Wednesday, 26 November 2014

When photography says more than words

Photography has for a long time adopted the side-kick role in regards to journalism.  It's played a secondary part, aiding news and journalism in the visual department.  However, with the rise of social media and digital journalism, has photography finally taken centre stage?

I have often confessed that I am very much a visual learner, too many times have I found myself switching off when people are stood talking at me for a time excessive of 8 minutes.  Text has also at times, proved an effort to read, absorb and digest.  This is where I feel photography has really come into its own.  Photography need only capture your attention for a few seconds for you to become immersed.  It has very much become a case of ‘actions speaking louder than words.'  Words can be great things, things that truly inspire, but they can also be heavy and easily ignored.  Impressions are far more likely to be made with information and actions being shown.

You see, I have always found that art has acted as a sort of threshold for me, whereby, it has gradually opened my eyes to things I may not have otherwise discovered.  I like art because of what it says, but more importantly; how it says it.  Even if I don't like it, I have a certain amount of respect for it because of the thought process it has undergone.

For me, the current Wars have been something I haven’t really paid much attention to or taken a great deal of interest in.  Admittedly that sounds extremely ignorant and i'm fully aware it is, but I often find it hard to feel emotionally involved with something that doesn't directly affect me. There are other things that don’t necessarily affect me directly, such as art, or sport, or music, but I take an interest in them because they're things I can actively participate in or influence. However, when I stumbled across the Tate modern’s exhibition Conflict,Time, Photography: ‘160 years of war photography: an audiovisual guide to the world's most powerful conflict images’ I finally became interested in war.

In Roland Barthes Mythologies, the power of image is something explored in great depth. Barthes comments on the 'arts, or '"aesthetic appearance," in which the impossibility of exhausting the power of an image, a text, or an object receives testimony in the failure of commentary to justice to it'.  This is something relevant to photography in comparison to text; I feel text just doesn't do war justice.  Words can be dressed up, made bias and can be taken out of context.  However, a photograph in journalism generally can't lie, it says what it sees, which is often a lot.  It also leaves room for your own imagination to run a little wild, and for you to construct a meaning of your own.  This in itself is a very powerful thing.  But what if you create the wrong kind of meaning?  Well that's the beautiful thing - there is no wrong meaning; a photograph takes an abstract form and therefore leaves room for an abstract interpretation.  It also has the power to make an impact with little or no knowledge regarding context. 

When I looked through the photographs featured in Conflict, Time, Photography and the images that depicted the likes of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I created a narrative of my own.  I saw aspects of isolation and fear, desolate landscapes paralleled with death.  I felt hopes and dreams thrive and die in front of me and was left with a haunting silence, worthy of respect.  I didn't just see the images, I felt them.  One by one the images became fused with strands of memory, leaving a lasting imprint.

Photography is powerful because it doesn't ram an opinion down your throat, or overwhelm you with a certain political perspective.  Instead, it eases you into an idea, offering up a certain viewpoint in a much more liberalising way.  It gives you room to breathe and think for yourself which can be incredibly enriching.

With the rise of social media platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and Vine, which are all designed to visually stimulate, it is evident to see the extent to which interest is shown in the image.  With mobile devices continually evolving, most of the time images are easier to see in comparison to text being read.  They are also quick to share, easily digestible and have the capability to embody a whole story in one brief viewing.

Photography has stepped up, it's finally refused to be a mere assistant in the world of news and journalism.  It has redefined the storytelling process and, in doing so, has reiterated the power of image. 

Monday, 24 November 2014

Storify: Is it all that singing and dancing?

So Storify was something very new to me, the concept of curating information via various different news sources and social media platforms seemed a rather bizarre concept at first.  However, after getting better acquainted with how it worked, it opened my eyes to a whole new form of journalism.

