Goodbye to the News?

Nikki Usher‘s 2010 article in New Media & Society “Goodbye to the news: how out-of-work journalists assess enduring news values and the new media landscape” examines the goodbye letters, emails, speeches, columns and blog postings — “final musings” — of journalists who have been laid off, taken a ‘voluntary buyout’ or who have left the industry. Usher’s piece is somewhat polemical in tone at times, not that this is necessarily a problem, it just needs to be taken into account when digesting her arguments:

[A]ll these goodbyes reveal a silver lining – those that are being let go may be let go for business reasons, but they may also be the people failing to see the opportunities for new media and those who are unable to help newspapers be entrepreneurial in their attempts to come through the crisis they face. (924)

Usher analysed 31 ‘final musings’ as presented on the blog by Jim Romenesko. The terrific irony of this for anyone following the current state of journalism in the US is that Romenesko resigned from the Poynter Institute late last year after being accused of improper attribution by allegedly not using “quote marks” appropriately. The Romenesko blog was rebranded Romenesko+ and is now simply Media Wire. It is a brilliant example to use in my first lecture for my Online News unit this semester, in concert with Usher’s piece as a set reading, as we introduce and explore with students the role of ‘online news’ in the tensions of the current journalism industry.

Usher’s piece is a useful way to frame traditional understandings of journalism in the context of structural change. The analysis is useful for locating the prevailing culture of legacy print journalism in terms of the relation between individual experiences and the structural shifts that in part form their context. From a Foucaultian perspective Usher is isolating a ‘discourse event’ in the point of inflection between two discursive regimes and correlative compositions of power relations (dispositifs). Usher draws on Fredric Jameson’s conceptualisation of ‘nostalgia’ and Barbie Zelizer’s notion that rather than ‘profession’, US journalists should be understood as belonging to an ‘interpretive community’.

Usher’s use of Jameson’s ‘nostalgia’ begins with her arguing that journalists now work in a ‘post-modern news era’ (914). (What would be absolutely fascinating for me would be to revisit the so-called ‘Media Wars’ of the late-1990s in light of such a description. On the face of it, Keith Windschuttle and his ‘traditionalist’ supporters have lost.) She is mostly describing the shift Fordist modes of news production, which includes changes to reliable occupational routines of ‘newsroom’ work practices and changes to the status and function of the audience. The inherent double movement of Jameson’s nostalgia is that it is backwards oriented and forward directed. Nostalgia produces collective memories of the past while at the same produces a potential of a better future. The nostalgia of journalists, Usher suggests, also masks reality in that bias, corporate control and so on are not constitutive elements:

They are nostalgic for a time when journalism meant stability and economic security, and deeply believe that traditional print journalism contributed to democratic discourse and public service – masking the reality, perhaps, that their work may have helped sustain and perpetuate power structures. The old way of doing newspapers is threatened, and journalists are uncertain about the future. But significantly, they also fail to be forward-looking even as they are backward-looking: their nostalgia is self-limiting because it fails to produce a vision of the future that catapults traditional journalists into the new media world and new media economics. (923)

The current transformations to the legacy news industry serve as an example of what Zelizer calls the ‘interpretive community’. Usher writes:

Discourse about the changes in the news industry creates a discursive community of journalists. This, then, shapes shared meanings about the trials and tribulations journalists face and takes on the collective memory of ‘professional journalism’ in a pre-web, pre-blog, pre-newspaper slump era. (915)

Usher’s analysis is structured around four main areas of journalists’s discourse functioning as an ‘interpretive community’: 1) ‘Journalism as an ideal’ (916-9), 2) ‘New Media Economics’ (919-21), 3) confusion around what is being challenged or changed, mostly in terms of technology (921-2), and 4) a failure to be ‘forward thinking’ (923-5).

