Wednesday, 1 July 2009

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Welcome to challenge and rethink 'old' and 'new', public and private, global and local, production and reception, the past and the future, and.... of the media.

Lay opinions and fancy academic theories about the media are plentiful. Funnily enough, they often take quite a uniform, and black-and-white, form when presented in public discussions. We know all these stories or slogans: infotainment contents mean dumbing down of citizens, the internet means a new virtual public sphere, but blogging means the demise of traditional journalism... More nuanced and empirically tested ideas -- whether ethnographies on migrant populations' media use, or small town community journalism projects -- are more complex and perhaps thus not sexy enough to catch people's attention.

And still: the media matter in our lives in so many ways. They are big global business and central local sources of information. They (re)create certain discourses and thus potentially influence our ideas and knowledge base. They are circular and viral. They are everywhere. They connect and disconnect us; they foster understanding and compassion as well as fear and hatred. Thus, it is important to learn from different people, facts and figures, projects, experiments, regions, voices all kinds of different things the media can be and mean to us. Only then we see alternatives and can go beyond the slogans -- to envision opportunities for more connection, diversity, and understanding via the media.

My goal as a media researcher and teacher is to collect new, fresh, surprising, engaging voices, ideas, research results, experimental projects on contents, industry innovations and regulatory approaches, and so on. I want to take conventional ideas, ranging from public media to participation, the press, entertainment, community, web2.0 -- and even, yes, the media and democracy! -- and collect and compile additions by wise sources to the mainstream discussions.

This approach seems to be an obsession of mine: In my (published)
doctoral dissertation for the University of Helsinki, I addressed the close history of Finnish television landscape and challenged 3 (albeit international) slogans circulating around: convergence of programming (between channels), tabloidization of (television) journalism, and emotionalization/entertainization of factual content. My conclusion: there is some truth in every fiction, but changes are not overly drastic or one-directional. And especially: certain shifts in media culture do not necessarily result in immediate socio-cultural or political catastrophies. Rigid moralistic claims and positions in public debates just might be more harmful than some trends in the media, if the goal is to work towards better media systems, contents and societies. If that is the case, then we need to understand what we need to know more of, and how to use some tendencies constructively, rather than condem them. More about my PhD research in 2 short posts, one in Finnish and one in English.

Recently, I've been very, very fortunate to continue my work as a scholar in two continents, at the
McGannon Communication Center, Fordham University, New York, and University of Helsinki, the Swedish School of Social Science. I'm also collaborating with the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance at the Jamilia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. It seems I'll be teaching in 2 if not all 3 of these places in the near future. And, as we all know, teaching means learning.

In addition, for the past 1+ years I worked for a project called the
Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere, at the Social Science Research Council (New York). Thanks to the SSRC, I got to know a little about collaborative reseach in the fields of media reform and media justice; I'll continue to work on that through a book project; and I hope to be able to assist in future efforts around a project on 'public media'.

But very concretely, thanks to the
Helsingin Sanomat Foundation, I'm now able to dive into the world of slogans about and around the media, and:
  • Develop this blog as a cumulative and collaborative resource site of posts, notes, ideas and comments;
  • Based on this blog, develop research & teaching ideas / sites;
  • Based on the blog, and simultaneously, develop a commentary book in Finnish to address some current national debates (also, to give them international perspectives); and, eventually and hopefully,
  • Develop another publication in English.
Right now, this blog is what matters the most. May it be a forum of unlikely combinations of ideas, and a source of information and inspiration for others than the blogger herself, too. My goal is to create one proper post a week (and updates inbetween). Next week, it's all about researching public service media, globally. Stay tuned.

PS: Many thanks for this idea (a simultaneous blog&book project) to a wonderful documentary maker/theorist/anthropologist Amelia Bryne. See her
blog/book project on rethinking documentaries.

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