase observes, we must think of interpretation as a kind of mental event -- an activity in which consciousness something causes us to become conscious of something else.
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Konstantin Grishin
The image is arresting and saturated with symbolism.
Two lines of make shift crosses and a string of shield-yielding riot police face off like stubborn teenagers.
The crosses installed by anti-government protesters memorialize the dead and missing during three months of protests with Ukrainian police.
The image is dark, brooding, menacing. We do not see the protestors - they have been replaced by one of the most ancient and sacred symbols - the cross.
The protest image – with its moment frozen in time, can at times be persuasive enough to make us feel empathy toward all sides in a conflict. In fact, images of this nature are part of a long legacy depicting conflict and suffering.
Can pictures really change us?
Can images, such as this one, move us enough to understand the ideological tensions brewing across Africa, the Middle East and now in the Ukraine?
Images of protest serve as witnesses to a world out of balance.
Images without words to describe them, however, lack the authority, credibility, capacity, richness and complexity of symbols. Images must be interpreted after we have processed them in our mind -- running them through an incubator of experiences and memories, which require a high-level of consciousness. However, often images that the cross and the guns have the stuff of statistics -- facts used to distort truth and meaning.
Images of suffering shape our thinking on an unconscious level. Perhaps, the juxtaposition of the crosses and the guns will haunt our dreams or appear to us in a state of wakefulness. Maybe the picture can make us more aware of how fortunate we are in the United States not to live under the ruthless thumb of authoritarianism.
Often we fear such pictures and deny their deeper symbolic meaning.
In a world bombarding us with images of need and suffering it is easy to distance ourselves from such truth.
Truth, after all, like justice, compassion, beauty, is just a notion – an idea.
Perhaps we can step into this frame -- into the space, political or not, allowing us to connect with such archetypal symbols as darkness and light, death and rebirth, or hopelessness and despair. Perhaps in this one image, we can find a common ground leading to meaningful discourse and change.
Even in faith apathy and denial appears seem to be pathological.
The Christian attitude toward suffering, Pope Francis explained in a recent homily, is “silence in endurance, silence in patience.” Like St. Maximilan Kolbe, Christians must recognize "the paradox of suffering by offering his own life as a share in the suffering of Christ."
The crosses in this image are not merely signs of protest, but as Annie Dillard writes in "Holy the Firm" reminders that we are victims. Perhaps this image, in the deepest sense, represents or symbolizes the cross we must all carry in life.
Technorati Tags: Annie Dillard, anti-protest, conflict, cross, Holy the Firm, image analysis, interpretation, Konstantin Grishin, media criticism, news, photography, photojournalism, police brutality, political violence, Pope Francis, protest, protesters, REUTERS, suffering, symbols, Ukraine, Ukraine protest, visual rhetoric
| | |
People learn from making pictures. Now, The Great Courses company and National Geographic are teaming up to produce a series of videos to help us make better photographs. It seems like a perfect match, especially considering the high standards of both institutions.
Paul Suijk, president of The Great Courses comments, “Our highly engaged customers expect to learn from the world’s greatest instructors, and our library of exceptional industry-leading learning products just got stronger with the addition of this compelling new content."
The first two courses from National Geographic feature magazine photographer Joel Sartore. Appropriately Satore's offering, “Fundamentals of Photography” and “The Art of Travel Photography" should attract a lot of interest from the amatuer and professional photography community.
According to a recent media announcement:
"Under the new partnership, The Great Courses and National Geographic will offer at least a dozen additional courses over the next five years, including titles on the art of videography, photographer-led video expeditions that explore how to photograph some of the world’s most scenic locales, and on-location lectures on science, culture and exploration delivered by the remarkable explorers and experts of the National Geographic Society."
Lately, I have been preoccupied with understanding the influence of symbolic consciousness and the arts.
In an introduction to a recent essay called "The Symbolic Universe" I explain, "Symbols pervade our unconscious and conscious minds. To explore the possibility of a “symbolic universe” - a continuum representing not only what we experience as concrete reality but also what we imagine in the abstract - symbols represent a short hand form of communication. In other words, our brain sees symbols before we make sense of what they represent."
For neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, “Symbols serve as a simplifying stand-in for something complex. (A rectangle of cloth with stars and stripes represents all of American history and values.) And this is very useful. To see why, start by considering basic language—communication without a lot of symbolic content.”
The idea of iSymbolic is to make images, many of the them quite pedestrian in content, and reduce them down to visual cues (forms such as dots, lines, and shapes) that the mind readible recognizes. Made with an iPhone camera and digitally altered, the images attempt to strip away conditioned or or “mimetic” ways of experiencing the things we see. In the symbolic form, the images are in ways condensed and placed in the negative to emphasize abstractions such as found in a dot, line, or shape. Symbolically, the images in iSymbolic stand in not only for “things” but for “thoughts.” Ultimately, the objects we are accustomed to viewing through a “normal” lens on life will become transformed through states of symbolic consciousness.