One of the main things I identified with Storify was that most of the stories created had adopted a style that informed, entertained or did both.  Storify enabled you to curate snippets of information that could then be juxtaposed against one another for comedic effect.  By placing two opposing, or very different bits of information side by side, Storify’s structure allowed you set the tone of your story.  This was something I utilised within my Storify; ‘Tracey Emin and Co. on living the dream’; by placing a Twitter post next to a video of Harry and Paul’s I saw you coming, I communicated something that was both informative yet funny
The two different types of media formats corresponded with one another, allowing me to both tell a story and express an opinion.  Through this, I was made aware of the possibilities Storify offered, it redefined the conventional news story and made reading a little more engaging.  Rather than being bombarded with a heavy amount of text or a breakdown of 140 character fragments, Storify offered a multi-dimensional reading whilst still giving you the facts.

Furthermore, you can exploit Storify’s structure to highlight a variety of perspectives regarding a certain topic or piece of news.  This allows you to collate pieces of information and news exploiting different concepts and ideas.  As a result, Storify's can be seen to contain a lot more depth due to encouraging alternative thinking. If you're also particularly passionate about a piece of journalism or news, Storify allows you to make use of various media platforms to construct a strong argument/story for or against that piece.

Before curating my Storify's, I really had to think about what I wanted to say in order to make the curation process as efficient as possible.  I also had to take into consideration how I could manipulate Storify’s structure to execute my story in a successful way.  After evaluating these factors I decided, like I would with any news story or piece of journalism, that planning my Storify beforehand was the smartest option.  This parallel came as a surprise to me, as although Storify adopts a very modern layout, its fundamental structure is still based on traditional ways of reporting.  This relationship between the old and the new was something I found to be incredibly refreshing.

The major negative thing about using Storify was that the curation process was rather time consuming. Admittedly, the fresher your topic, the easier your Storify was to curate, but even then you had to factor in things such as; arrangement of content as well as how engaging it was.  Although I felt my Storify’s were successful and I was happy with them, I just didn't feel they were worth the time and effort to put together, or the time and effort to read.  I felt that if you were really that interested in a particular topic or piece of journalism, that you would go and take the time to research it and source it's original origins anyway.

I understand what Storify is trying to do, and I definitely don’t think it’s a bad thing; creating a new narrative from strands of an old one is a really unique and clever way of communicating something. It also offers opportunities to put a creative twist on a standard news story, making reading a little more informal and engaging.  However, for me it lacked authority, the fragmented nature of Storify, felt as though information was being summarised, rather than explained, leaving me with something that I enjoyed but couldn't really rely on.

However, using Storify has encouraged me to think about other types of media when writing and reporting news and journalism.  It has shown me that it's not fixed, but flexible in format and that utilising other media platforms within a piece of journalism can actually enhance a story and make it stronger.  Storify has also reiterated just how important structure is and that without a solid foundation, stories are flawed.  Overall, I would recommend using Storify, be it only for a short period of time.  It's a great way to explore and interact with a wide range of media platforms as well as get creative with them.  I just don't think I'll be whacking out the jazz hands just yet.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Why Page 3’s departure is long overdue

The Sun newspaper has featured topless women on Page 3 since 1970, meaning bare-breasted women have been gracing the eyes of readers for over 40 years.  Now, in the 21st Century, I feel Page 3 has more than outstayed it's welcome.

Why?  Well, some may argue it’s a bit of harmless viewing that’s easy on the eye.  It isn't demeaning women; it’s celebrating them, what's so wrong with that?  These women are choosing to display themselves in this way, no one is forcing them to take their clothes off and get their breasts out.  They’re also real women, smart women; women like Sabine, 23 from London who’s ‘a bookworm on a mission to beat bullies,’ making her both respectable and interesting. This is really important because ensuring that these women are viewed as people, and not objects, is clearly imperative for The Sun.

