Archive for the ‘Time magazine’ Category

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The professionals, the media and the people

April 21, 2007

by Hughes Leglise-Bataille, Paris-based amateur photographer

“Time magazine has voted you “The Person of the Year” for “seizing the
reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital
democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own
game”. So, did you?”

In my native French, the word “personne” means both a person, and no one. By making us all “Person of the Year”, ironically, Time magazine has replaced the individual with the people, offering us as its cover a blank computer screen, like a mirror of billion faces. Is this a faceless crowd, or like these mosaics of thousand of images, does it have some recognizable features ? And most importantly, can we shape it ? After all, in “digital demo-cracy”, there’s the computer, the people, but also the power (kratos): by the people, for the people.

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Trying to tackle this question, I can only draw on my personal experience as an amateur photographer. Covering news in Paris, I’m somehow “competing” with professional photographers from the media, often working side-by-side with them. At night, I quickly select the best shots and upload them to Flickr, with short captions describing the events, so people have the opportunity to discover the images at the same time they appear in the media. The question at that point is: why do they look ? What difference is there, what’s the added-value, how this so-called “citizen (photo)journalism” is complementing or competing with the mainstream, professional media ? I believe these differences can be broken down into four points :

story-telling: for obvious reasons, the paper media can only show very few pictures of an event, often just one or two. But there’s no way one can tell an exhaustive and balanced story with a couple of photos. Therefore, the ones selected tend to be either informative but boring, or spectacular but biased. Even on the main media websites, it’s rare to have a portfolio of more than half a dozen shots. Amateurs have no such restrictions, and can choose to post on their blogs as many photos as they deem necessary to present all the angles of an event, from the mundane to the dramatic.

access: depending on the type of event, amateurs can be handicapped by more or less restricted access to the scene. Without the proper accreditation, some places and personalities are simply off-limit. Sometimes, it’s the publication itself which is legally restricted, a growing trend in France with a recent law officially aimed at the “happy slapping” phenomenon but which in fact, will strongly limit the freedom of citizen photojournalism. The sheer complexity of the logistics also hinders the coverage capacity of an amateur: for instance, professional photojournalists often have a motorbike with a driver to move around.Therefore, citizen journalism is bound to be local. And that’s also where it can beat the pros: by being closer to the community, amateurs are less intrusive and better accepted (eg. the French suburbs where journalists, especially TV crews, have been regularly attacked since 2005).

ethics: beyond the legal framework, professionals have rules, amateurs haven’t. While some may argue that these rules can sometimes amount to a form of censorship (eg. the collusion of political / business interests with the media), the lack of standards in citizen photojournalism is probably more worrying. Image manipulation (so much easier with digital photography), staged photos, bias towards spectacular / violent images, lack of respect for the subjects, etc. are all disturbing. Responsibilities probably lie with all parties: the photographers, the websites hosting their pictures, and the people visiting them.

economics: stating the obvious, amateurs don’t work for the money, while pros have to make a living. However, the digital revolution has dramatically reduced the difference between the two and it’s now relatively easy for an amateur to have the same equipment as a pro, and to get some exposure. Exposure, that’s often what matters for the amateur: it’s not about the money, it’s about the (relative) fame of having one’s name in a newspaper, and/or thousands of visitors on one’s photoblog. The problem is that intermediaries have jumped on the opportunity, promising both the “fame” and (some) money by putting the amateurs in contact with the media. I tend to believe that unfortunately, this is both lowering the quality of the work and its economic value.

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Finally, I would like to mention one important thing: citizen journalism, especially photojournalism, is often mixing up testimonies with journalism. To me, the people sending photos taken with their camera phones of the bombings in London, for instance, are just testimonies. What they do is no different than in the pre-digital age, when they would have told their story to the media. Now, they have the pictures to back it up, but in essence it’s the same process. Photojournalism isn’t just the recording of an image, and owning a camera doesn’t make one a photographer. But maybe it’s the media’s job to raise the standards, and demonstrate what good photojournalism can and should be ?