The basic tenets of journalism as an ideal are that journalism works in the public interest, it remains impartial, serves the voiceless and provides a crucial link in democracy (916). The ideal of journalism is to serve as ‘public service journalism’. Mark Deuze defines public service journalism as:

Journalists share a sense of ‘doing it for the public’, of working as some kind of representative watchdog of the status quo in the name of people, who ‘vote with their wallets’ for their services (by buying a newspaper, watching or listening to a newscast, visiting and returning to a news site). (447)

Deuze (2005: 448) notes that journalists can learn to have more responsive attitude to their ‘publics’ and therefore use this “age-old ideological value” as a wau to maintain the power relations of the status quo while learbing how to adapt to changing conditions. As Usher describes it, in the context of ‘prestige papers’ (such as the LA Times or New York Times), “these individuals want to reassert their claims to defining the public interest and determining what public service journalism is, rather than creating a more open conversation with a newly engaged audience of news producers and consumers” (917).

In the context of smaller, local newspapers this public service ideal is described in terms of a newspaper being a (more paternalistic than patronizing) ‘caretaker’ helping a public “interpret difficult ideas” and also sustaining local community by reproducing existing routines of newspaper communication and correlative power relations. Usher’s point is that this does not take into account those on- and off-line practices that reproduce ‘community’ that do not have the newspaper at the centre (918). Newspaper in general are seen to be arbiters of democracy in the idealized practice of highlighting the power relations that underpin existing governmental and market-based power relations. There was a general lament, Usher notes, that transformations to journalism are understood in terms of catering to the ‘market’ rather than ‘democracy’. ‘New media economics’ (and ‘new media technologies’) therefore become a threat to the democratic role of public service journalism. Political writer Michele Jacklin’s final column captures a sense of this when she writes, “As a substitute for hard news and insightful analysis, readers are served up a steady diet of splashy graphics, celebrity gossip and stories with the heft of cotton candy.”

In the Australian context, this tension between hard news and insightful analysis versus forms of content designed to increase website visitors and ‘hits’ is represented from the other side of the conflict by’s online news editor Hal Crawford in his commentary about the Australian Federal Government’s Independent Media Inquiry posted to

Real time data tell you exactly how popular a story is, and to maximise your audience size you need to weed out stories that no one wants to read. This kind of brutal treatment can be hard for an old school journalist to take.
Initially you may get upset that no one is reading the ‘important’ stories, but that arrogance fades quickly. Truly important stories rate. If some piece of news is going to change lives or become socially necessary or is just plain interesting, it gets traffic.

The NineMSN submission to the inquiry similarly seeks to problematise ‘quality journalism’:

The traditional view is that a key role for the news media is to be an independent monitor of government power and therefore quality journalism requires truth, accuracy and independence. We think it’s also important to acknowledge that that news media serves diverse roles. […]
For ninemsn the most important indicator of quality content is that it is trusted. Trust is the key concern for our news team because trust equates to brand reputation which drives of audience. […]
The traditional media are no longer small elite who serve as the gatekeepers of the news. Value in the digital news media is increasingly generated by interactions with users including the use of social media to provide commentary, share stories and drive traffic. News produced for digital platforms has to be a quality product if we want people to engage with our stories, to contribute their own insights and to participate in their dissemination.

The discourse surrounding ‘new media economics’ in Usher’s analysis is less important to my Online News unit this semester, but will be central to the second semester unit organised around ‘innovation’ and ‘entrepreneurial journalism’. The second semester unit is designed to prepare students for a more market-oriented, audience-driven form of journalism at the level of producing individual stories through to the level of creating standalone ‘online media enterprises’. Usher’s analysis notes that individual journalists generally take structural shifts personally, and see their respective departures as a failure of ‘owners’ or ‘Wall St’ to recognise talent. This is important in an educational context because ‘talent’ is still recognised, of course; it is more a question of the character of the ‘talent’ and of the mechanisms of ‘recognition’.

Jacklin’s comments are also interesting in the context of the socio-technical practices and technologies that Usher suggests will assist journalism. She lists a number of “recommendations as the possible salvation for traditional journalism’s problems: increased social networking, conections with the audience, more multimedia platforms, crowd-sourcing, better forums, flash-graphics, newspaper-hosted community blogs and hyperlocal reporting, to name a few” (922).

Lastly, Usher notes that the article odes not mean to say that other journalists are not reconsidering with the public and “are deeply engaged in trying to understand what such things as user-generated content, blogging, comment boards, data-mining, crowd sourcing and the like might mean for their newsrooms” (924-5). She ends with a provocative question: “to what extent are non-traditional journalists concerned with the discourse about traditional news values and the idea of what it means to be a journalist?” My response, shared with other educators, is to work on developing units that hope to empower students when they hit the job market.