The only thing is, it’s not harmless… in fact it’s actually doing quite a lot of harm.  Today, when women are still striving hard for equality, Page 3 is a prime example of how we are still very much, living in a patriarchal society.  The fact, let’s face it, softcore porn is circulating in a national newspaper says a lot about our society.  When did it become acceptable and appropriate to dedicate a page to a bare-breasted woman in a newspaper and for people to think that was OK?

Furthermore, why does the act of breast-feeding in public often generate so much uproar when women on Page 3 are casually getting their breasts out on the regular.  Somehow it doesn't quite seem right that women are being frowned upon for feeding their child (a very natural thing), yet it's perfectly acceptable to bare them in a national newspaper for scopophilic reasons.  The sexualisation and objectification of women’s bodies is what has made actions like this taboo when it should be the other way round.  By allowing this page to continue, it is perpetuating the idea that it is OK for women to be looked at like sexual objects, to be leered at and to be enjoyed.  It is also feeding children, especially young lads, with the idea that it’s normal to look at women in this way, a perception that they may well carry with them throughout their life.

Page 3 is a clear culprit of sexism; we don’t see men sprawled seductively in the middle of a national newspaper with their penises on show, accompanied with a cute little degrading memo highlighting their 'hobbies and interests,' so why is it acceptable to have women displayed like this?  The fact men feel comfortable buying and reading this paper for the ‘perks’ of Page 3 feels incredibly childish and almost embarrassing.  The need and desire to look at women in this way seems somewhat primitive, outdated and really needs be addressed.

By all means I am not saying nudity is a bad thing or that women shouldn't be able to display themselves however they want to, but this is a matter of time and place and The Sun newspaper isn't one of them.  Page 3 highlights all that is wrong and unequal about society; men as the dominant and powerful gender in a patriarchal society.  It is an insult to women, to feminists and even to men.  Men are labelled as perverted and uncouth and are potentially stereotyped as a result of reading The Sun (even if they take no real interest in Page 3). Unsurprisingly, The Sun's readership statistics from March 2014 show that 57.6% are men over 42.3% of women.  The Sun clearly appeals to their dominant reader and this is most likely down to their 'USP' of Page 3 (well it's hardly down to their trustworthy and compelling content). 

In addition, the fact half-naked women are still appearing in UK’s most popular paper, and has been made popular by the majority, gives reason as to why there is still so much sexism and misogyny circulating in society.  By letting Page 3 stay, we are fuelling sexism and inequality, we are saying yes, as a nation, to the objectification and sexualization of the female body, and more importantly, we are ridiculing any progress that has been made by feminists in an attempt to become equal.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Twitter and the microblogging phenomenon

Although I’ve been a member of Twitter for a while now, I have only recently discovered just how useful it is and can be.  In the past I’d posted small snippets of uninteresting information about nothing, achieving nothing and saying nothing.  However, in the midst of reassessing some of my life choices (and becoming increasingly closer to entering the real world), I took it upon myself to approach Twitter with a whole new perspective.

What did I find I hear you cry! Well… quite a bit actually.  Stripping away the crap that clogged up my out-dated Twitter newsfeed I began to filter and follow.  I filtered through accounts that gained my interest in various areas; some journalism, feminism, advertising companies and some arty-farty bits and bobs.  I then began to delve deeper, ‘following’ people who had some pretty cool opinions/news on my selected areas of interest.  This was also around about the time I stumbled across the ‘hashtag’; an incredibly efficient way of finding out more about something that I was interested in.  For example, if I ‘hashtagged' #art it would allow me to ‘#discover’ a ridiculous amount of information around and about that topic, whilst still having the ability to connect with new people.