Thanks to the digital revolution, amateur photojournalism has become available to many photographers (“by the people”) and is able to reach a tremendous audience (“for the people”), but ultimately, does it mean better photojournalism and therefore, better democracy ? Or on the contrary, is it threatening professional photojournalism and forcing it to lower its standards ? From a strictly financial point of view, if the increase of the photographic offer has decreased its value, it seems the only way out is to compensate by increasing its quality. Call me optimistic, but I’m convinced the problem is not with the professional photographers (because they do take excellent photos and because even if you have to make money out of it, it’s not a job you choose for the money), nor with the public (people would learn and appreciate high-quality photos), but with the media owners themselves, who are trying to lower the costs at the expense of quality.

As for amateur photojournalists, I guess that in an ideal world, either they should be good and committed enough to ultimately become professionals, or they can exploit the niche of local journalism, for which they are better prepared than the professionals, and where the investment is lower for the media. But if everyone wants to be the “Person of the Year”, I’m afraid no one will…

Hughes Leglise-Bataille is winner of the NPPA – Best of Photojournalism 2007 awards in the Amateur Photoblog News and Photojournalism categories. Photos featured in articles in Le Monde, le Figaro, LCI (French TV news channel), Salon.com, MAX magazine.

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Bad habits to break for a democratic future

April 20, 2007

by Mark Fonseca Rendeiro, journalist/podcaster at bicyclemark.org

“Time magazine has voted you “The Person of the Year” for “seizing the
reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital
democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own
game”. So, did you?”

They can shower all the awards and sing all kinds of praises about the work that I -a podcast journalist- have been doing for several years, it still won’t change the fact that I can barely pay my rent next month.

The mere fact that in order for people to potentially notice our work, we need TIME magazine to shine a vague spotlight on “us”, is pretty oxymoronic.

It seems to me that despite all the potential that the internet and personal publishing in all its forms brings to the world, we are still in the primordial ooze stage of what could become a long media evolution.

You see, many of us grew up with media habits. Many of them were passed down from people who raised us, or where we grew up: the evening tv news at dinner time, the local or national paper over breakfast, the brief radio news report in the car. Sure, loads of us were also internet children, but back in the 90’s, our options still revolved around a bunch of basic news corporations who were early adopters of putting news online. So whatever your media habits growing up, one thing was very likely – there were a select few places where you looked. And even if you didn’t love those sources, you were used to them, you took what you wanted and ignored it when you saw fit.

Fast forward ten years to around 2004. Blogs finally break into the mainstream after years on the fringe. Some people start to talk revolution. By 2007, they’re sounding the alarms and repeating that same lame speech about how the media landscape has changed because of blogs.

Trouble is, they’re talking about 10 blogs. 20 if you want to be generous. If you live in Germany maybe it’s 5 blogs. Regardless of the country, a handful of blogs, out of the ocean of possibilities, were recognized and referred to by the mainstream. The old players, those media channels we grew up with, the ones that managed to survive, they used their still wide reaching power to anoint a select few. You might know them as the A-List.

The A-list, in 2004, was already pulling in about 99% of the blog reading audience (I remember a PEW Survey back then). In other words, out of millions of choices, millions of voices, 10 chosen few get 99% of the attention. Not to mention they also get most of the ad revenue and syndication deals that make it possible to blog for a living.

Old habits die hard, just because you’ve got a world of choice and a wealth of information out there, doesn’t mean the audience will break with the media habits they were raised with; the reliance upon a select few sources that are labeled as the best according to certain unclear measurement standards.

So while the A-List might be writing about fluff topics like the latest mobile phone, a moviestar’s love children, or pasting the latest New York Times op-ed piece and writing one sentence about it. Somewhere, not being read by most people, there is a citizen journalist writing from the streets of São Paulo or Dili, describing to us (even though we’re not reading) how and why people are struggling to survive in extreme poverty.

