PODCAST: Fact factories – the travel of facts in the digital age

Why do some facts about the world become well known and ubiquitous, whereas others are relegated to the status of opinion, or become so mired in controversy that they cannot survive the onslaught that they receive from those opposed to them? Why do bad facts travel far and wide, while good ones are stopped short in their tracks? Who has the greatest power over our factual information when facts are born digital?

At the heart of changes to the environment in which facts must travel today is the increasing ubiquity of software code and its role in the mediation of everyday life. Facts are not knowledge. Knowledge needs to take material form in order for it to be distributed and to have influence beyond its origins.

This talk charts the travel of facts across the infrastructure of the Internet, introducing new vocabularies and grammars for the production and appraisal of factual information. Focusing on the travel of facts about the 2011 Egyptian Revolution in the days before Hosni Mubarak resigned as President, it highlights how a new grammar constituted by the interaction between software code, social norms, policies and laws within Wikipedia has created the terrain for facts as they travel through the Internet. The result of a radical decrease in trust accorded to traditional institutions and a turn towards trust in individuals telling what appears to be unmediated truths online – we are witnessing a significant change in how we evaluate authoritative statements about the world.

Heather Ford is a University Academic Fellow in Digital Methods based at the University of Leeds School of Media and Communication. Before moving to academia, she worked for a number of non-profit technology organisations including the Association for Progressive Communications, Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, iCommons, Privacy International and Ushahidi as an activist, research and project manager.

PODCAST: In data we trust – Media in the age of the datalogical

Several key global events, especially within the political arena, have centered public interest on the role that data plays within contemporary society. Commercial media outlets obsess over data analytics in the face of falling revenues; global digital intermediaries are delivering content using algorithms that are obscure to human oversight; and social media platforms are becoming media powerhouses outside of regulation. Some public commentators recognise this as a process of ‘un-democratization’ as data and algorithms are impacting on society’s ability to make informed decisions. While this may be a reactive stance towards our latest technological turn, it is undoubtable that we are, to at least some extent, delegating our decision-making power to automatic systems and that this will have an impact on social and political life.

One emerging approach within computational computer science that is attracting attention, for example, is the combination of ethnography with digital media methods, but interpretive methodological work is being pursued by researchers in a variety of fields: from media studies to cultural studies, history to cognitive and behavioral science. In Data We Trust is a seminar designed to explore the contemporary issues surrounding the implications of datafication, and how best to research it. What are the sites in which data logics and techniques crystallize? Should the starting point be to study the algorithm and then follow the socio-technical relations that result from it? Or should we start from the people and practices that ultimately determine data’s usefulness? Discussing a variety of approaches that are currently being used to study cultures and societies that are heavily mediated by data systems, this workshop aims to encourage discussions about methods for consolidating approaches.

This seminar is presented by a number of leading experts across two brief panels. The speakers include:

Session 1: Themes – Jonathon Hutchinson, University of Sydney
Penny O’Donnell, University of Sydney
Martin Egan, Manager of News Innovation, ABC
Nick Enfield, University of Sydney

Session 2: Methods – Heather Ford, University of Leeds
Fiona Martin, University of Sydney
David Nolan, University of Melbourne
Heather Horst, University of Sydney
Jason Ensor, Western Sydney University

PODCAST: Crowds and agglomerations, public expression after the mobile phone

A growing plurality of populations in Asia, Africa and Latin America have now got regular access to mobile devices. Unsurprisingly, this has produced great challenges for postcolonial power, now confronted by media-enabled populations previously seen only as social political actors. Today, mobile media objects attach themselves to shifting platforms of political-aesthetic action while disrupting older partitions of postcolonial governance. As in the rest of the world, media periodically overflow from one channel to another leading to unanticipated consequences: the expose of a police atrocity or political secrets, a leaked intimate video. The transformation of public speech and expression in contemporary data infrastructures open up questions of collectivity in ways unimagined but a decade ago in the postcolonial world.

This seminar will look at volatile incidents involving street crowds broadcasting in real time through mobile applications like Whatsapp. The blurring of street crowds and online agglomerations, private chat networks & public expression raise many questions – for media theory as well as the performance of postcolonial sovereignty.

Ravi Sundaram is a Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. He co-edited the SaraiReader series, The Public Domain (2001), The Cities of Everyday Life (2002), Shaping Technologies (2003), Crisis Media(2004). His recently edited No Limits: Media Studies from India was published in 2015. Professor Sundaram’s essays have been translated into various languages in India, Asia, and Europe. He is currently finishing his next book project, Events and Affections: post-public media circulation.

