Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Commodification of Knowledge

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Traditional studies about the role of the University and its past and present changes have revolved around discourses about social and institutional developments. However there is a recent shift towards discourse surrounding the idea of the University as a capitalist venture that is putting a price on attaining higher levels of knowledge. With booms in the availability of scholarly articles on the Internet and subsequent lack of funding for scholarly research, there is an increase in the way in which our education is becoming commodified. Andrew Whelan (2013) labels this trend as moving from an ‘information scarcity to an information surplus’.

 

As with other employees, academics effectively sell their labour to provide a level of subsistence for themselves. This notion of ‘selling labour’, however, seems to be at odds with the idea that Universities are supposed to be about providing services for the ‘greater good’ of the community. If the original aims of of this institution were to place value on the advancement of people and the ‘truth’, then how did it suddenly complete a 180 degree turn and become about maximising economic returns?

 

There are two points of view that are interesting to consider here. The first, is that social forces have rendered the skills possessed by academics not as individualised skills that may be bargained with by the academic to obtain leverage in the labour market, but rather as a necessity to society – this establishes academics as disposable commodities. Secondly, in order to maintain and income the academics themselves must necessarily commodify their skills in order to remain competitive and get funding directed their way. And what is even more troublesome is the fact that we, as students, are paying for a service that effectively places us in this web of commodification – as Whelan (2013) puts it, education basically makes us a slightly higher commodity to be utilised in the labour market rather than turning us into simply more intelligent human beings. We must question why there is a price on, effectively, knowledge, and why this causing huge social inequities both for academics and for potential students.

People Power: The Rise in Citizen Reporting

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Citizen reporting is a relatively new feature in the sphere of journalism, but already its effects are profound and widespread. It represents the future of journalism, away from traditional forms, towards radical new forms that appear to be by the people, for the people. While some argue that citizen journalism is an antidote to the widening gaps in society, where traditional news media is in decline and reporting carries undertones of political bias, it is evident that the societies that would benefit most from this style of reporting are facing repressive regimes working to suppress freedom of press. The lecture presented by Marcus O’Donnell (2013) painted a very interesting picture about the advantages and disadvantages presented by the phenomenon of citizen reporting. He questioned whether citizen journalism diminished the quality of reporting, or whether it reinstated our trust in journalism due to the open-forum nature of participatory journalism. I’m going to try and unpack this a little bit in order to come to grips with the future of journalism.

 

“News travels fast”

It’s an old adage, but has so much more literal meaning in today’s fast-paced, news-hungry society than it ever did when it was coined. But the adage also highlights the challenges in accuracy of reporting by citizen journalists. Gaps in information, lack of referencing of sources and a general lack of context, all because of stringent time constraints, often leads to narrow reporting – quantity over quality. Further, the availability of online reporting methods to the ‘average joe’ means that although we’re closer to establishing a free press, and everyone’s voice can therefore be heard, maybe we shouldn’t be hearing every voice that’s out there? Jeremy Porter (2009) stated ‘the only real problem with citizen journalism is that it gets more difficult for all of us to decide what to believe.’

 

“We are the eyes and ears of the news”

Professional reporters cannot be everywhere and cannot cover every event taking place, especially those that are unplanned. Citizen journalists can alert the media to breaking news, and provide information and visual documentation of events that can help to inform news stories. Some newspapers and news sites, especially smaller ones who may have limited staff, rely on citizen journalists to contribute comments and blog posts about their stories in order to broaden the news they cover and make the stories more interactive, and more accessible. In fact, many believe that citizen journalists present a fresh and more exciting angle on a story, making the news more engaging. We’re given the information we want in small, digestible pieces and this allows us to remain up-to-date with breaking news stories and global trends.

 

Sure, professional journalists put themselves in harm’s way every day to cover news around the globe; they have been trained to handle potentially dangerous situations and are equipped with the resources and staff to protect themselves as best they can. However, there is certainly much to be gained from having everyday people in the midst of breaking news stories, documenting them as they play out and giving an unmediated view of the world around us. I am all for citizen journalism, but there is a line to be drawn before too much unmediated content starts warping our perceptions of what is relevant news.

 

Reference List

Media Sensationalism: Making a “Martyr” Out of Meagher

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A questionable culture is emerging in Australian media and is threatening the integrity of journalism as well as exposing inherent issues surrounding media regulation. Sensationalism in the media is hardly a new phenomenon – just look at the effects the media has had on issues like the war in Afghanistan or the outbreak of Avian Influenza – however the current state of crime reporting, particularly in print media, is presenting significant issues for both the credibility of news items and for consumers of this news.

The recent, and tragic, death of Jill Meagher is testament to the reprehensible style of reporting that is emerging in Australia. I am a huge advocate of the reporting of crime in print media – possibly due to the fact that I’m currently studying law alongside my BCM degree, though more likely down to the fact that I have a penchant for reading about all things crime related – although there is a certain line that must be drawn when writing about criminal acts (particularly ones that are still being investigated). The media has released footage of Meagher’s last minutes, written detailed descriptions of the attack, and even revealed information about various aspects of her social and personal life all in order to generate a broader interest in her death. Again I am all for freedom of speech and press but I question why knowing about the gruesome details of her death could be considered beneficial to anyone other than the profiteering journalists.

Underlying this rant about media sensationalism is my want for greater controls on the reporting of crimes in the media. It is clearly in the public interest for mechanisms to be put in place that prevent the reporting of unnecessary or macabre aspects of criminal acts. Why? For a multitude of reasons too extensive to post here, but I’ll divulge the main reasons as follows:

  1. Overexposure to morbid details – shock tactics may sell more papers or magazines, however this doesn’t mean they should be employed. We are creating a generation of people that are becoming indifferent about the reporting of heinous crimes, breezing over them as though they were the social pages.
  2. Trial by media issues – the Victorian police were critical (and rightly so) of the coverage afforded to Meagher’s death since it has proved to be a hinderance to the investigation and prosecution processes. Consider the effects of a trial by media in the Skaf case (again, the inner law student coming out in me but a good example nonetheless).
  3. What about the family? – this is perhaps the most contentious issue of all. Those close to Meagher have been unable to privately grieve over their loss; it is making front page news continuously. What makes me more concerned is that people that are in no way connected to Jill are holding protests, walks and vigils over her death – all due to the bombardment of information about her death by the media.
The effects of sensationalism corrode the awareness level, contemplate the critical issues and present it in a immature and unrealistic way. I think it’s high time that media should end this disillusionment in reporting and start reporting the facts. The rest should be left to the public to interpret and understand the meaning rather than stuffing unnecessary details in their minds.