Because even though it might be the year of “we the media”, we are still stuck under the boot of a media elite. And while the forest of choices is vast, the public still chooses the same 10 trees because some old lumberjack told them these were the best ones out there.

My hope and the reason I will keep doing what I do? The next generations will break free of these habits. Today’s youngest internet users will do something this current audience doesn’t, actively seek out sources and be critical of what is put in front of them.

Bicyclemark is a Portuguese-American podcast journalist based in Amsterdam. A former researcher at the Village Voice and blogger since 2001, Mark has produced a bi-weekly podcast on under-reported international news for over 3 years. He also writes news for the videoblog: The Eclectic Newsbrief.

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The meaning of “you” vs. “us”

April 13, 2007

by Bill Thompson, technology critic/blogger (and one of openDemocracy’s external editor)

When Time voted ‘You’ the person of the year the first thing I thought was ‘why not ‘Us’ – are Time and all that they represent so separate from the bloggers and citizen journalists that they belong in a completely separate category?’

And of course, to Time, they do.

This is one of the reasons why so many people feel distanced from the mainstream media, and we see it clearly in the way Christian expresses his unhappiness and makes many criticisms of professional journalism and professional journalists.

Some of these criticisms are merited, of course. They demonstrate what I think is a central point in the current debate, which is that our enthusiasm for ‘user-generated content’ and ‘democratised media’ is a symptom of deep-seated unhappiness with the current disposition, one that finds expression in blogging and photo-sharing sites and other forms of personal publishing.

However dig a little deeper and the desire is not to replace mainstream media but to reform it, to correct the errors and make it better. Even Christian acknowledges that ‘the pros’ have a place, although he seems to feel that the pressure from the citizen journalists will be enough to change things for the better. I wish I could be as optimistic as him about ‘being on the right road again’, because this feels more like what happened with punk rock in the UK in the 1970’s, when the political momentum rapidly dissipated as more and more bands turned their rebellion into money and the attitude and approach was simply appropriated by the industry.

Taking a wider view, there is a real danger that we will confuse the growing availability of access to the means of production of images, sounds or texts with a shift in the balance of power that would merit the term ‘democratisation’. I don’t think that this adequately reflects what is going on. Pluralism is good in itself, and we should encourage everyone to make their voice heard and their images visible. But there is a massive separation between giving people space to express themselves and building forms of governance that can listen and take account of what is being said.

If the growth of self-publishing on the internet is an expression of increased democracy then it is the very earliest stage of that democracy, the gathering of the populace in the marketplace to discuss matters of common interest. The rulers are still asleep in their high castles, and the sound they hear on the wind may as well be the rustling of leaves in the trees as the murmurings of discontent.

Political change will only come if we make it come. The network, in itself, will not deliver it and we must not assume that it will.

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Time’s person of the year: me?

April 11, 2007

Our Democratic Image blog officially launches today, and will run until the Democratic Image symposium, which will take place in Manchester on the 21st and 22nd of April.

In an effort to open a debate on photography in the digital age, we asked professional photographers, amateurs and artists to gather in this little part of the blogopshere to share their thoughts. One question we’ve been dying to ask them is this one:

Time magazine has voted you “The Person of the Year” for “seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game”. As a “pro”, what is your take on the democratisation of art and media in the digital age?”

Our first featured entry is by Christian Payne, the blogger and podcaster behind Documentally.com.

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So I have just been voted Time Magazine’s person of the year. Well, thank-you Time.

Thank-you for the recognition. Of course there are millions of other bloggers/podcasters out there doing a similar kind of thing, many of them better than me. But as I am to share this award with them I guess you already know that.

I would also like to thank the corporate media, people like yourselves, without whom I would not have been able to find my own opinion. I would like to thank them for making me switch off, for making me sick at heart, for making me angry.