Manufacturing Cross-Platform Debate

In my Media Inquiry submission I attempt to isolate a problem that is emerging involving the fabrication of debate in the specific context of the complex media ecologiez of cross-platform media enterprises. One way to think about this is that journalists or media personalities operating as part of different platforms address each other in such a way as to produce a micro ‘echo chamber’. I describe this as an ‘apparatus of capture’ as it is a way to use niche or specialist media channels and correlative media platforms to assemble a ‘mass’ audience from the aggregated niche audiences.

This can happen ‘accidentally’ as a ‘real’ news story can emerge that is actual news and to some nonsense propaganda produced for the purposes of shifting, for example, political discourse. An example of this is the current furor over Kyle Sandilands’s comments about a journalist. How is this an example?

Original story by Alison Stephenson published on

Sandilands abusive on-air comments. Sandilands writes for News Ltd platforms.

Story broke by mUmbrella, a non-News Ltd online media enterprise servicing the advertising and media industries.

There were a number of tweets about the mUmbrella story last night. If I have time when I am not at a conference, then I’ll add links to these.

David Penberthy (@penbo) at the News Ltd publication, The Punch, launches a resolutely vitriolic attack at Sandilands and his on-air behaviour. editor Paul Cogan publishes a ‘breaking’ story at roughly 10am the day after that addresses Sandilands’s comments.

As more is published I shall return to this post and add more detail. It will be interesting to see which media outlets publish stories on this.

On Bernard Keane and Communities of Interest

Political correspondent for Crikey, Bernard Keane, has an interesting piece published yesterday addressing ‘how the internet messes with the game of media and party politics’.

Below are some remarks on Keane’s piece. First, some context: I’ve been teaching my third-year Online News journalism students about how to address a similar set of problems. Their major assessment is to come up with a case-study length pitch for an online media enterprise that targets a niche audience. Their first task was to isolate a specific area of interest around which organises a community of interest, and then build on it from there. Targeting a specific area of interest is relatively familiar to the broader media industry; it is what most magazines do. It is relatively unfamiliar for an ‘analog’ news industry still operating with a ‘pre-Convergence’ mindset, however. I am not sure what a news-based media industry would look like when targeting specific areas of interest as there is no direct homological relation between the news-based content-audience relations and what happens in magazines, or at least there isn’t yet. Except, of course, in the financial industries…

I think some more focus on what Keane means by the ‘community-generating power of the internet’ is needed as it is not properly explained in his piece. He provides an example (Occupy Wall Street protests) and describes one of the qualities of such communities (no longer geographically anchored, or using a phrase from McKenzie Wark, they exist in a ‘virtual geography’). I want to describe two of the primary ways the internet is different from print or broadcast era media for directly contributing to the production of communities. Then I’ll look at how these apply (or not) to the news-media industry.

The first way the internet contributes to the production of communities is best explained by pulling apart what is meant by ‘interest’ in the phrase ‘community of interest’. There is a continuum of ‘interest’ from passing attention-grabbing interest that quickly dissipates to the enduring and sometimes agonistic practices of enthusiasts. This distribution of interest was described by community practioners researching local community groups in Britain in the 1980s as ‘Organising Around Enthusiasm’. Online communities form where enthusiasts search for useful information that will help them solve a problem (what I call a ‘challenge’) combined with an actual community of congruent interests. In terms of ‘community’, the now-classic ‘online forum’ is the established form.

A great deal of research into not only online groups but off-line and pre-internet groups indicates that there is a minority of participants that do the majority of work in these communities. These people may not be the most engaged ‘enthusiasts’ in the sense of the ‘best’ enthusiasts who know how to solve a large degree of problems, rather they are the most involved in communities. It makes sense to talk about communities with strong or weak ties (ala Gladwell, and the risks invovled in participation online vs off-line), but a community only makes sense if you know what challenges characterise a given enthusiasm. What mobilises enthusiasts into action?

