Some Thoughts on Changing Media

On the weekend I met two former Australian lecturers of mine – Jason Nelson and Ben (whose last name neither Parker nor I can remember) – when the conversation turned to the demise of newspapers. Ben's argument was that they probably would stay around, after all we're still listening to the radio. Something about that argument felt wrong, even though at that moment I couldn't articulate it. Thinking about it more, I realised that this view is very ahistoric. When radio started, people would schedule their lives around it. They would wait for a certain programme to be broadcasted to gather the whole family around it and consciously absorb what the wireless had to say.

Then television arrived and took over exactly that role. Now people were staying at home to watch evening shows and sometimes were even attired to underline the specialness of the moment. It was like going to the theatre, only in one's own home.

Radio couldn't compete with that. Instead it started to serve a different purpose: It served as background noise, something that tootles along while you're in the office or driving to work. No one scheduled his life around the broadcast schedule anymore, instead the interchangeable format radio became the norm. "Five songs in a row with no ads or talking!" That function is certainly different to the one of the printed press whose products you'd have to consciously read in order to make meaning of them.

As Parker pointed out this doesn't mean that media is dying, it's just changing. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, even though traditional media certainly serves its purposes; e.g. it helps to bring important developments to the conscience of the public by helping to spread them. It's a catalyst. Without you never might have noticed that Facebook changed it terms of use – not everyone is reading tech blogs after all.

Then again this isn't a process that couldn't be democratised with the help of internet, the best examples being sites like digg or reddit. Here the users decide which information enters the front page which in turn acts like a catalyst again (just like sites serve as means of democratisation of something as elitist as 'style')

These 'democratic catalysts' certainly aren't without problems. Power users might dominate which content gets voted for, fads become more important than news and a net-savvy, educated elite could dominate the political discourse and use these sites like an echo-chamber.

But the same could be said of newspapers: They certainly aren't free of interest but rely heavily on advertising; human interest matters more than serious reporting; again an educated elite perpetuates world views (otherwise there wouldn't be conservative and liberal papers) Which begs the question: Why not have 'democratic catalysts' of different political nature? The certainly is room for a conservative counterpart to reddit.


The Media isn't Dying, it's Changing.

A little while ago, someone started a Twitter account with the name TheMediaIsDying. Although their bio says that their aim is to help "flaks pitch better and update lists," they seem to take delight in reporting they primarily seem to report on stories of print, broadcast and web outlets that are folding or cutting staff as a result of the rapidly changing media and economic landscapes.

To make the claim that the media is dying is to make the claim that it will no longer be possible to receive news or entertainment.

Yes, I'd agree that the traditional media is probably dying. I feel that I'll probably see the death of the traditional, printed newspaper in my life time. In fact, I can't believe that it isn't dead already. Someone wiser than myself once made the point that if today you proposed the idea of printing out thousands of copies of a general assortment of news every night, then hand-delivering them to people's homes early each morning, you'd be laughed out of the room. It is an outdated business model.

But that doesn't mean the newspaper industry will die, only its printed form. The websites of major newspapers are and will continue to be a primary source of information for many people. Thanks to the hard work of people like Mathew Ingram (and despite the head-in-ass stance of people like Christie Blatchford), newspapers will evolve to meet the needs of an online world.

The same goes for other forms of media. While JPG Magazine might be folding, how many great photography sites and online photoshop tutorials have you come across?

As I Tweeted earlier, For every print publication that @themediaisdying reports dead, how many well-written, unique websites pop up?

Did the invention of the printing press kill off the spoken word? No. It just meant that hand-lettered books were no longer necessary, and it gave more people access to literature and information.

Did the invention of radio kill off the written word? Again, no.

Did television indeed kill the radio star? No, but it might have forced some radio stars to adapt to become more television-friendly. And it also created a whole knew breed of radio stars.

Did the internet kill television? Again, no. If you're like me, you might not use an actual television set but you probably still enjoy watching television shows on your computer or portable device.

As a result of cringing and loving to hate almost every single tweet that @themediaisdying makes, I've started an alternative twitter account to spread good news about any media organizations,  journalists, broadcasters, writers or videographers that are getting by just fine and adapting to the change we're seeing in the media world.