Through this, I began to gain knowledge about things I wouldn't have otherwise found.  One of the beautiful things about microblogging is the compact information which is fed through to you; a post is short and sweet and often summarises the content of an article or conversation, meaning more time for tea-making and cake-eating.  The fact 'tweets' are compacted into a mere 140 characters means that the information communicated has to be efficient, leaving little room for all that flowery talk (a.k.a bullshit).  This is actually wonderful when having a little scroll through your Twitter newsfeed as, generally speaking, your selection process is reduced to a choice of two; one that provides you with a short, condensed summary of information, as previously stated, or, one that entices you with something a little more enigmatic in an attempt to rouse your curiosity.  As a result, my eyes were opened to a whole new world and way of communicating. Twitter's efficiency is not only a great platform for swiftly sharing and accessing information on-the-go, but also one that presents journalism in a whole new format.  Gone are the days where you have to wait to read about the news, instead you are given regular updates which you can choose to follow or ignore.

After a lot of browsing, and following (and a bit of procrastinating), I decided to take it one step further… I decided to ENGAGE.  I felt it about time to make my public début after reading a lot and learning a lot.  I went about this by actually ‘tweeting’ about features I’d read, liked and disliked.  I also began ‘retweeting’ posts I felt were really good and even ventured as far as posing questions to the authors, for want of finding out more.  This was something I found to be majorly successful, and rather exciting; I was engaging with journalists and people I admired, and in doing so, was having an opinion that would possibly be viewed by a rather large amount of people.  After engaging with a few people, I was pleasantly surprised to find I was getting responses, and on occasion, questions put back to me regarding my own thoughts on certain topics.

In all honesty, there was a bit of a buzz to it, you weren't just posting pics of your messy Saturday night antics to your friends and acquaintances for ‘lols', instead you were actually involving yourself in something a bit bigger, and for better reasons.  I found myself being exposed to stories, news and people I would have otherwise remained ignorant to, and as a result, found myself beginning to talk about these snippets of information with others away from Twitter.  I was beginning to feel part of something really rather interesting. Twitter had come to feel like something of a community.  McMillan and Chavis point out in a 1986 article, that this sense of community is created through four elements: membership, integration, fulfilment of needs, and shared emotional connections.  This is something Twitter definitely generates.  Within this new-found community I was experiencing comments being constantly exchanged that elicited emotional responses along with the opportunity to either take part or merely spectate. 

I have become (much to my surprise) very much a fan of Twitter.  Through interacting and engaging with it, I have come to appreciate its full potential and learn how useful it can be.  Not only is it a platform for socialising and learning, it also offers opportunities to network and educate.  Yes, I still like to share a few bits of trivial information about nothing too important now and then, but I am now using Twitter in a much more resourceful way.  Without sounding like some sort of middle-class hippie, I feel using Twitter is, and has been, an enriching experience... pretty deep right?  The thing is, through using Twitter I have found out interesting information on a daily basis about the world and the people in it, and to say that my exposure hasn't improved/enhanced my knowledge, would be a bare faced lie.  Twitter isn't everything but it is a ridiculously useful platform I would encourage anyone to explore.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The power of journalism: Sexism speaks out

So recently there has been much talk over street harassment, mainly in regards to how women are constantly being heckled, harassed and preyed upon by men.  Hollaback!’s recent video featuring actress Shoshana B.Roberts highlights the tiresome, misogynistic harassment women have to endure everyday on the streets. Perhaps more surprisingly, has been the overwhelming coverage of this issue by well-known newspapers.

Women such as Laura Bates, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and Lean Green have also all campaigned to raise awareness of how street harassment is effecting women around the world on a day-to-day basis.  Bates launched the Everyday Sexism Project in April 2012 after deciding that everyday sexism needed to be addressed.  She also now writes a regular blog on sexism that is featured via The Guardian.  Fazlalizadeh has created a public street art campaign after becoming sick of men commenting on her body and telling her to smile, and Leah Green turned the tables on sexual harassment after producing a video of herself undercover, making inappropriate comments towards men.