The two major reports of the excellent mid-2000s Newspaper Next initiative (2006 and 2008) framed what I am calling ‘challenges’ in a slightly different way. Basing their program for newspaper innovation on the work of business academics Clayton Christensen and Clark Gilbert, they discussed ‘jobs to be done’, rather than challenges:

The concept is surprisingly simple. It holds that customers do not really buy products, they hire them to get jobs done. For example, Intuit’s QuickBooks software made it easy for small business owners to accomplish an important job: Make sure my business doesn’t run out of cash. Some alternatives, such as pen and paper and Excel spreadsheets, were not good enough. Professional accounting software packages were too good — confusing and filled with unnecessary features. QuickBooks did the job better than any alternative and quickly took over the category. […]
Using the jobs-to-be-done concept requires first understanding the problems a customer faces in life or business. The most promising problems are those that people do often and consider important and where current solutions leave them frustrated. (20-21)

‘Jobs-to-be-done’ certainly makes sense for someone who comes out of a ‘business administration’ background. Translate this in a social or political context. Think about the most popular online communities, ‘jobs to be done’ stemming from parenting, working on cars, cooking and foodie culture, information technologies, etc. What ‘jobs-to-be-done’ are there for the Occupy Wall Street protesters? There is the everyday work of maintaining the protest spaces across the world and there are the larger ‘political’ jobs-to-be-done that haven’t not yet been properly articulated, i.e. a list of demands. One of the main jobs-to-be-done of the protesters in say Melbourne or Sydney is to perform solidarity for those in New York. That is, by the way, why I prefer ‘challenge’, as a ‘challenge’ can be articulated or repeated in a number of different ways and still be a singular event.

Secondly, online communities produce multiple publics, but not publics imagined following ‘public sphere’ discourse. The problem with the ‘public sphere’ discourse, adapted from the work of Habermas and others, is that ‘rational deliberation’ or ‘consensus’ is not a challenge — well, it is for people who are insane… — therefore understanding ‘civic engagement’ understood as a function of producing ‘connection’ only addresses one part of community building. The capacity to articulate and then service the challenges that mobilise populations into action is absent.

The current media industry assumes that the mechanisms of liberal representative democracy function properly, therefore their only task is to produce a ‘voice’ or a ‘visibility’ (in the Foucaultian sense) for a given population to air their views in a ‘public sphere’. Rational debate allegedly then happens and a decision is taken that is derived from this debate. Politics does not function like this, if it ever did. Politics is not a mission to produce consensus; that is the challenge of politicians, not the challenge of politics. To appropriate Plato, ‘producing consensus’ is a game of projecting shadows on a wall in a situation designed to fix subjects in a seat of citizenship. Here is the shadow of ‘participation’ produced by airing your views, etc. It is the myth circulated by Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and his comments regarding #OccupyMelbourne protesters having ‘enough time’ to ‘make their point’. Their challenge was to not to express a point, but to occupy a space in solidarity.

To reiterate this point: The shadow game is the challenge of politicians, but it is not the challenge of politics. Politics is a mission to articulate a given challenge that implicates an already concerned cohort of the population so as to mobilise the population and address the challenge, hopefully solving it. The Greens get this. Labor has tried to, but is terrible at articulating the challenges it is engaging with. I have no idea about what challenges the Coalition thinks it needs to address; they seem to be politicians devoid of politics, existing purely within the shadow game. Strangely, the only politician who has done anything innovative about this recently (and I don’t agree with much of his party’s social policies) is Bob Katter. To appropriate Waleed Aly, politics is not like professional sport. I couldn’t care less about what some foolish sportsperson got up to on the weekend and how this might affect their career, but I know others find this interesting. Politicians are tools for addressing the challenges that can not be addressed by individuals, they are not celebrities trying to address ritualised forms of challenge (i.e. sport). By covering politics like sport, the challenges that politicans are meant to address instead become ritualised into ‘goals’, ‘good moves’, etc following a meta-language that an audience is familiar with. By covering politicians like they are playing a sport, the media ritualises that challenges of politics.

Beyond the commentariat no one cares, and my language can not be too strong on this point, about the personal challenges faced by politicians (who will be leader, etc.). The utter stupidity of the MSM’s lampooning of Allan Asher and the Greens for the Senate estimates debacle is a classic example. The media narrative produced in the MSM focused on some alleged indescretion by Asher and Green’s Senator Hansen-Young. Is this the ‘challenge’ that the population is interested in? Some nonsense ‘sideshow’ political stoush? Why did Asher do what he did? What ‘challenge’ was he trying to articulate that lead to him getting ‘resigned’ by the Federal Labor government? Surely this is the only question worth asking for a serious political journalist? The rest is playing the shadow game.