The circle is a core building block of symbolic language.
In this image of a chair, the iSymbol reduces a common
sign into the abstract shape representing a circle.
There is a great deal of speculation about the future of photographic technology and how innovation is changing the way in which we not only take pictures but how we see the world. There is no question that the smartphone revolution, combined with social media, has fundamentally altered the landscape of conventional photography.
Recently, Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft’s first chief technology officer and the best selling "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking" was interviewed in The New Yorker about the importance of science and technology in the world. While Myhrvold toyed around making pictures of a muffin with a 41 megapixel Nokia smartphone it seemed clear that his attitude toward photography was different. Myhrvold seems to understand how technology influences a viewer's perspective and experience. He's able to make interesting images becuase understands how things work and that is important to beyond any emotional hangups we might have with antecedent practices and conventions. While making images of the muffin, especially after pulling a flashlight out of his pocket to light the scene, it was clear that Myhrvold appreciates how technology, resourcefulness, and aesthetics comes together in remarkable ways.
Within the next five years, the wearable technology market will be worth more than $51 billion. At the top of the list will most likely be devices such as Google's glass -- a light-weight pair of glasses that are capable of capturing images with the wink of an eye.
Giving People what they want
Kimio Maki, the head of Sony’s digital camera division, provides a few clues into the future of photographic technology. Maki, who is a leader in mirrorless full-frame cameras, believes that one of the challenges manufacturers face is the shape of conventional-style cameras, which tend to be clunky and heavy. He notes that consumers want slimmer, lighter cameras, but the industry has been slow in responding. In addition, the second challenge facing the photography industry is in the development of new products for the smartphone market. Part of the problem, Maki notes, is how consumers do not seem to understand the tradeoffs between lightweight mobile technologies and image quality.
There is always a gap between technological innovation and public acceptance of new products. At the same time, it appears that this gap be rapidly closing due to the number of innovations across the board, from medical technologies to social media.
In the world of professional photography, technology is seen as a means to an end. Nevertheless, once an innovation takes hold it can have a major impact on the rest of the market.
The presentation of an over-blown indulgent “self” in a world of Facebook profiles, Instagrams, YouTube videos, selfies, Tweets, and Pinterests, is pushing the increasingly malleable boundaries of societal and cultural norms.
Photo Credit: Michael Harris
A trend in wedding photography called “trash the dress” supports the idea of how images of self convey a form of alienation from ritual and an attempt to redefine symbolic meaning.
Jumping into a swimming pool, riding a motorcycle, or playing in mud, while in a wedding gown may mean more than just having a little fun with tradition customs and rituals. Trashing the dress, in some cases setting the gown on fire, represents a form of symbol morphing, which sets the meaning of one set of symbols against a newer set of symbols. The meaning of any symbol, including the wearing of a white gown, is never fixed. Paying a photographer to record the destruction of a wedding dress, while the bride is still in it, seems to reflect a desire to redefine the symbolic meaning behind formal cultural rituals of initiation in the 21st century.
What is interesting about self-identity, ritual, and symbolic meaning today is how norms are being pushed in different and unexpected directions through the use of digital technologies and social media. For example, symbolically destroying a wedding gown shortly after marriage would have sent a few grandmothers and great aunts into culture shock. Today, however, such violations of cultural and aesthetic sensibility seem to be celebrated widely on social media, especially YouTube.
Social Psychologist Erving Goffman contends that people present a “face” before others that make “every man his own jailer.” In this context, the social constraint of trashing a bridal gown and the ritualism associated with it may seem like busting out of a jail of culturally imposed restraint.
Credit: Annie Leibovitz/Via Vanity Fair
Just a few months back, Vanity Fair, the quintessential Hollywood star-making magazine, held a contest for the most popular cover. The contest featuring 100 years of covers showed a disproportionate number of white celebs compared to entertainers of color. This lack of diversity has prompted the magazine to reflect on how images shape public opinion.
Ironically, despite the disproportionate number of Vanity Fair covers depicting predominantly white actors and musicians, the recent poll overwhelming picked Michael Jackson as the favorite cover of all time.
Apparently, the magazine got the message. Vanity Fair’s most recent 2014 Hollywood issue is much more inclusive with half of the featured celebrities being non-white. At the same time, in all fairness, Vanity Fair’s covers have always reflected an industry historically more alabaster than ebony.
Turning the lens on an issue as sensitive as cultural and racial identity has prompted some interesting comments from readers.
“I'm Black also and personally. I love the cover. Years ago did we ever think any Black person would be nominated for an Oscar after Hattie Mac Daniel? Never being on the cover of Vanity Fair!,” writes one fan.