Hollaback!'s video, along with responses from campaigns, has generated a lot of feedback.  This particular issue has also prompted many female journalists to share personal accounts on this matter, helping to highlight just how unnaceeptable street harassment is.  Bryony Beynon, Louise Callaghan, Rosie Swash and Jessica Valenti are just a few of the women who have dedicated articles solely to this issue.  Their significant input, along with many others, has really shown just how important journalism is, and can be.  With newspapers such as The Guardian, The Times and The Telegraph all reporting on the effects of street harassment, it has given sexism a well-deserved (and long-overdue) amount of stature.  Content that is reported and shared via such newspapers is often far more respected and read than say, blogs or magazines.

An increase in articles addressing sexism is also something to be celebrated; it shows a growing demand for such issues to be raised, listened to and dealt with.  In the past, where sexism and feminism was perhaps not taken as seriously, it now demands to be heard.  Women will not be silenced and they owe something to the power of journalism for giving them an even bigger voice.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The power of print

With the constant evolution of technology, journalism is undergoing a radical change in both format and content.  It is being adopted across a diverse range of social media platforms, all of which are designed to engage you in different ways.  This is enabling people to both access journalism and create it for themselves. However, with the rise of the digital age, we are seeing a decline in the amount of print journalism purchased and an increase in digital journalism, but is this a good thing?

Below is a chart showing the monthly figures from April 2012 of popular print and online newspapers.

So is this actually an issue?  Well some may argue no – it’s great that journalism can be accessed on-the-go, you don’t have to lug about a massive broadsheet newspaper, fumbling about with it on public transport and the like.  It’s also possibly more diverse in content and far more cost efficient; I have often found myself flicking past political articles that don’t take my fancy and generally don’t even make it to the sports pages. Digital journalism allows you to filter your interests more efficiently by allowing you to tailor them.  Online journalism is also usually free which means saving yourself a little bit of dollar to go towards that latte at work, a sound investment right?

Wellllll, maybe not... Journalism on-the-go is great; being able to have constant updates from around the world on various topics, is really quite wonderful.  However, in doing so, it is actually acting as a catalyst for the slow, painful death of print.  Well what’s so great about print anyway?  Personally I think it is all about the physical interaction - yes you may have to lug it about a bit, but turning the pages of a glossy magazine infused with their latest promotional perfume or turning the crisp pages of a Sunday paper that has undergone the production process of a fine craft, withholds a certain inimitable quality.

Print is something that stays with you, it engages you both physically and mentally, and for me, that is quite a sacred experience.  Print offers me something that online can’t.  When I buy a newspaper or magazine, I want to sit down with a coffee (and let’s face it, probably a bit of cake too), and take my time reading through it.  I want to absorb it, not scan it; I don’t want to scroll down a plastic screen which I can’t read with ease, I want to turn each individual page and see what it has to offer.  Print also offers you the chance to learn and discover something new.  Yes, as stated above, digital journalism offers a great filtering process but, at the same time, works in a similar way to that of comfort eating – yes you like it, but maybe you should try some other things too.

Although digital journalism may be prints nemesis, it does provide it with a certain stature.  Generally speaking, as we see things reduce in quantity, they become more of a precious commodity and that is what I believe print has become.  Previously, print was the only form of journalism available and, as a result, may have been taken for granted.  However, now that digital journalism has made its début along with much, much more, I believe that our outlook regarding print has also changed.  Print journalism has become a luxury, a thing of leisure, and with this it has become something to treasure, appreciate and more importantly; respect.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Were we really that surprised by the phone-hacking scandal?

Many of us were left shocked, stunned and even outraged at the phone-hacking scandal of 2013, but was it really that much a surprise?

Rebekah Brooks arrives for the first day of the trial at the Old Bailey. Photo: Getty

After recently reading the article, New apps make adultery harder to hide, in The Times newspaper, it revealed to me; that not only is adultery rather more common than I originally thought, but that the desire to pry and check-up on one another is also becoming alarmingly more apparent.  The fact companies have actually designed multiple apps to accommodate for this, highlights an obsession with each other’s business and an overwhelming lack of trust. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000,  it states that; 'It shall be an offence for a person to intentionally, and without lawful authority, to intercept, at any place in the United Kingdon' (including use of a public telecommunication system).  Clearly our obsessional snooping has also made us ignorant to the law.