In summary: First, talking about community without a discussion of the challenges that mobilise this community is missing the political point. Second, the current MSM seems content to focus on the challenges faced by politicians, and do not focus on the challenges faced by communities.

We need a news-based media worthy of the challenges faced by an entire population, not worthy of the personal challenges faced by professional politicians. I’ll be very happy if the internet is messing with the shadow game of MSM and party politicians.

Paul Kelly vs Chris Berg debate in the marketplace of ideas

Chris Berg, all-round great guy and neoliberal ideologue, has a post on The Drum that equates ensuring access to the ‘marketplace of ideas’ with the regulation of ‘debate’ (which he suggests is a bad thing) in the context of questions asked in the Media Inquiry’s recently released discussion paper. Chris writes:

Implicit in the marketplace of ideas theory is that freedom of speech has a purpose. It is utilitarian. The only way to come to the truth about an idea is to freely debate it. The best ideas – that is, those which are most true – will out-compete the rest.
Yet it’s trivially easy to demonstrate this ‘marketplace’ is distorted. Some have access to louder megaphones than others, as everybody keeps pointing out.
And if speech has a utilitarian purpose, it never quite achieves its ends – even once ‘truth’ has been obtained through free discussion, speech freedoms continue to allow wrong ideas to be broadcast.

Of course, that is why ‘political economy’ approaches are the best tool to understand precisely why the ‘marketplace of ideas’ gets distorted by people who have greater access to ‘megaphones’ compared to others. A political economy approach to the ‘marketplace of ideas’ would move in two directions at once. Firstly, map the ‘public sphere’ with the actual marketplace for media content. Secondly, examine who and what gets access to the public sphere via the ‘marketplace of ideas’.

I don’t agree with this approach either, mainly because I think the ‘public sphere’ is a myth. Admittedly, a useful myth, but a myth nevertheless. There is no public sphere. Inter alia there is no ‘marketplace of ideas’. The only way to come to the truth about anything is to research it, not through ‘free discussion’. I’ve never witnessed ‘free discussion’. There is certainly debate, however. What matters in ‘debate’ are words on a page or screen, screen time for comment, the rhythm of publication, the endurance of attention for focusing on specific issues across the entire media ecology, the capacity for an audience to engage and reflect upon what is discussed in a rational manner and so on. Chris is worried about the government regulating debate somehow. He says:

We do not want the Government managing public debate for all sorts of reasons. First among them is that any attempt to do so will necessarily abridge our basic right to freedom of speech. […]
For instance, the right to speak must be also the right not to speak; to determine the content of your speech. This principle is breached clearly by one of the major proposals of the media inquiry issues paper – a legally guaranteed right of reply which would treat newspapers as regulated common carriers.

Chris’s argument is strangely the opposite of a similar critique made by Paul Kelly in The Australian about Robert Manne’s Quarterly Essay. Kelly argued that Manne wants to shut down the capacity for ‘debate’:

…the startling feature is Manne’s fixation on repressing stories and debates he doesn’t like…
For Manne, the paper’s crime was to stage this debate. He believes certain views have reached “uncontested” status and must not be contested. Books and views that contest Manne’s beliefs are to be met with silence and censorship. It is good that Manne’s technique of handling opponents is put on the public record…
Manne says that on climate change our democracy must rely upon citizens placing “their trust in those with expertise”. Again, the idea is that certain beliefs cannot be debated or contested…
Once again, the paper’s offence was its refusal to shut down debate. Period. Manne insists his view embodies Enlightenment rationality. During our interview to stress the gravity of his position on climate change he actually compared the issue with the Holocaust.
I told Manne that one reason for the public’s backlash making carbon pricing so unpopular was the precise attitude he took. While pretending to be rational his rejection of debate was really faith-based dogmatism and the Australian public didn’t like being told what to think by patronising experts…