Co-presented by Department of Media and Communications and Sydney Democracy Network, University of Sydney, and School of Communication, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology Sydney.

PODCAST: Is the Australian political public ripe for a populist overthrow?

In this presentation, Professor Terry Flew will outline the main findings of the book Politics, Media and Democracy in Australia: Public and Producer Perceptions of the Political Public Sphere (Routledge, 2017), which he co-authored with Brian McNair, Stephen Harrington and Adam Swift. The book discusses the changing forms of mediated politics in Australia, and how the political communication strategies of the major political parties are viewed by Australians, based on interviews, focus groups and case studies of news and entertainment media. The authors observed how the rise of “hybrid” infotainment formats and social media related to a growing skepticism towards the “political class” and perceived “spin” in the politics-media relationship, and the challenge presented to political news coverage by the crisis of newsrooms and declining investment in political reporting by Australia’s commercial media. To the extent that such developments are mirrored in other parts of the world, this would suggest that Australia is likely to see the rise of populist moments from outside of the political mainstream, and alternative media sources that are sometimes labelled “fake news” by their critics. This presentation will consider the likelihood of such developments in light of our research findings, and broader methodological issues for studying the politics-media relationship (Image: Josep-Maria Gascon).

Terry Flew is Professor of Media and Communications and Assistant Dean (Research) in the Creative Industries Faculty, QUT. Professor Flew is an international recognized leader in media and communications, with research interests in digital media, global media, media policy, political communication, creative industries and media economics. He is the author of nine books, 15 research monographs, 50 book chapters, and 81 refereed academic journal articles. He has advised the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Swiss Ministry of Communication and the China Institute for Cultural Trade Research. He has recently competed two Australian Research Council-funded project: Willing Collaborators: Negotiating Change in East Asian Media Production, and Politics, Media and Democracy in Australia: Public and producer Perceptions of the Political Public Sphere, which is the subject of this presentation.

PODCAST: Can literary journalism fulfil more readily the obligations of journalism?

Fiona Giles: Narrative confessionals, memoir publishing and the cultural value of personal revelations

This paper considers three memoirs by Australian writers published across five decades— Hal Porter’s Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony (1963), Clive James’ Unreliable Memoirs (1980) and Richard Glover’s Flesh Wounds (2015). It considers the ways in which the memoir genre has evolved during this period and explores the cultural value of personal revelations. Memoir scholarship is a late arrival to journalism studies, considered by many as too solipsistic to qualify as literary journalism, yet too journalistic to qualify for literary analysis within autobiography studies. Meanwhile, the continuing boom in memoir publishing suggests that narrative confessionals meet a vital social need, and are not merely a manifestation of neo-liberal narcissism in the tell-all age of social media. The paper asks to what extent memoirs employ a relational aesthetics (Bourriaud 1998) and invitational rhetoric (Foss and Griffin 1995) to foster socio-political change [Image: http://www.onlineuniversities.com/blog/].

Bunty Avieson: Immersive literary journalism as an effective and ethical method to expose the structural inequalities of society

Standpoint theory suggests that people living on the margins are better placed to perceive what is really occurring across the social and cultural domain; their standpoint, developed while negotiating society’s power structures, can be the most penetrating. For the past 50 years, German journalist Günter Wallraff has gone undercover to report in compelling prose daily life from the standpoint of society’s most vulnerable. In America Ted Conover went undercover as a prison guard and in Australia journalist Elisabeth Wynhausen went undercover in a posh club and a chookhouse. Using standpoint theory this paper proposes that this type of immersive literary journalism is an effective and ethical method to expose the structural inequalities of society.

Beate Josephi: Are there ethical dimensions to literary journalism?

If this question had been put to one of Australia’s best-known authors and celebrated war correspondent, George Johnston, his answer would have been a clear, no. His novel, The Far Road, provides his view of the ever-narrow boundaries of journalism in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. More recently, in a reflection on ‘The media in the age of Trump’, Lee Siegel surmised that literary journalism, which “does not have to worry about the propriety or ethics of balancing public and private journalistic expression,” now has better tools at its disposal for castigating the ills of the time. Also, drawing on the work of the Literature Nobel Prize winner for 2015, Belorussian documentary journalist Svetlana Alexievich, Beate Josephi will outline the possibilities of a genre that is being reappraised in light of changing expectations of journalism, objectivity, accuracy and reader engagement.

