Wednesday, November 22, 2006

amusing ourselves

As I noted earlier on this blog, the name of the site has to deal with Neil Postman, not the really bad Kevin Costner movie adapted from a really good book by David Brin. None-the-less, Postman had some very interesting things to say about the media and the emergence of television, as well as very cutting cultural observations.

In an earlier posting I referred to our 24-hour news cycle and the possible dangers it poses. Back in 1979 Postman wrote that:
'[We have had a] rapid emergency of an all-instant society: instant therapy, instant religion, instant food, instant friends, even instant reading. Instancy is one of the main teachings of our present information environment. Constancy is one of the main teachings of civilization.'
–Neil Postman, Teaching as a Conserving Activity (1979), p. 76

Everything is instant these days, including success, fame and noterity. Taco Bell has even invented a Hobbit friendly 'fourth meal' concept to persuade teens and college students that there is always food available.

Perhaps Postman’s best known book is 'Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business' The new book cover has a clown nose on ronald Reagan that is actually scarier than the initial cover with headless people in the glow of TV.

The quote that I have been thinking about and struggling with of late is his statement that 'in every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the things itself.' He continues on the next page 'our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.'

We as photojournalists and journalists need to think about and understand the power of multimedia. We need to recognize why it works, how it works and what ideas are embedded in flash, sound and the internet that may influence and change how we think about and tell stories.

The first and most obvious point is that we often create these projects because we can. Sometimes we do really 'flashy' things with flash because we can, not because that is the best way to tell a story. I realize and understand that we are entering into the age of multimedia, and storytelling online and that there are many things to learn and figure out how to do. But we should also be thinking about what we are doing and how the tool is influencing how we think and tell stories.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

"But we should also be thinking about what we are doing and how the tool is influencing how we think and tell stories."

Agreed.

I've had a few editors — no names today — explicitly emphasize the importance and necessity to simply get work out there and online, devoid of recognition for content, aesthetics, etc ... This is troubling, without a doubt, for many reasons. None more so than the blatant disregard of and respect for our subjects. Beyond that, every time I hear the same 'ol story third person, I shudder; because, invariably it's a mandate of 'the higher up's' to generate traffic, or interest.

It seems that if it were truly the latter of the two, one might be concerned about content.

My position in this matter has to do with public opinion. I want to hear what our audience has to say about multimedia. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough, but nowhere have I found a newspaper's website that requests, collects, and publishes viewer's opinions about multimedia.

Perhaps one rather cynical answer to my issue might be: "Readers/viewers are not sophisticated enough to generate thoughtful commentary on our shows." Or, "It's our job to dictate to the audience how exactly they will feel about our subject/story."

I would love nothing more that to have a sit down, face to face dialogue about our storytelling methods. As naĆ®ve as this may sound, it might simply satisfy my curiosity to have a hypothetical member of the public tell me: "Well, 'ya know, I was really lost when your show did this, or the subject said this." Or, "With all due respect, I flat out didn't like ———— subject because I don't care for their situations." Or, "I really like what the entire staff is doing with this particular approach to storytelling, and 'ya know, there's this family in the next township over that you should do a story on."

Either way, we all have something to gain and learn from such a collective dialogue, whether it be in a local coffee shop, diner, or simply through a suggestion box on a website that journal's the reader's comments. So ... with the upcoming redesign of our website [hopefully soon] that feature has been integrated. We'll see where it goes ...

Obviously it's not going to dictate our storytelling methods, but it will hopefully guide us, righteously. I for one have grown a little tired of continual dialogue with fellow reporters, photographers, and editors. Yes, we're all individuals capable of discerning between what works and what doesn't in terms of our storytelling methods, but a lot of it seems to be far too self-serving.