Therefore I believe it is necessary, at this juncture, to ‘stage’ a ‘debate’ between Paul Kelly in favour of ‘debate’ and Chris Berg who is clearly a ‘debate hater’. Indeed, I hope that journalists working for The Australian will welcome what I am inferring Chris Berg is implying, that an outcome of the Media Inquiry will be that they will be forced to encourage ‘debate’ for voices from opposing ideological position if they decide to instigate a ‘debate’ in their own pages. Surely, as Paul Kelly writes, they would not want to shut down or censor debate? Worse, that by critiquing a view, position, scientific theory or what have you in the paper, that The Australian would, in effect, manufacture a relative silence in the ‘public sphere’ around opposing views by not strenuously encouraging their ideological opponents to enter into debate with them? Without supporting the regulated and enforced access to the public sphere via the ‘marketplace of ideas’ surely The Australian would be guilty of attempting to silence critiques and stifle debate? Surely Kelly would not want that…

Was that ‘debate’ good for you too?

Maybe the point of ‘the press’ (the historically specific overlap of the social instution of journalism as the ‘fourth estate’ and the commercial media industry as a mode of distribution) is not to actually stage debates at all, but to report on the them. (I introduced Daniel Boorstin’s concept of ‘pseudo-events’ to my first year students a couple of weeks ago.) If ‘the press’ is staging debates are they then fabricating their own ‘marketplace of ideas’ where they get to control who has access to participation and therefore which ‘ideas’ will be reported on as having ‘value’? This line of argument — where freedom of the press is defined in terms of media controlled access to ‘debates’ that are actually staged by the media — therefore becomes incredibly fraught. Real issues and real news then become lost, and there is not much worth trying to salvage from that situation in the name of the ‘the press’ when the commercial media industry is using the image of fourth-estate journalism so as to serve its own interests.

CJR piece on whether Occupy Wall Street should be considered a social movement

There has been a bit of a discussion on Twitter and around the internet regarding whether or not the Occupy Wall Street protests have received ‘sufficient’ news coverage. Here is a good piece by Joe Pompeo where he crunches some numbers. Erika Fry at the Columbia Journalism Review has published a piece of meta-journalism also questioning the sufficiency of the press coverage. She should be lauded for attempting to bring an analytical frame to the discussion. She draws on the work of celebrated sociologist Charles Tilly in an attempt to ascertain whether the Occupy Wall Street protest should be considered a social movement or not. Fry writes:

They [sic] press coverage indicates that most journalists have found Occupy Wall Street a movement not significant to give much coverage. If Tilly were around today, given his criteria, he’d likely agree.

Unfortunately, Tilly is certainly not the most useful academic source to draw on in this circumstance. For Tilly, social movements should be thought of as attempts by a politically engaged population to effect change to a nation’s political apparatus. Is that what is happening here? I don’t want to get into too much political or media theory, but ‘Wall Street’ is an event in part constituted by everything signified by ‘Wall Street’. Does Fry understand this? The Occupy Wall Street protests are not protesting a building or even an actual street. The protests on the actual street called Wall Street serve as a resource for counter images, the locus for the production of counter-narratives and so on. They are not protesting against a physical location; the physical location is simply a locus of action. Just as ‘Wall Street’ itself is distributed across the social body in repeated and yet different ways. Fry writes:

For a perhaps concurring perspective from the world of social science, consider the canonical work of American sociologist and political scientist Charles Tilly (he died in 2008) who developed widely-accepted criteria of what constitutes a ‘social movement.’ Yes, the media is not academia—there is of course a place for things that are timely, newsworthy, and important—the police’s questionable use of pepper spray on protesters for example—but in deciding the extent to cover a nascent protest movement, to which national media attention is oxygen, it is worth considering his criteria.

Its been pointed out that Fry’s logic is circular (nascent social movement needs national media coverage — its ‘oxygen’ — but won’t get it because it is not a social movement). But that is relatively unimportant compared to correcting the misunderstanding regarding Tilly’s work. Firstly, if Tilly was ‘canonical’ at one point, his work has shifted in status to ‘seminal’. The difference is that a ‘canon’ is a political artifact within knowledge economies, its importance is sustained by agents who are invested in its importance (imagine scholarly ‘Tilly experts’ who want Tilly to remain important). A work becomes ‘seminal’ when it has real influence in a field because it inspires other scholars to produce critical work that engages with its arguments or points in a thorough manner.

