Category Archives: Journalism

All elements of journalism, from alternative and citizen to mainstream and professional

The ‘difficult task’ in the language of cuts

Following various links to stories, I came across one on the CBC News website entitled: ‘Clement prepared for difficult Treasury Board post’ (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2011/05/19/ottawa-clement-treasury-board-public-service.html).

The audio clip on the left-hand side, below the headline, is captioned: ‘Clement prepared for difficult cuts’.

This is the language of (public – and private – sector) cuts. It is always a ‘difficult task’ and it is almost always written in the passive voice, as if they (the people taking the actions) have ‘no choice’ and are acting almost as if they are compelled to do so in a manner in which they would not have otherwise acted (unless, of course, compelled to).

However, this is incorrect. As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has pointed out (http://rabble.ca/news/2011/06/federal-budget-set-unleash-significant-program-spending-cuts-ccpa), there are alternatives to the Conservatives’ proposed budget (cuts). None of what is taking place needs to take place; it is a conscious choice, a deliberative act on the part of people with the power to act.

Indeed, it is part of the Harper Conservative government agenda (it is not a ‘hidden’ agenda so much as one they have tried to hide behind various types of ‘spin’ and manipulation of language, such as the idea that this budget was the same as the one in March, which the CCPA quite rightly pointed out was not true!).

Discussions more generally in mainstream mass media usually write or speak of economies or economics in terms associated with ‘nature’. Humans, you see, are not able to control nature because it is a ‘force’ beyond human control (pay close attention to the next business or economic news story that you see and see what kinds of metaphors they use). It is what corporate elites and their politicians want you to think because it also has the added bonus (for them) of explaining away how they have to make those cuts (that you feel, but not them) (you know, before they hit that ‘debt wall’).

The use of language leads us to the frames and framing. Whoever frames the question, will force the answer – if not the one they want, then the answer they want you to give.

N.B.: At many mainstream media outlets, I should point out, journalists are being compelled to produce more stories with fewer resources (and time!) and therefore will fall back on convention and what they have been taught or learned. This doesn’t make it right, but perhaps journalists may be compelled to respond to people complaining to their editors (appointed by owners and who usually have the last word!) about the language used.

Also, another useful strategy might be to ask yourself, how else might that phrase be written? ‘Clement will make cuts that will make public sector employees lives worse’; OR ‘Clement relishes wielding power to carry out his ideological beliefs in small government’; OR ‘Clement relishes chance to squeeze the middle class’.

Frankly, I do not believe that the people making these ‘difficult cuts’ feel any of the ‘pain’ that the rest of us do. Otherwise, why would they (especially the Conservatives and their corporate allies) spend so much money on advertisements and spin trying to cover it up or make it appear different to the way it is? (Or try to get you to turn on other people who are a wee bit worse off than you are!)

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Filed under Democracy, Economics, Frames and Framing, Journalism, Language, News, Parliament, Politics, Uncategorized

New Media, Old Structures: Time for a Change

Tomorrow, 21 May 2011, at Goldsmiths College in New Cross, south London, there is a one-day conference considering the co-operative model as an alternative to the corporate one for media ownership.

Sponsored jointly by the National Union of Journalists, Goldsmiths College and the UK Co-Operative movement, the conference is considering something that corporate media (‘old media, old models’) don’t usually consider.

The issue really is whether or not we have to create structures just to ensure that some people will continue to reap all the benefits of the work that has contributed to the success of an operation. For example, the sale of the Huffington Post raised concerns because of the free labour of the bloggers and other contributors that made it what it was (i.e. something that someone, or rather some corporation, was willing to pay money for – over US$ 300 million – that which owes a lot to these contributors).

What we should be talking about is precisely this ‘new’ (rather actually ‘old’ – even ‘ancient’) model of organising all sorts of enterprises. In Nanaimo, BC, Canada, a pulp and paper mill was organised along lines whereby employees (including former laid-off employees) were able to purchase and control the Harmac mill (with help from a very few wealthy individuals) and it has been extremely successful through the economic downturn, even as other pulp and paper mills were shut down elsewhere in that province.

That is, while strictly speaking not a ‘co-op’ in the strict sense of the word, it has been successful enough to be hiring back laid-off workers and competing. The difference is, is that the mill is run for the benefit of its workers NOT for a few executives who live half-way around the world and would sooner run the mill into the ground than pay workers a decent wage.

(In Victoria, BC, there was an attempt to take over a TV station by the employees when it was being sold off, along similar lines to the Harmac pulp and paper mill. Unfortunately, it came to nought.)

At the same time, rabble.ca, Canada’s leading alternative, progressive new media outlet/website and now more than ten years old, continues to expand the possibilities of what new media can do where print media failed to do. However, it needs financial support, as do all progressive media. Hopefully, we will see the day when many of these corporate models will be turned around into media that support their ‘owners’, including those that work there and those that read, listen and/or watch them.

I am looking forward to hearing from a range of speakers, including Granville Williams and Natalie Fenton, amongst others from the co-op movement, NUJ and academia. It’s at the New Academic Building, Goldsmiths College, London SE14, from 10:30 to 4:30 pm.

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Filed under Alternative Media, Citizen Journalism, Economics, Journalism, Social Media, Work and working conditions

Twitter Experiment Continues….

