Week 4: Participatory Cultures

Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question:

“Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Russell, 2008: 67).

Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.


“Traditional media services are being challenged by new digital technologies, resulting in … new players, new content and new platforms”, stated former Communications Minister Helen Coonan (Independent Australia, 2011). Blogging is providing such challenge.

The blogging practice demonstrates “the edge becoming the core” (Hagel & Brown in Russell et. Al 2008: 44). Specialty blogs covering niche interests are booming – those seeking gossip, Perez Hilton. If its relationship information, Christiana’s Rants. Going fishing? Jump on Josh Wight’s fishing blog.

With blog numbers increasing, the ‘Long Tail’ theory emerged, stating we are “shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of ‘hits’ at the head of the demand curve … toward a huge number of niches in the tail” (Russell et al., 2008: 47).

With their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity, are blogs more effective in informing the public than elite media?

“Blogs … are a kind of collective intelligence in which individuals pool together … knowledge that can challenge the authority of the professional press” (Russell et. al 2008: 46). The capabilities of blogging are blurring the line between producers and consumers.

This new hybrid role of “produser” – interacting with and enhancing existing content (Bruns, 2008: 85) – means one can take an active role, as opposed to the presumed passivity of consuming.

Anyone can be a journalist in the DIY media created by blogging, with some believing its ‘increasing the ranks of informed citizens and facilitating … participatory culture’ (IndyMedia, 1999).

IndyMedia formed as a collective of independent media groups and journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage (IndyMedia, 1999). One of their central goals is to:

“enable people, while “becoming the media,” to realize they can take control of other aspects … that they previously left up to ‘professionals.’” (1999).

But should we believe news delivered by amateur journalists? How do we know if the information comes from a valid source?

This question can be posed to any media company. The elite media and institutions also contain biases. So can we believe everything written on The Herald Sun online?

Rupert Murdoch and his News Limited Corporation tend to follow Murdoch’s conservative political stance. More alarming is that his media empire controls two of out of the three main newspapers in Australia (Simons, 2011: 2), and their online counterparts. These views are often imposed on their reporters, or reporters self-censor to conform to the employer’s stance.

video posted by YouTube user mediamatters4america 

They are also obligated to consider their employer’s commercial position when publishing content. In a survey conducted by Alliance Online, under federal secretary Christopher Warren, 48.4% of respondents say they have felt obliged to take into account their employer’s commercial position, with 37.7% of respondents saying they have even been told to obey the line (Alliance Online, 2006).

Warren believes these results reveal further empowerment for media owners “who already have an unwelcome influence on their employees to report the news in a way that suits the owners’ agendas.” (Warren: Alliance Online, 2006).

This doesn’t mean we should totally abandon elite media sources. New media technologies, like blogs, enable consumers to “annotate, appropriate and recirculate media content in powerful new ways” (Jenkins in Russell et. al, 2008: 48) – but power doesn’t necessarily bring valid knowledge. Blogs may inform the public more openly than traditional elite media, but all sources should be read critically.


Alliance Online (2006) ‘Survey Says 84% Of Journalists Believe Media Law Changes Will Undermine Diversity’, http://www.alliance.org.au/, 8 August [13 May]

Bruns, A. (2008) ‘The Future is User-Led: The Path Towards Witdespread Produsage’, Fibreculture Journal 11 (accessed online). http://eleven.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-066-the-future-is-user-led-the-path-towards-widespread-produsage/

Independent Australia (2011) ‘Concentrated media ownership: a crisis for democracy’ http://www.independentaustralia.net/2011/democracy/concentrated-media-ownership-a-crisis-for-democracy/ 14 March [13 May]

Independent Media Centre (1999), IndyMedia website, http://www.indymedia.org/en/ [13 May]

Russell, A., Ito, M., Richmond, T., and Tuters, M., ‘Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Culture’, in Kazys Vanelis (ed.), Networked Publics, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2008

Simons, M (2011) ‘Crises of Faith: The Future of Fairfax’, The Monthly: Australian Politics, Society, Culture, no. 64, February 2011.

Posted on May 13, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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