diversity online

Untold Stories: Truth and Consequences

Workshop 1A: YouTube & Do it Yourself Media: Challenges to Traditional Media from Outside the Mainstream Featuring Stories from Diverse Communities

Welcome to this session on challenges to traditional media. Before I introduce the panel members I’d like briefly talk about the current news media landscape and the transformations that are underway due in part to the proliferation of digital comm tools and networks and the nature of diversity in this new environment.

I.
The contemporary news environment consists of two contradictory trends: Concentration of media ownership and the rise of amateur or do-it-yourself production.

Some see civic culture as deteriorating, the flow of information and opinions limited by media consolidation.

On the other hand, do-it-yourself media—youtube videos, blogs, participatory journalism projects like indymedia–is celebrated for expanding the ranks of informed citizenry and facilitating the development of an engaged and participatory transnational culture.

II.
The drive for diversity is very different in these two arenas—the corporate and the diy.
Mainstream news outlets approach diversity by trying to compose staffs that reflect the diverse make of the American public. And even among those that do achieve diverse staffs, there is little evidence that this results in more well-rounded content, more diverse points of view, or expanded news agendas.
This is in part due to the professional norms of journalism. Objectivity-the most precious tenant of professionalism was developed by AP and other wire services in the 1840s as a way to make news palatable and thus marketable to the politically varied papers that they served.
Professional news norms are meant to separate facts from values. So what is considered newsworthy, who is considered a credible source, and what is balanced reporting is supposed to be determined by the norms of professionalism, not the opinions of journalists. Thus the individual identity of the journalist should have no bearing on the news content.
Diversity on the web looks very different. While there are still wide swaths of the population that don’t have access to the internet, both content and the form, right now at this point in time, are still largely unbound from the homogenizing influence of professionalism. What rules the internet is the personal-style communication—viral marketing, homemade videos, blogs, news that is saturated with opinion.

This is a crucial point because these new forms empowers people to communicate in the ways that they see fit, to develop new genres and styles, to truly participate rather than being forced to adopt to a particular form in order to be included in the conversation.

III.
The potential of digital networks is deeply tied to its particular potential of diversity—diversity that is characterized by content and form in combination with more traditional indicators such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, and socioeconomic status of the creators or sources.

YouTube is perhaps the most obvious example of the proliferation of amateur production in the realm video and the proliferation of truly diverse forms, styles, genres, and points of view. So for example if you search for videos on George W. Bush on YouTube you will find videos
• by his supporters,
• by news reporters
• SNL and daily show spoofs
• video responses to speeches and spoofs
• remixes of news content
• citizen reporting projects,
• witness-style video capture of bush protesters being arrested
• anti-bush music videos and so on.

While sites like YouTube are making history by catering to the mass craving to create and distribute amateur video, regular old television (which remains far more accessible to most people) is having a difficult time breaking the mold.

One exception is Denver Open Media. Every aspect of Denver Open Media is participatory—they offer classes, lend out equipment, and members make the stations’ programs, and those with the most viewer votes get the best timeslots. And they are deeply dedicated to diversity, not only at the level of traditional demographic indicators but also and I think especially importantly at the level of form and content.
We are very privileged to have here today Tony Shawcross, executive director of DOM and Deborah Lastowka, outreach and educational coordinator and three producers Cory Johnson, 
Paula Rhoads. I’ll pass the floor on to them now.

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