Since my (second) foray on Twitter began on 1 May 2011, I have found it both interesting and somewhat addictive. Although I had tried about one year ago, I hadn’t really understood how it worked, which I think is very important to using any kind of new technology. My dear friend, Martin, explained how Twitter works and provided very good advice: ‘You need to have an idea for what you are going to use it’.

Can Twitter (and blogging) provide a means to ensure those news and views, that are generally excluded from traditional, mainstream media outlets, which also have a dominance or pre-eminence online because of the resources that they have to hand, can reach a broader audience outside of those who are already engaged in critical thinking and/or activism?

Will I be able to contribute to distributing and circulating critiques and ideas to an extent that has some influence upon public debate at any level: local, regional, national, international?? (Perhaps a tall order, but than one does not necessarily know exactly what may happen with new/social media?!)

With both an understanding about what I might use it for and a basic understanding of Twitter etiquette (‘Twittiquette’ [??]), I have enjoyed my experiment into understanding how it works and engaging in my idea for disseminating important news and commentary pieces, following other activists and communicators, and responding to breaking news. So, I found myself following those who are involved in progressive politics, new media advice, union organising and communications, and economic news, as well as more specifically public sector issues and higher education in Canada, UK and USA.

As part of my experiment with Twitter as a form of alternative communication and media, I also made a resolution to begin blogging, separate from my contributions to my department’s blog so that I might feel freer to express my own opinions and views on various issues that interest and concern me.

I am also interested to understand whether or not we can consider these two forms of communication, whether alternative or mainstream, as examples of journalism or alternative/citizen journalism.

At first I did not understand why some of the different people started following me on Twitter, at least not after reading some of their profiles and reading some of their tweets. Martin says that there are a lot of people that follow but are not really into whatever it is that you are tweeting about: ‘twitterspam’ he calls them!!

Nonetheless, I have found it useful in hearing about certain developments in the news and there are more tweets about union and work-related issues one can get than is ever covered in traditional news outlets – and definitely more invaluable when you can cover events as they are happening. For example, the person tweeting via RevolutionSyria provides links to just-posted YouTube videos and breaking bits of news – even when one cannot read Arabic (though many posts are done in English).

I clearly am finding twitter useful and interesting – including simple communications with people about more everyday matters, like discovering a good pint in a small pub in Dorset or direct messaging with a friend about their plans. So far, it has been a positive experience!!

My colleagues in my department will find this quite amusing, given that I have been self-labelling as a ‘techno-peasant’ for the last two decades…… I usually research and write about print media.

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Filed under Alternative Media, Citizen Journalism, Journalism, Politics, Social Media

Reading between the lines

‘BT Investors hope for payout after pension cut’

This headline from the business section of The Guardian 13 May 2011 reveals much about what is wrong with both the economy and the political structure of our society.

It is no surprise that the business pages will reflect the view of business, and especially those of the executive class, but while the champagne corks are popping for investors, those who have spent much or most of their lives working for a company end up with pensions that will be worth less than were promised or deserved.

What about the consequences to the local economies where all these pensioners live, never mind the difficulties they will face in buying food (food costs are again rising fast) and meeting their day-to-day needs?

What is good for investors is not necessarily good for the pensioner or the employee.

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Filed under Economics, Journalism, Pensions, Politics

Ideas and Influence

As an ‘accidental academic’, I have come to recognise the value of the academy ‘reluctantly’ and the ways in which it is much more directly relevant to the so-called ‘real world’ than it was when I was an undergraduate (quite a long time ago).

But, I also recognise that becoming a scholar has had an advantage over being a media professional (radio and TV), although both professions are increasingly being undermined, ‘proletarianized’ and stratified (actually, most professions are being ‘proletarianized’, except for stock brokers and bankers).

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed working in media because you do get to deal with ideas, as least as a journalist, writer or producer (though that increasingly appears to be less true than it was 20 years ago).

Yet, as a scholar, I do not have to deliver to commercial or political-economic interests – at least not directly (e.g. advertisers, investors) – and you are paid to engage in research (reading, writing, publishing), teaching and service.

The role of the academic or scholar is more important (I would say that, wouldn’t I?!) than it was even 20 years ago, especially as fewer people have the time (or inclination?) to engage in serious study. The situation for most academics in the UK, USA and Canada is increasingly fraught with trying to meet the ever-growing demands on one’s time with increasing class sizes, fewer resources and more bureaucrats demanding more reports (to make their own positions appear relevant).

Part of my attempt to deal with the increasing sense of a world increasingly hurtling out of control is to attempt to engage with it in a more timely fashion, hence my attempts to start using tweeting and blogging and to see if my own (semi) public engagement will have an impact (I am still learning how to actually do these posts, as I am trying to learn, for example, how to set up tags, and so on).

I hope to offer some insights and timely commentary gained from my own expertise and knowledge as well as experience, linking both common sense and good sense, on such areas of interest and concern as poverty, living wages, pensions, unions, knowledge, higher education and neoliberalism.

Will this blog have an (any??) impact on the worlds in which I work and live and/or will others respond to it?! Will it have any influence on the way anyone thinks or acts?! Or will I be the primary audience for my own thoughts (writ digital)?!

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Filed under Higher Education, History, Journalism