Meanwhile, another reader argues, “I am an African American woman and I am highly insulted by the placement of the black women on this cover. They are isolated in the middle of the picture. You have 6 men in this picture and all of them are positioned next to White Women. This is just plain racism and is perpetuating the idea that White women are desirable and Black women are not.”
Raising concerns over Vanity Fair’s attempt to include more African Americans on its covers is suggests a shift in consciousness. However, cultural and racial representations appear on the surface of an even bigger issue – Hollywood’s political economy.
National Public Radio touched briefly on this issue recently.
As always, NPR seeks to address issues in its coverage of major issues such as racial equality fair-mindedly. However, I would like to suggest something that gets often overlooked in our public discourse -- how decisions to include people of color in the media are not only base on cultural, racial, and ethnic sensitivity. Your article, as well thought through and written as it is, fails to address the influence of demographics on a multi-billion dollar industry.
What is missing from the conversation is that cultural and racial representations appear only on the surface of an even bigger issue – the political economy of the entertainment industry. Hollywood is a billion dollar industry and following demographic trends is smart business. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Motion Picture Association of America, the industry is seeing “Increases in the number of frequent moviegoers in nearly every ethnicity and age group, notably in the 40- 49 year old group.”
Considering the political economic power at the box office, Vanity Fair’s decision to include more people of color on it cover is not just about cultural diversity -- it’s about understanding the market – a market that isn’t as white as it used to be.
Getting more African American actors on the cover may placate some, but when digging down to the financial underbelly of how the magazine and the industry makes decisions to sell race and ethnicity, it’s always about where the money is.
Technorati Tags: Annie Leibovitz, box office, culture, Ethic diversity, ethnicity, Hollywood, Hollywood economic, magazines, media criticism, media diversity, Motion Picture Industry of America, political economics, race, racial diversity, racial representation, Vanity Fair
| | |
There seems to be as many photo apps available these days as there are photographers. Well, obviously a slight exaggeration, there certainly seems to be a paradigm shift happening in how we make, use and share pictures.
Enter onto the stage of cool social media apps Momentage.
Recently, a team from the Momentage led a sold out event to celebrate the 101th anniversary of Grand Central Station in New York City. Participants in The Grand Central Station Photo Walk used the Momentage app, to put together photographs, videos and SoundImages™ marking the occasion.
Available at the Apple App Store, Momentage is according to the company's description, "a community for the new creatives. An easy to use app, you can craft and experience moments through combining photos, videos and SoundImages into a single post to create a vivid storytelling moment on your iPhone. Share your moments with the world or with just your friends."
Suzie Linfield, a professor at New York University, argues in a recent Op-Ed, “The photographs, which document the deaths of some 11,000 detainees, were taken not by the opposition but at the behest of Mr. Assad’s regime. Wouldn’t such a government — wouldn’t any government — want to hide its crimes rather than record them?
Well informed and written primarily from a critical/cultural perspective, Linfield’s position provides a framework for understanding how these recent images are part of a pictorial legacy of shame and moral debasement. Historically, as she points out in her essay, images of suffering, what she calls “torture porn” are not new. In this case, the images may play an important role in the Syrian negotiations as well as in the court of public discourse.
At the same time, more, much more, a conversation considering the relationship between authoritarian regimes and the atrocities they commit, must begin with an understanding of a cultural pathology of pain, apathy, anguish and the collective unconscious.
While observing schizophrenic patients at the Burgholzli psychiatric hospital in 1900, psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung began to develop theories to shine some light on why people act they way they do toward one another.
Jung’s concept of collective unconscious, in the case of photographs such as those made in Iraq, Sierra Leone, or Cambodia in the 1970s, may edify why people being tortured and killed constitute a type of archetypal layer within the human psyche.
In his essay, “The Structure of the Psyche”, Jung observes, “The collective unconscious … appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents.” Jung goes on to suggest how the collective unconscious can be examined in two ways, “either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual.”
For Jung, the collective unconscious is comprised of archetypal images - forms or representations manifest in dreams, fantasies, or cultural influences. Jung describes an archetype as a predisposition, which transforms a person’s consciousness through inherited symbolic thought and images. Archetypes such as the shadow, can affect ethical, moral religious and cultural behaviors.
As early as 1870, people have been using photographs to record the spectacle of the shadow archetype. The shadow or “black side” of a personality, in this case the perpetrators of abuse and torture project upon others repressed fantasies such as sexual conquest. Linfield’s use of the term “torture porn” certainly makes this connection. Susan In her book “Regarding the Pain of Others” Susan Sontag observes, “To take a photograph is to participate in another person's mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt.”