Tilly’s seminal work has inspired other scholars such as Jeroen Van Laer & Peter Van Aelst who have published a paper that is particularly relevant: “Internet and Social Movement Action Repertoires: Opportunities and Limitations” (2010). Laer and Aelst draw on Tilly’s framework without necessarily agreeing with his arguments and present their own more nuanced perspectives. This is the real scholarly influence of ‘seminal’ work. How many times Tilly’s work is set as required reading, for example, would indicate its canonical status. This indicates that it is important but not why.

Laer and Aelst offer a nuanced perspective of social movements that are entirely or partially organised around internet-based opportunities for political action. Fry seems to miss the obvious point (and, well, it is obvious, surely??) that the Occupy Wall Street protests have developed in such a way so the offline protest provides ‘oxygen’ for the online protest. Fry is not stupid, she seems to admit this point, but without sufficiently engaging with its importance:

The group has many grievances, but what they want to do about them or achieve by occupying Wall Street is much less clear—both in those “unfair” media reports and the content churned out by OWS’s own media machine.

So the Occupy Wallstreet Protest organisational group has its own ‘media machine’, ok… this is not newsworthy? Maybe not yet?

It’s just not the kind of coverage the protest group—which produces a lot of media in its own right—was hoping for.

Fry admits that the protest group is producing a large amount of its own media content through its ‘media machine’. Does Fry ask if this is different from other social movement protests? Or what the protest group hopes to achieve by producing a large amount of its own media content? No, she does not.

They have also built a sophisticated social media infrastructure and communicate on Twitter. Yet, just by looking at the pictures or a livestream of events, aside from the presence of technology (lots of Macs), it’s so far hard to distinguish OWS from any other liberal protest.

They’ve also ‘built a sophisticated social media infrastructure’! So aside from the presence of ‘technology’ — you know, technology that can be used to produce your own media coverage of an event, and indeed produce a planned ‘media event’ of the protest, for which the offline protest serves as a resource — Fry finds it hard to distinguish the Occupy Wall Street protests from any other ‘liberal’ protest. Ok, this isn’t news. It isn’t even meta-news produced by a meta-journalist (a ‘journalist’ covering other journalists) from the CJR. I am not sure why Fry believes that her own inability to distinguish between liberal protests is news or even media commentary. That is why journalists should go speak to experts, instead of relying on Wikipedia definitions of useful scholarly research such as Tilly’s definition of primarily 20th century social movements. Hence, we arrive at Fry’s money shot — the line in any work of online news-based media content (I won’t call it journalism) which is designed to function as ‘link bait’. Trollumnists (columnists who function as internet trolls) will organise their columns around such examples of ‘link bait’. Fry’s link bait trollumnist money shot is that the Occupy Wall Street protests are ‘all hype’:

Tilly explains this can come from participant demeanor and an air of seriousness. OWS seems to project by it’s worthiness by its own media machine, shrewdly developed in advance of the protests to steer the narrative and call attention to itself — the rather sophisticated websites, Twitter feeds, livestream technology, and thought that has gone into documentation and projecting an image online is impressive. OWS’s PR machine has not been matched by on-the-ground reality. OWS is all hype.

Occupy Wallstreet is all hype. Clearly. Fry says so based on evidence derived from Tilly’s Wikipedia page and her own inability to distinguish between protest movements as defined by her robust analytical journalistic mind. Why not ask a related question based on Tilly’s own understanding of internet-based social movements, one that is far more interesting and, dare I say it, newsworthy? Let’s frame it in a way that would be relevant for a meta-journalist such as Fry working at CJR:

Charles Tilly argued that internet-based social movements do not have strong enough social ties to constitute a viable social movement, does this observation apply to the Occupy Wall Street protests? If not, then how should journalists approach internet-based social movements? Are there any ethical or professional issues attempting to cover a social group that is producing their own media narratives that compete with the media narratives in the so-called ‘mainstream media’?

You see how that would produce actual news? It transcends the political divide not because it asks for representative opinions from various ‘sides’ of the protest (“he said, she said” journalism), but because it asks a question that anyone interested in the protests from any side of politics will actually want to know.

I hope there are not too many typos in the above, I’ve had to hammer it out before a three and ahalf hour drive to Sydney!!