Hoarse from shouting at the TV, bored of tired newspapers, and with radio’s banalities still ringing in my ears, I climbed the stairs to my spare room and turned on the computer. Another small revolution had started.

From that spare room – the room I sit in now – I began to explore the world, clicking into other perspectives, trying to get a bearing on some kind of meaningful truth. One not screened for my viewing dis-pleasure by the fat advertising executives glutting Corporations Incorporated.

Out there, online, there are so many distractions, so many opinions. There is diversity. Most importantly, when I shouted at this screen, it shouted back. As technology lowers the cost of publishing, suddenly there was a deeper, wider, discourse cutting through the fogs of official disinformation/misinformation/partial truths. I could make my own mind up.

What was I going to do with my newfound knowledge? Start a blog? But I am a pictures man, not a writer, and to take pictures I had to be there, not in the spare room.

So I went.

It wasn´t until I sat in the back of the dusty Turkish taxi and said “Iraq please mate” that I realised I was not on holiday.

As far as beating the ‘pros’ at their own game, that’s not for me to say. Those pros stuck on a roof in Baghdad have the right to say they are there, they have some form of expertise. They have their bragging rights (even if many could do their jobs – rewriting wire service copy, sending out their Iraqi staff to do the real work – equally well in London, Barbados or anywhere else). They also, of course, have their Masters, their 90 second time slot, their worries about feeding banalities to vacuum that is the 24hr news beast.

My advantages? I am not afraid to speculate, to use some intuition (that stuff editors and management boards like to crush as soon as possible). As long as my ‘news’ remains free then I’m comfortable with that.

If a blogger turns pro they were never really blogging. They were building a portfolio in the hope they too could be a part of the corporate media.

I’m not sure if I believe that last sentence, but it has the ring of truth to it. Why join a revolution only in the hopes of one day selling out?

The fact is no one has offered to pay me to podcast. If it were to happen, I’d have to see what direction my content would go. Would it go corporate? Would it lose what edge it has? Or would the money allow me to push further and harder, to do better?

My thoughts at the moment on this subject: I feel it is the duty of the viewer/subscriber to donate something to any podcast/blog they appreciate. It can be money, it can be praise or criticism, inspiration or friendship. In so doing they are trying to help keep something good alive; they are reviving our dwindling hopes for genuine freedoms.

These are early days and it’s hard to see where all of This is going. For now though I’ll happily accept my small part of the person of the year award. If only because I get the sense we are, after many wrong turns, on the right road again.

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The Democratic Image: Introduction

April 3, 2007

by John Perivolaris, chairman and co-organiser of the Democratic Image

The Gulf Wars, 9/11, the Madrid and London bombings, Abu Ghraib mark changes in the currency of both the political and visual economies of representation that are redefining democracy in ways that are not yet clear.

While democracy currently serves as the questionable banner under which the current world superpower goes to war in foreign lands, access to the media of visual representation has undergone a radical democratisation driven by the same digital technologies that are consolidating the ability of global capitalism to project its power across cultures by economic or bellicose means.

In this context, what is the meaning of democracy? Can unprecedented access to visual means of self-representation on a global scale translate into meaningful representation in a sociopolitical sphere increasingly mediated by digital technologies? Is the basic condition of the new world order of digitised democracy a creative consent to capitalism? Can a democratic republic of photography be glimpsed on the horizon?

Photography’s investment in the visual economy of globalisation is now more than ever ironically obliged to recognise the inequalities of access to technologies of digital representation in the year that Time Magazine voted `You’, the citizens of a virtual world brought together by Web 2.0, as `The Person of the Year
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Norway’s Foreign Minister recently declared that `far away’ is a concept that does not exist anymore. At the same time, Stuart Hall has reminded us that globalisation has `knitted together’ grimly unequal parts of the world. This being so, he asks how people are to occupy the same global space. How much difference can the democratic image tolerate?

It is questions such as these that The Democratic Image raises and which its participants will address, each in their own way.

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