Mitchell Hobbs: Exploring the politics of media companies via the memoirs of former media executives

Literary journalism can have some surprising uses by media and communications researchers, providing insights that are otherwise unattainable. For instance, in my research on the politics of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, I often use the memoirs of former media executives to explore the news producing practices and workplace culture of specific media outlets. These texts are rich in both factual information and latent ideological meanings. I have used these texts to build factual timelines that record Rupert Murdoch’s meetings with senior politicians—these details can then be cross-referenced with other sources of information available in government archives or obtainable via FOI requests, such as the diaries of senior politicians. Likewise, the authors of these memoirs reveal much about their values and the news room culture of their workplace. This is especially useful when seeking to understand how the CEO of a truly global media conglomerate can influence the editorial tone of a diverse array of media assets. In short, the insights provided by media executives can, both wittingly and unwittingly, help to achieve honesty and transparency regarding the politics of media companies in a way that is often not possible via other methods of inquiry.

Dr Fiona Giles is a senior lecturer in the Department of Media and Communications where she teaches creative nonfiction and feature journalism. Her research interests include literary journalism in a multimedia age, and she is currently co-editing a book of scholarly essays on memoir with Bunty Avieson and Sue Joseph for Routledge.

Dr Bunty Avieson is a lecturer in the in the Department of Media and Communications, teaching news writing and principles of media writing. Her research interests are journalism, literary journalism, Wikipedia and the emerging media landscape of Bhutan. She has published seven books, including two works of literary journalism, A Baby in a Backpack to Bhutan and The Dragon’s Voice: How modern media found Bhutan.

Dr Beate Josephi is an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney. Her research interests are journalism, journalists and literary journalism. She is on the editorial board of numerous journals, including Literary Journalism Studies and International Communication Gazette.

Dr Mitchell Hobbs is Lecturer in Media and Public Relations at the University of Sydney. His research activities concern political communication, media power and social media, and he once worked in political public relations for Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

PODCAST: The social geographies of ‘going out’ – Teenagers and cinema in rural Australia

Cinemas provide rural teens with important connections to wider national and global cultural and communications landscapes. While films are now readily accessible on a range of different formats and devices, the act of going to the movies offers young people ‘something to do’ in places where there are typically very few social alternatives. What has been less prominent in policy and critical discourses is the importance of rural cinemas in providing teens with a ‘place to go’ – a legitimate space to gather and interact that in turn helps to foster positive youth identities and attachment to place. Drawing on perspectives from media and cultural theory as well as sociology and child studies, this paper will explore the significance of rural cinemas as modern public space. This will be based largely on the findings of ethnographic research conducted with teenagers in the small town of Barraba, NSW. Barraba provides a rich example of how the movie-going experience is shaped by established urban practices but appropriated and adapted to local conditions, and where practices of ‘cultural distinction’ (Bourdieu 1984, 1985) are less clearly delineated. [Image: Gavin Schmidt. Source: The Daily Telegraph].

Karina Aveyard is a University of Sydney Postdoctoral Research Fellow. Her recent publications include the monograph Lure of the Big Screen: Cinema in Rural Australia and the United Kingdom (Intellect 2015) and the co-edited Watching Films: New Perspectives on Movie Going, Exhibition and Reception (Intellect 2013). Her essays have also been published in journals including Continuum, Media International Australia, Participations and Studies in Australasian Cinema.

PODCAST: Rebooting smart cities for social justice and digital inclusion

Visions of the ‘smart city’ and ‘internet of things (IOT)’ drive an acceleration of the incorporation of digital technologies into the urban environment, directing the aims and agendas of government and large corporations at various levels in many cities around the world. Conspicuously absent in many templates for smart cities are the key issues of social justice, digital inclusion, and sustainability, for a range of people who live in cities. There is also little recognition in smart city discussions that vast numbers of everyday urban interactions and processes are already heavily mediated and managed, producing new forms and uses of data, urban experiences and social and digital inequalities. In this interactive workshop, we discuss how to reimagine and reshape the smart city agenda – and other digital city visions – for fairer, democratic futures, and better city life for all. A panel of experts from across research, planning, local government, and technology sectors will explore issues and map out priorities with attendees, such as new access barriers to sensors, platforms and infrastructures, dataveillance and profiling, differential mobilities, data exclusion, super- connected vs un/under-connected zones, digital labour and rights to the digital city.