In the 1870 hand-tinted postcard depicting the lynching of J. L. Compton and Joseph Wilson in Montana, a group of vigilantes pose dutifully for the photographer. As a symbol of frontier justice, torture and death reveal a form of Jung’s shadow archetype. Even though the lynching picture, as well as all images depicting suffering, demonstrate a dispassionate bearing towards the human condition, the collective unconsciousness irrevocably tied or our “dark side” prevails. Today, the image surfacing from the Syrian situation is considered by many as morally and irrevocably despicable and shameful this may not have been the case in the lynching photographs made throughout the late 1800s and through the mid-1960s.
Another difference between the Syrian images and those of public lynching is symbolic consciousness. Symbols occupy the mental images of the mind and inform attitudes and beliefs. Moreover, symbols have an implicit and explicit influence on self and national identity as well as social order and organization. The authority of pictures depicting torture and death subsume or invalidates a victim’s archetypal sense of self/being and places them in a class often dismissed by the abusers as either incomprehensible or incredulous. For example, Syrian governmental claims pronouncing how the images of brutal beatings and strangulation were digitally manipulated demonstrates both the collective conscious and unconscious state of denial and denouncement.
Illustration: Dennis Dunleavy/Credits:TIME/via Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
February 04, 2014 in Current Affairs, Dennis Dunleavy, digital photo ethics, iconic images, images of violence, Media Criticism, middle east, middle east unrest, photo digital manipulation, photographic ritual, Photographs and Politics, photography, photography and history, Photography and society, Photojournalism, photojournalism criticism, photojournalism education, Politics and Photography, prisoner abuse, Susan Sontag, Syria Torture Images, Syrian peace talks, Torture, visual culture citicism | Permalink | Comments (0)
| | |
The first few sentences in a recent press release for photographer-activist Jo-Anne McArthur's first photography book come straight to the point. McArthur is described as "a "war photographer" in an unseen and often intentionally ignored war on animals we use for food, fashion, science, labor, and for our entertainment."
Photography has a long tradition of crusading for the "little guy" or in this case "animal" rights. Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Mary Ellen Mark, Bill Brandt , W. Eugene Smith,Don McCullin, Sebastião Salgado turned their lenses on injustice and inequality in the world. Bringing the wrongs of world to light and within eye sight is a noble cause, but it doesn't always mean we will be moved to act.
We Animals (Lantern Books) is a passionate work of art and activism by a compassionate photographer. Bresson once remarked that we learn most about a photographer by the images they make. McArthur's image of a "woman with a deer head" is emblematic of this elegiac work. In the photograph, the woman, apparently caught off guard by the photographer at an antique shop, peers sharply through oversized amber sunglasses.
The "deer in the headlights" analogy is not to be missed in this image. The woman, with a cell phone cradled under her chin, appears to be embracing the deer head, not with a sense of intimacy, but rather in a way one would carry a bag of groceries or a pile of wood. The deer head is pointed upward toward the woman's face that seems just starting to react to the photographer, but its too late.
The image is interesting in another way.
For years, I have instructed my students not be taxidermists. That is not that make things that are alive and moving appear dead and lifeless. The deer head is an artifact -- a trophy that in this instance has been separated from its original context. Perhaps the woman bought the head for a bargain, a prize, or a steal. In any case, what the picture makes clear is how easy it is to distance ourselves from things we perceive to be less significant on this planet than we are. In this sense, the deer head becomes a passing fancy or a conversation starter in the man cave.
McArthur's resolve in "We Animals" is clear -- to bring some sanity into what she sees as a world of excess, neglect, and hubris -- a world where other living creatures are exploited in cruel and heartless ways.
McArthur is a sensitive and thoughtful photographer with a keen eye for breaking down our apathy and ignorance -- for making others see the world as she does.
Rolling Stone Magazine has never had a problem identifying the hottest "pop" culture properties bouncing around the mediasphere. For the first time, however, editors have bent a bit backward (from left to right) in promoting Catholicism's latest pontiff. Why? He looks great in white? He's got a great smile?
According to Rolling Stone's Mark Binelli the magazine's cover story was selected because "Pope Francis is making a noticeable break from Vatican tradition, facing political issues head on and presenting a more all-inclusive attitude toward human rights – and that Catholics are appreciative."
At first glance, the choice of featuring Pope Francis on the cover may seem a bit odd given the magazine's primary interest in the entertainment industry.
The current cover, however, suggests there is more to life than obsessing over bling, glitz, and the latest hotties in the world.
The "Stone" brings the new Pope into what appears to be it's sidebar approach to pop-culture branding. In a way Rolling Stone is validating the pope's popularity outside of Catholicism. At the same time, Pope Francis has unwittingly joined a rather dubious cast of characters on the "Stone" face including such notables as convicted serial killer Charles Manson, Islamic militant and 9/11 muscle Khalid Skaikh Mohammed, and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Given such auspicious company, the appearance of Pope Francis' warm and slightly bemused smile seems welcomed, inviting and certainly timely.