So if you've got any stories about how the media is changing (rather than dying), hit me up by emailing or on twitter: @mediaischanging. (and feel free to follow me on twitter, too. I'm @parkernow)

The media isn't dying, it's changing.

viva la media!


Radio Daze

Over the past few weeks, I've been "time-shifting" the posts on this blog by writing them one one date and setting them up to publish anywhere from a day to a week later. Don't tell anyone, but I used to do something similar when I was working at Radio Metro 105.7 (listen to them online here) while living in Surfers Paradise, Australia.

As part of one of my Master of Arts and Media degree, I had to spend a certain amount of hours working in a media organization for one of my classes. Thanks to my well-connected professor, I was able to get a position as the morning traffic guy for a 105.7, a local radio station.

Two mornings a week, I had to be in the studio by 7am to prepare for the 730am traffic report. It was fun, but it got in the way of prime surfing time (the wind and waves are the best between about six and eight in the morning). Eventually, I managed to get out of traffic report duty and started doing the news on Sunday afternoons.

What this involved was getting into the radio studio about an hour before my 4 o'clock broadcast time to read the day's news and put the appropriate info into the station's news template: a world news story, a  Australian news story, a local news story, some sports items, two entertainment or celebrity tidbits, the odd news of the day then banter with the DJ.

Most days, I wouldn't feel like hanging around until 4 to read the news, so the DJ and I would just prerecord it.

On one such day, I woke up at around 10 and hit the beach with only the magnetic keycard for the radio station in the pocket of my boardshorts and my board under my arm. After a couple of hours of surfing, I strolled over the radio station and got ready to read the news. Since I was still soaking wet and sandy from the beach I had to do the news standing up and it felt like the BBC announces in their tuxes from the golden years of radio broadcasting. I was just a little less formal.

My apartment in Surfers Paradise, Australia: on the Radio Metro building behind me, the beach only a few blocks away.

Later that afternoon, I went to a barbecue party at a friend's house and had a couple of beers. A few minutes after 4pm, I was introduced to one of my friend's friends who had just arrived at the party.

"Your voice sounds really familiar," she said. "I think I just heard you on the radio on my way over here."

I told her that it was indeed me and, confused, she asked how I'd gotten to the party so quickly.

"These are the mysteries of radio," I told her, and left it at that.

These days, it is just the mysteries of blogging and not enough surfing.


Learning From The Past: How DRM Failed in Australia

While doing research for my Ph.D. I came across the history of how radio was introduced in Australia – and how it initially failed due to some ancient DRM suggested by the industry heavyweights.

Official radio transmission in Australia commenced in 1923. In May that year the Postmaster-General convened a conference of all interested parties to consider the introduction of systematic broadcasting. At this conference E.T. Fisk, head of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA), the company that held the Australian rights to the most crucial wireless patents, proposed a scheme "which provided for competitive broadcasting by stations each having exclusive use of a particular wavelength in a given area and getting its income from subscriptions paid by listeners whose receivers were sealed to its wavelength alone" (Barnard, 1992: 6) – basically some old-school DRM (or should I say Analog Rights Management?).

The regulations were approved in July, the first licence was applied for in August and by the end of the year six had been issued. By March 1924 it was widely held that the sealed set system had failed: Less than 1400 listeners bothered to (officially) apply for a subscription.

The scheme was not only unenforceable but it also was not supported by the wireless dealers, therefore the main responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the scheme was placed in the hands of those most likely to undermine it (Counihan, 1992: 14): Of course the dealers weren't enthusiastic about selling some crippled technology that potentially could receive dozens of stations – and neither were the customers who resorted to 'piracy'. In short: "It was obvious that the sealed set scheme was doomed from the start" (Harte, 2002: 56).

In July 1924, after another conference, the sealed set was replaced by new regulations and a dual system, involving stations funded by advertising revenue, the so-called "B" stations, as well as stations financed out of listeners' licence fees, the "A" stations, began operating. Already by the end of 1924 some 38,000 Australians held "A" station licences.