Sunday, September 13, 2009

Remediation remediated

Disclaimer: I read this book a few semesters ago, yet I find it even more fascinating this time around. Maybe it's the fact that I have a much better understanding of what hypermediacy, immediacy and remediation are all about? Then again, maybe not. Suffice it to say that this wasn't my first pass at this reading.

This may sound funny, but reading this text makes me want to scream, cry and laugh all at the same time. Scream because the basic concepts presented here seem so simple - yet most who hold leadership positions in mainstream media corporations fail to grasp the concept that none of their so-called innovations are "new". Cry because if newspapers don't do a better job adapting to the changes brought about by new media, they will continue to falter. And laugh because I can remember listening to the Dallas Morning News' publisher and other members of upper management rave only a few years ago about how adding a team of "online" reporters and editors was going to revolutionize the news industry and turn the newspaper back into "the" source of information for Dallas-Fort Worth residents. Having a team devoted to producing content for the Web was going to provide the paper's online readers with the "immediacy" they desired while giving other reporters time to work on more nuanced articles for the daily paper. Unfortunately, most of those reporters and editors were axed in the latest round of layoffs. The Web site has certainly gotten better over the years, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a "must-read" for many locals.

Though the term remediation may be unfamiliar to some, it makes perfect sense when you think about it. There's nothing new about it - it's just a new term to illustrate what artists and others have done for centuries. I remember countless K-12 and college art classes where the assignment was to take a work of art and refashion it in another medium. We once fashioned a sarcophagus (a la King Tut) out of cardboard - something more than a few years away in Tut's time. In another class, we took still photographs and then digitally-enhanced them using PhotoShop - something impossible when the first photograph was taken. Newspapers have taken similar steps to reinvent themselves in different mediums.

As the authors mention numerous times, all one has to do is look at a single issue of USA Today to note how similar its layout is to that of the Web. Bolter and Grusin note this early on when they state:
"Although the paper has been criticized for lowering print journalism to the
level of television news, visually the USA Today does not draw primarily on
television. Its layout resembles a multimedia computer application more than it
does a television broadcast; the paper attempts to emulate in print the
graphical user interface of a web site."
USA Today isn't the only newspaper to rethink its use of graphics, photos and varied fonts as the Web has become practically omnipresent throughout society. Even the venerable Wall Street Journal has started using colored pictures and grahpics throughout the edition. The same is true of the New York Times, once dubbed "The Gray Lady" for its lack of color. Locally, both the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram have taken a stab at emulating USA Today's print edition from time to time. Whether their efforts have been successful is open for debate, but it is interesting how as the Web has evolved, newspapers have become more like tabloids or magazines than what Western society has historically considered a newspaper. The stories are generally shorter and less nuanced. (There are certainly exceptions to this, but not as many as even a few years ago.) They're also more visually-oriented than in years past with multiple photos and graphics, some of which are only available to online readers.

Though I am no longer employed full-time by a newspaper, I'm still a voracious consumer of news....television, online, print, radio. What I find most frustrating about all of it is that everybody - not just newspapers - is constantly trying to be like everyone else. As the authors also noted, television news broadcasts are more like the Web than ever before with multiple mini-screens and scroll bars fighting over your attention. Recently, many TV anchors have begun asking viewers to tweet answers to questions posed on the air; the results are shown later in the broadcast. How long will it be before consumers start broadcasting the news from their personal computers? Oh, wait. That's already happening. Rather than buy into the so-called "immediacy" that mainstream media outlets purport to deliver, many consumers are ditching it entirely and reporting the news that matters to them themselves. They're using PDA's, iPhones, laptops, etc. to report in real time what they're seeing, hearing, feeling. This sort of "immediacy" is what mainstream media strives to achieve, but oftentimes misses because of a supposed lack of staff and/or money.

I've rambled on long enough about this particular reading, but suffice is to say that I'll be intrigued to hear what others think about remediation, hypermediacy and immediacy. Is it something that mainstream media can achieve, have already achieved, or will never be able to achieve? My bet is on the middle one. I think many outlets have achieved hypermediacy and immediacy, but only to a point. As for remediation - well, most mainstream media is the definition of remediation.


John Kay said...

Dear Second Timer:
I remember when I was in graduate business school in 1986-87 at TCU. In one class we did a case study on the Gannett Corporation, about their then-recent launch of "USA Today" newspaper. The discussion at that point, years before the advent of the internet, was about how America was going to receive a NATIONAL newspaper. The only times that I read "USA Today" is when I stay at a hotel and have the paper dropped outside my door in the dark hours of the morning.

Now the talk is about how that paper has tried to emulate the look of websites (e.g., with short articles, numerous headlines, and splashes of color). Although I do not subscribe to "The Dallas Morning News," they deliver a "USA-Today"-like edition. Called the "Briefing," this edition includes highlights of the full paper. As much of the popular internet news such as the news appearing in Yahoo's portal is brief because they designed it for people who want to quickly take in the news, the "Briefing" is so short that I can finish reading it by the time that I take my last bite of my Chocolate Chex.

I hope that the newspaper industry makes the changes necessary so that they will survive in this digital age.

See you in the headlines,
John Kay

Chelsea said...

Personally, I think they've waited too long. They're making changes, but at newspaper speed. Meanwhile the internet is moving at near lightening fast speed. It's like a race between a tortoise and a hare, except this time the hare doesn't seem to be taking a nap anytime soon.

Then again I hate to see newspapers totally fly out of the window. But maybe if they do disappear they can make a slight comeback kind of like vinyl is making now, at least as a piece of nostalgia.

Anonymous said...