So with this I ask, were we that shocked when the phone-hacking scandal came to light?  Was it that much of a surprise when the likes of Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of The Sun newspaper, used means to intercept communications; listen to mobile phone messages, allegedly make corrupt payments to public officials and pervert the course of justice by removing and concealing evidence?  Didn't she just get caught for something we are all, in some way, guilty of?  Whether it be a casual stalk on Facebook or a ‘lurk’ on Twitter, we've all become partial to a bit of prying.

But aren't there systems in place to protect us from this kind of thing?  Well yes, sort of; honourable Organisations such as IPSO (The Independent Press Standards Organisation) have been introduced to deter this sort of thing.  So surely they felt utterly disgusted at the phone-hacking scandal?  Wellll, maybe not... you see, IPSO's board is actually made up of 7 independent members who have no connections with the newspaper and magazine industry.  However, the remaining 5 are representative of such an industry, including publications such as The Sun, The Guardian, The Mirror Group and The Telegraph (to name a few).  So, in light of this small, yet interesting revelation, it becomes apparent that IPSO may not be so squeaky clean itself.  The fact numerous board members represent (or have represented) various publications which have been found guilty of phone-hacking (such as The Sun, which Brooks was the former editor of), suggests that members of IPSO may well have been aware of the fact phone-hacking scandal all along.  No!  Surely not I here you cry!  IPSO corrupt? NEVER?!  Well, yes, sorry to burst your cute little bubble, but if numerous publications were all illegally sourcing information, and it was working for them, they were bound to keep it on the down low as a sort of mutual agreement between them all.  Furthermore, in knowing this, it again echoes issues of trust, if you can't even trust the organisations which monitor and enforce the law, who can you trust?  Is this perhaps why we're seeing a growing amount of people taking it upon themselves to find the truth?

With the continual advancements in technology, we are not only gaining the ability to source more information, but are also projecting more about ourselves.  This isn't just via social media outlets such as Twitter or Facebook, where you knowingly (and willingly) communicate information about yourself, but also through search engines and web pages which you subconsciously feed with snippets of information.  A prime example of this is the use of filter bubbles; filter bubbles make use of information via websites you use, which then generate personalised suggestions back to you, based on the information you've given it (such as location, interests, browsing habits and search history).  People may see this as a positive thing, a sort of online personal shopper, making everything a little more efficient.  However, in doing so, it is actually using information about yourself which you may not want to share or have permanently stored.

Taking into consideration how filter bubbles work, along with other similar data collectors such as cookies, is it any wonder various devices and accounts are being hacked into?  Isn't the phone-hacking scandal just a mere example of us becoming our own worst enemy?  Although I am far from condoning the scandal, or be it hacking of any kind, as I feel it is journalism of the lowest sort, I do feel the scandal was a disaster waiting to happen.  With growing social media sites, and an obsession with the World Wide Web, information about ourselves is constantly being transmitted and shared in places that we are not even aware of.

If anything, the phone-hacking scandal may have done us some good; for too long we've been ignorant as to how much information we've been sharing online and the scandal has made us stop for a second and address that.  In regards to what the scandal has done for journalism; the verdict is divided.  Yes the phone-hacking scandal was both unacceptable and illegal, but so are many of the apps used to check on an errant spouse, but we cannot simply tar evey journalist, or piece of journalism with the same brush.  However, it has addressed that this kind of journalism is not to be tolerated and that it will (eventually) get its comeuppance. It has also perpetuated (to a degree) what journalism is all about; the fact it’s controversial, engaging and at times hard-hitting, and that’s what we as humans love about it.

To some extent, the phone-hacking scandal reveals a case of pot calling the kettle black. We are all perhaps guilty of making premature judgments before assessing our own actions and evaluating our own lives.  One should therefore consider pointing the finger with far less haste.