Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My News and the Myth of Media Transparency

The Swedish public service television has begun a new format for news broadcast. In an effort to bolster lagging ratings the SVT 9pm broadcast has done away with ties on men and now show long shots (5-10 seconds) of camera men scurrying around as presenters move about the scene, dominated by a huge plasma screen, chroma key video screen and a warm orange and red backdrop set.

Notice necktie missing. Here added by the SVT editorial to draw attention to the fact that it is missing.

So far nothing so extraordinary about a news broadcast reskinning. What is interesting about the 'new' SVT news is the ’Open Editorial’ broadcast that is now available on the website. Here, through a series of short videos 'we' are shown something of the processes behind the 30 minutes of news sent nightly by SVT at 9pm. The composition of these videos is interesting:

"But the question is, what will the editorial team achieve. Will Anna Hedenmo record a false direct (live on tape) with a Danish Police officer or will he [sic] go direct live with a link. It depends upon that he [sic] must translate."

To me these rhetorical questions suggest reality TV, which in a sense it is. What I find more interesting is the concept of transparency that is implied by ‘Open Editorial’. I agree with Jay Bolter, that media transparency is not only a myth; it has the potential to be dangerous:

The problem was that the operators [of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in 1979] did not question their interface. They treated the valve indicator as if it were a transparent window on the level of water inside the reactor. The operators should have been prepared for that possibility; they should have looked at the indicator rather than through it. Under the pressure of an emergency, however, they made the assumption of transparency. (Jay David Bolter and Diane Gromala Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency, 54), ( taken from The Myth of Transparency)

While we are looking through the ‘Open Editorial’ at the scene of the news making, we are perhaps being encouraged to believe that it is not being 'made' but rather is happening. We join our presenters at the scene:

Meanwhile at the desk side, a discussion of possibilities unfolds

In this image one should notice that we are at eye level with each of the participants and sharing the space with them from that perspective. All of the videos are constructed in a similar fashion. If the participants are sitting down then the camera is shooting from the eye height of someone sitting down (usually from the chair next to them).
In the next shot we gaze upon a reporter hard at work and the computer he is using is clearly branded. The national television network SVT is non-commercial, and has a policy against branding. But when we go behind the scenes we become aware of a level of branding that is probably inevitable in such a form:

The news is brought to you by Dell Computers

Finally, I would like you to compare SVT 'Open Editorial' with another form of 'open' news broadcasting. 'OhmyNews' is a citizens news network based in South Korea but that reaches all over the world:

"OhmyNews is a South Korean online newspaper with the motto "Every Citizen is a Reporter". It was founded by Oh Yeon Ho on February 22, 2000.

It is the first of its kind in the world to accept, edit and publish articles from its readers, in an open source style of news reporting. About 20% of the site's content is written by the 55-person staff while the majority of articles are written by other freelance contributors who are mostly ordinary citizens.

OhmyNews was influential in determining the outcome of the South Korean presidential elections in December 2002 with the election of Roh Moo Hyun. After being elected, Roh granted his first interview to OhmyNews.

OhmyNews International is an English language online newspaper that features "citizen reporter" articles written by contributors from all over the globe. Its content is almost 100% citizen reporter.

On February 22, 2006, OhmyNews and Japanese firm Softbank signed an investment contract valued at US$11 million. In 2006 OhmyNews started to build a Japan-based citizen-participatory journalism site called OhmyNews Japan, launched on August 28 with a famous Japanese journalist and 22 other employees working under ten reporters. These journalists' articles were the object of much criticism, on Nov. 17, 2006, the newspaper ended the citizen-participation aspect of the paper. The South Korean newspaper admitted that OhmyNews Japan had failed.[1]

The 2nd Citizen Reporters' Forum was held by OhmyNews in Seoul, Korea from July 12 to 15, 2006.

The 3rd International Citizen Reporters Forum was held by OhmyNews in Seoul from June 27 to 29 in 2007." Wikipedia

While the differences between 'Open Editorial' and 'OhmyNews' are clear and not surprising, it seems that the ambition of the former is to be more like the latter.

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