Panellists: Kurt Iveson, Associate Professor of Urban Geography in the School of Geosciences, University of Sydney; Marcus Foth, Director of the QUT Design Lab, founder of the Urban Informatics Research Lab, and Professor in Interactive & Visual Design, School of Design, Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology; Pauline McGuirk, Professor of Human Geography, University of Wollongong; Robyn Dowling, Associate Dean Research and Professor of Urbanism in the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney; Nathaniel Bavinton, Smart City Coordinator at the City of Newcastle; Jamie Cauchi, leads the Victorian Government’s Connected Cities and Public Wi-Fi program; Sarah Barns, Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University and Smart City advisor.

PODCAST: Mixed realities – Intersections in (cyber)space and the poetics of metadata

Mixed reality blends the real and the virtual both visually and semantically, challenging existing forms of representation, meaning, ownership, and agency. New technologies raise new questions – but will they necessarily reinforce the same systems of identity and control? Where the virtual collides with the real everything is up for grabs — again (Image: New Scientist, https://www.newscientist.com).

Mark Pesce is best known as co-inventor of VRML, which brought 3D graphics to the Web. Pesce has written six books and co-founded postgraduate programs at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema, and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Since 2006 he has held an Honorary appointment in the Digital Cultures Program at the University of Sydney.

PODCAST: In Conversation with Jack Linchuan Qiu

What are the frontiers of emergent media and communication today? What are the cultural, political, and justice issues arising from the heightened role that technology plays in social life, particularly among people who are marginalized and disenfranchised? What are the unfolding concerns for media, especially in relation to digital rights and governance, across different global societies, especially in the Asia-Pacific? How do we make sense and intervene into the central predicament of communication now – the great potential and opportunities that the diffusion and take-up of digital technologies offer, yet the lack of democracy in communication and media themselves? What are the possibilities of global initiatives to reform and reimagine media for social betterment, such as the International Panel on Social Progress, the Internet Social Forum, the Justnet Coalition, or other endeavours? To explore and debate these issues, this event presents Professor Jack Qiu, a leading thinker on communication, social movements, and activism, in conversation with Sydney-based scholars, Professor Ariadne Vromen (USYD), Associate Professor Haiqing Yu (UNSW), Dr Benedetta Brevini (USYD), Associate Professor Kurt Iveson (USYD) and Professor Gerard Goggin (USYD), as well as attendees. Jack will open the conversation with his ongoing projects on digital capitalism, labour, and platform cooperativism in the contexts of Hong Kong, China, and Southeast Asia. He will also speak about his observations as a member of editorial teams for various academic journals such as Journal of Communication and Information, Communication & Society: the world needs a new praxis of digital media research. How can we all contribute to it?

Jack Linchuan Qiu (http://jack.com.cuhk.edu.hk/) is Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he serves as deputy director of the C-Centre (Centre for Chinese Media and Comparative Communication Research). His publications include Goodbye iSlave (Univ of Illinois Press, 2016), World’s Factory in the Information Age (Guangxi Normal Univ Press, 2013), Working-Class Network Society (MIT Press, 2009), Mobile Communication and Society (co-authored, MIT Press, 2006). He is on the editorial boards of 12 international academic journals, and is Associate Editor for Journal of Communication. He also works with grassroots NGOs and provides consultancy services for international organizations.

PODCAST: Tweeting trump – the alt-right and mainstreaming of white nationalism by Jessie Daniels

In this engaging talk, Jessie Daniels draws on 20 years of research to demonstrate that white supremacy is neither new nor an aberration, but rather a consistent feature of the US political landscape. Savvy white nationalists and members of the ‘alt-right’ movement use culture jamming tactics on Facebook and Twitter to inject racist memes like #WhiteGenocide into popular political and cultural discussions. And, @realDonaldTrumpretweets them all to his 5 million-plus followers. In response to this increased visibility and amplification of white supremacy in the mainstream of US political culture, white liberals express shock at what they perceive is a new development. It is not.

Jessie Daniels is Professor of Sociology at Hunter College, New York City, and an internationally recognized expert in Internet manifestations of racism. Her visit to Australia is being supported by Western Sydney University’s Building Digital Antiracism Capacity collaboration. Jessie is the author of White Lies (Routledge, 1997) and Cyber Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), along with dozens of scholarly articles. Since 2007, Daniels has published Racism Review, a credible and reliable resource for anyone seeking evidence-based research on race, racism, ethnicity and immigration. Forbes named her ‘one of 20 inspiring women to follow on Twitter.’ She tweets as @JessieNYC.