Tuesday, September 18, 2007

UF: tasering imbeciles or new media giant

In the wake of yesterday's on-campus tasering of UF student Andrew Meyer, I've been thinking a lot about what this event means for UF, the Gainesville community and, of course, communications in general.

When I first heard about what had happened I sort of shrugged it off as another case of ranting-gone-wrong. I've been to several ACCENT-sponsored events in the past and have seen my fair share people mouthing off to guest speakers. What really caught me off guard in this particular case was how everything transpired and the citizen journalism that took place. By the end of the day yesterday (Sept. 17), there were already countless video accounts of the tasering posted on Web sites like Youtube, FoxNews and various newspaper sites from all over Florida. Surprisingly they each told a different side to the story.

What makes these videos so fascinating to me is how they each produce a different message (which may be the reason we've seen such varying reactions from people). Who knows, maybe one's reaction can be determined by which video they saw? Anyway, this is a prime example of what so many of my professors have been talking about over the course of the last year. New media is not limited to trained reporters and media professionals anymore. In fact, most of the videos posted online were probably taken with cell phone cameras. With this time of citizen reporting, should the established news media be wary? Or does this mean that the nations "fourth estate" now has a watchdog of its own in the very audience it is set to serve? Both are interesting questions.

The event also shows how times have changed. Even when I started college a few years ago, camera phones were none existent. Portable, and easy to afford video recorders were also in short supply. But now that the technology is relatively inexpensive, these types of devices are everywhere. Talk about diffusion of innovations! Now that's media theory in practice if you ask me.

Still, this role of "citizen journalist" is still undefined. Are regular people able to adequately report events, or are they merely pawns for the current media machine to use? Are they owed money for their services? Again, only time well tell. Until everything gets sorted out I hope that Andrew Meyer is healthy and avoids and more conflict with UPD. I also hope that UF's PR department is ready for its biggest challenge since it created The Gator Nation campaign (which, come to think of it, really wasn't that difficult in the first place). Anyway, best of luck!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Community...what, where and when is it?

The idea of community gets tossed around in a lot of different contexts these days. First, there's the traditional sense of community that involves neighborhoods and cities. In this sense, the term "community" refers to a sense of place. However with the rise of the Internet, a new sense of community is becoming popular.

What this new type of community signifies is a shift in day-to-day interactions among groups of people. No longer are we confined to our physical community for interaction. Now, we can log online and chat with someone halfway around the world about a shared interest or current event.

New programs like Second Life and World of Warcraft have created an online culture that relies on interaction among people, even though they never meet in person.

But there are several implications of this new notion of community. First, it shows a cultural shift to life online. Second, it shows our new found reliance on technology to conduct our everyday activities.

However, for the sake of this blog, I want to focus on the implications this trend has on the media. Newspapers have continually focused on national and international news to sell papers. After decades of this type of coverage, their sales are plummet ting. In my opinion, readers are looking for local news coverage. National and international news should be left for large news sources such as CNN and the NY Times. As a result, local bloggers, and other new media users that are familiar with the new notion of "community," have started filling in the missing, "local" peg that newspapers so desperately lack.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

It's GOwen Local

It may seem like common sense that newspapers and other local and regional news outlets focus on community-based issues, but it seems that some of these outlets have forgotten their roots and have decided to focus on national or international news stories almost exclusively, which is a loss for local residents.

As part of my master's thesis, I am looking into the idea of social capital and the media's role within that particular theory. Social capital can be defined as the relationships and interactions between neighbors and community members. For my thesis, I suggest that one of the large contributing factors to the decline of social capital in today's society is the shift from local news coverage to a more nationalized focus in the media.

Robert Putnam, one of social capital's most widely-read theorists, argues that the decline in newspaper readership is a significant factor in the overall decline of social capital. But what caused this decline in readership in the first place?

Well there are several factors that may or may not contribute to this falling readership. Among those, the Internet, people are reading less in general, economic issues, etc. However, I believe that there was a significant shift in news coverage following the Watergate scandal that lead to this change. Watergate was the first widely-publicized story that made front pages of newspapers across the country. As a result, newspapers began focusing on issues of greater impact. The term "if it bleeds it leads," became a nationwide phrase rather than a mere description of local police beat coverage.

As a result, we've seen local media change their focus. Rarely to local stories lead on the front page, but rather that slot is filled with war, disaster or celebrity coverage that has happened in far away places.

I'm not suggesting that providing more local coverage is a save-all for newspapers. But to me, common sense suggests that when people read a newspaper, they want to read about what is happening near where they live. Now, this isn't to say that national news isn't important, but newspapers should place a heavy emphasis on community building rather than national news distributing. By providing more local coverage, newspapers can contribute to a city's social capital by creating a sense of belonging for its readers.