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Friday, 2 March 2012

Three Little Pigs drop out of the frying pan, into the fire

The Guardian has dramatised how it would
deliver media coverage using socmed curation.
It's a clever ploy by the Guardian, Britain's popular liberal broadsheet. The newspaper today posted an advert on its website that purports to show through a dramatisation how its "open" journalism - a curational strategy that pays attention to social media, rather than debunking it (something which media companies have in the main stopped doing now) - would work given the case of the Three Little Pigs. The advert got plenty of play on social media, with credible sources posting links to the video along with admiring comments. But beyond the novelty of adding curation of social media the ad shows that the Guardian's aspirations are merely true to type.

The dramatisation shows plenty of scenes with police carrying guns conducting raids (the image accompanying this blog post has a clip from one of these sequences). Across the entire package we get dramatic music aimed at heightening the sense of something important happening, the unfolding drama. It's a bit like the short produced to promote an action film made by a major Hollywood studio. There's a court scene, scenes showing forensic experts examining a crime scene, a reconstruction using animated drawings of how the Wolf could not have blown down even a house of straw, and a riot scene. The truth of the story (it's a bit convoluted) being that the Pigs had framed the Wolf because they could not afford their mortgage payments. This revelation led in the ad to a street riot (shades of August 2011, but here instead with the middle class out in force), which also gets coverage in the media.

Interspersed with these scenes are computer-graphic illustrations showing posts made by average citizens using Twitter and Facebook that comment on the stories as they emerge. The Guardian is saying that its editors and reporters would respond to such postings by including their views in their investigation, allowing punters to participate in the news process through curation of messages they leave on social media. This is a welcome step but not a particularly radical one. Most media organisations take notice of trends that emerge in social media, and often include this material in their stories. And trending attitudes on social media do not necessarily represent an informed view, but rather often merely a representative view. It is hard to see how such views can add much value to news stories.

But beyond this one argument against the Guardian's opinion of itself the ad offers us, the ad's conception of what happens in the media is, overall, uninspiring as well. All the dramatic music and rapid action cuts that are used in the making of the video, point back to other representations of "news" we get elsewhere. One place we get them is in the ABC's adverts promoting its news coverage in Australia, where on the screen alongside the corporate logo appear words such as "community" and "sport" accompanied by a dramatic, typical soundtrack giving us an idea of each type of story in brief. The ease with which we can recognise each type of story in the soundtrack (the ABC does a lot of radio and TV in Australia) is as uninspiring and fatiguing as the scenario drawn in Guardian's Three Little Pigs dramatisation. These organisations are making a routine claim not only to authenticity and reliability (the use of logos, the recognisable soundtrack) but to timeliness and relevance. It's "news". But merely news, too.

These claims hardly go beyond what we already recognise as "news". It's an uninspiring view of the world, this news package, despite all the drama used to trick it up and paint it as somehow "new". And it points back, also, to the routine attempts by newsmakers to generate drama through the use of catchy headlines and topical angles. The aggregate of stories, the Guardian is telling us, give us a full picture of the truth. But I feel that the stories we would get via the curational approach offered by the Guardian will be the same stories that we are reading today. It's unlikely that this approach will lead people to hold a higher opinion of the media, than they do at present. Not that they can live without it. They can't.

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