Have to say I have never been much of a newspaper reader. For me radio was better and more efficient since I could listen to NPR on my way to work. But things have changed. Twitter provides most of the news I follow now, from a variety of news sources. As we all know, there are links to full articles, photos, podcasts and videos of live events--maximum hypermedia. Not so much in the form of fragmented windows, rather multiple-choice tweets.

During the election last year began probably the most immediate sensation of experiencing the news I've ever felt. Two reasons: 1) trending topics on twitter--getting immediate commentary from people at rallies who posted their photos and videos. These were far more informative and up to the moment than pre-digested news coming from more formal news outlets; 2) the ability to follow reporters directly and not just wait for their articles. The impromptu tweeting and commentary made them seem more human whether I agreed with them or not. I followed both sides of the campaign to see how each side reported the same events which (thanks to the trending topics) I had my own opinion about.

At first I thought it can't get more immediate than this, but it can. Anyone can participate directly in news events, not just passively read or watch the news. In fact, people are able to MAKE news (remember Joe the what's his name).

As to where this leaves the newspaper industry, I agree with Chelsea that it is probably too late to catch up with with the internet. However there is still a generation of people who have a cultural bias toward reading the paper. It is their daily ritual--that should mean something. Refashioning would help, and NOT to make it look more like the internet. In my opinion it needs to be thinner, smaller, cuter, and edgier. I think it probably needs some repurposing as well--publish stories written by subscribers (not just selected editorials).

vns said...

hey, I remember when DMN introduced "scanner" technology, with a barcode printed with the story. You could scan it, and that would take you online, for a follow up story. It did not work. It was really bad. BETA could not beat VHS either. Hmm...

John Kay said...

I bought one of those little mice from Radio Shack. Mark Cuban publicly said that it was stupid and would not last. He was right.

KEHS said...

You guys should have seen the newsroom's reaction to the "Cuecat"...most everyone agreed with Cuban but nobody took the time to ask the worker bees. I still have mine somewhere; seemed like something worth holding onto!

Jax D. said...

As for the Cuecat there was a huge community built on hacking it into other purposes.

We've already seen the death of the newspaper at this point. Reading Remediation though has brought out something I had never thought of before and that is how we leap across different mediums with out thinking about it and more so in a world now.

I jump from Twitter on my mobile device to the news on my laptop to the TV with links back to the computer. This is where we are today. We no longer have a single source anymore. In a sense we have become the journalists more so than the reporters that we listen to.

A prime example of this would be the CNN report of a suspicious boat being received by the Coast Guard. The boat turned out to be non-existent and the Coast Guard on a training maneuver in a highly visible area. Because of this, planes were grounded and a larger response than needed occurred. If the reporters had done their job and checked with multiple sources instead of relying on a single radio report embarrassment and a mar on accuracy.

We are now in a world much more so connected and much more so mediated that we have been used to before.

Aline McKenzie said...

An excellent analysis of how NPR harnesses social media to make themselves one of the finest-run multimedia news sources:

This one sentence just makes me cheer: "They’ve also put social media to work for them. [italics theirs] In October of 2008, for example, NPR asked listeners to factcheck the US Vice Presidential debates and communicate findings via a Twitter hashtag."

And oh lord, don't mention the CueCat disaster....

However, I recently came across an evolved version that works, in both senses of the word. The magazine Technology Today includes small square "bar codes" at the end of many stories. You can take a picture of the code with a camera phone, and it will direct you to a site for more info.

No typing, no new software to install, etc. On the other hand, they could just say "visit XX web site for YY additional info." But no, gotta have the neat technology.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think it's this whole idea of hypermediacy that has turned me off to traditional news broadcasts. I'd much prefer to read a story online, follow the links, check other sources on my own than have all the Tweets and other "extras" that media companies now throw into their broadcasts. For me there's is a certain tipping point where the information and its presentation become too much and causes me disengage. I wonder if as a society we've taken the concept of immediacy overboard to where there will eventually be a backlash as people start to deal with information overload. I know critics argue we're there now, but I don't think so...there's probably a lot more to come....

April said...

I haven't been much of a news reader in the past few years, as I find that they tend to focus on the negative and the tragic, and a "happy" story is a rarity, and cause for celebration. Also, if I saw one more article about W and his idiotic behavior, I would've had to move to Canada. Lately, I've been watching CNN, but only because it's on the TV directly above the treadmill at the gym. Regardless, I think that the news (newspapers/news channels) is becoming more antiquated in its current format, despite its best efforts to be mainstream, splashy, and dazzling. I tend to find out information via Google searches and what my friends post on social networking sites. I can't remember the last time I accessed a "traditional" newspaper online, or even bought a paper. The way that new media is playing out makes it much easier to filter out what you don't want to know about/read, and makes it much more personalized to your interests, which is probably not an entirely good thing, as the ostrich syndrome may occur, and to quote Thich Nhat Hanh, "usually when we hear or read something new, we just compare it to our own ideas. If it is the same, we accept it and say that it is correct. If it is not, we say it is incorrect. In either case, we learn nothing." He's referring to the Dharma, and the teachings of Buddha, but I think it's applicable, just the same. We are each creating our own little bubble, and customizing our worlds and knowledge acquisition to reinforce our beliefs and suit our needs.

annisleung said...

I am not a big newspaper reader. The reason is that the local paper only reports the news in that area. The news from different states or countries are hardly being reported. The reason is that the local press only have limited resources which can only support local news. If the readers want to learn the world news, they have to go online such as CNN to get the updates. As a result, the numbers of newspaper reader and the demand of newspaper were dramatically dropping as predicted.