Monday, 14 December 2009

WeMedia: Collabs!

You might have seen this video already- I didn't see it till today and I think it is amazing! A Japanese band called Sour apparently selected the cast from amongst their fans and the whole thing was filmed solely by webcam.

In 'Director's Notes' you can hear a podcast of an interview with the four directors on how they made this!

It got me hunting for other collaborative videos and I stumbled across the result of a g-mail contest to make a video showing an e-mail travels around the world; this is a combination made from a range of the best entries:

There are more oddball collaborations around; I found this one which turns webcammers into a beatbox:

There are youtubers who devote their time to making them and then talking about them

And then there are seasonal collabs, so here's one to end on:

and this week's message?


Sunday, 6 December 2009

Media in the online age; regulation: Past, present and future

When I started teaching Media in the early 1980s, there were not many places offering courses; Film Studies 'O' level was the first course I taught and that had only a few hundred students taking it each year. A level Film came along in the mid 1980s with similar numbers and there was a CSE course in TV studies which I helped out with when I was doing my teaching practice. Once GCSEs started in 1988, Media Studies took off and A level Media began soon after, gradually accelerating numbers to the point we are at today, where there are probably 100,000 students taking the subject for assessment at one level or another each year.

But back then, the Media was a lot simpler than it is today: I remember when I was at school we only had three TV channels and the school only had one video player, which we had to wait for 20 minutes to warm up. Even by 1985, only half of my students had a video recorder at home and no-one had their own video camera. By then we had a fourth TV channel and breakfast TV had begun (yes, its hard to imagine, but there was a time when if you turned on the TV before 9am, there was nothing on!), but it was still largely the case that if you missed something on TV, unless it was a big popular programme, you wouldn't get another chance to see it.

Although we thought there was a lot of media to talk and write about, it was still possible to draw distinct boundaries around it. Radio was played on a receiver in the home or in the car, or if you could get it to work, on a transistor which you could carry around. Portable music in the late 70s was either carried on your shoulder in a 'ghettoblaster' to annoy everyone around, or as a single tape on a walkman, only invented in about 1979. Films had been shown on TV for many years, but the big screen at the cinema appeared to be dying out until the import of the multiplex to the Uk from the USA in 1985 and though you could buy films on VHS, not many people did, although rental was popular. Magazines and newspapers were beginning an era of growth in the number of titles available, spreading to more niche markets and phones were things you made calls on from your house or a telephone box.

In 1988 Sky came along, but it was only really the start of live Premier league football that got people signing up for satellite dishes and extra channels. What's really hard to believe though is that as late as 1996, I remember asking all 100 students taking Media A level in Year 12 at my college whether they had been on the internet and only one person had. Since then, we have seen the fastest growth of a new medium in the history of communications, to the point now where it is quite rare to find a student who does not have the internet at home and a huge proportion who have it in their pockets on their mobile phones. And more than this, most of those students are now not just receiving material through the internet, they are creating it too; starting with e-mail and messaging, things have moved on to students uploading text, pictures and video to their own spaces on the web.

Equally hard to believe, especially for younger people, is just how recently some of the big names on the internet first appeared: Google was 1998, iTunes and Wikipedia 2001, MySpace was 2003, Facebook 2004 (2006 in its worldwide form) and Youtube 2005. How did we ever manage without them? For internet users in the UK, it is very hard to imagine a world where they didn't exist and with each new major site or application that comes along that we start to use every day, we find it impossible to recall life before it started.

This kind of perspective is essential when considering the significance of the online age. Things have changed dramatically and will undoubtedly continue to change, at a very rapid pace. From being impressed that I was able to carry a walkman with cassettes of my six favourite albums with me on a hitch-hiking tour of Europe in 1982 to having 600 albums on my first iPod in 2002, I can now get spotify on my phone and have access to tens of thousands of albums at any time. From building up a VHS collection of films and Tv programmes in the 80s and early 90s to replacing the films with slimmer DVDs, I am now in a position where I can find on youtube clips from programmes that were only ever shown once in the 1970s which I thought would only exist as fragments of memory.

How might it be in years to come? This vast, indeed neverending, digital library will continue to develop with the input of millions of users, making things ever more accessible and expanding our knowledge. Despite the attempts by Rupert Murdoch to make us pay for his news, people will be able to access plenty for free and will have the opportunity to hear multiple voices offering a multiplicity of viewpoints.

Oh.Except in many schools and colleges, where youtube, blogger, facebook and many more will remain banned or blocked for no good reason. I heard from a teacher the other day that in her school, if you type 'Middlesex' or 'Sussex' into the browser, you will get a blocked notice, because of the second part of the words; another told me that if you write any body part into google (like 'arm') you'll be blocked. In another school, the word 'child' is not allowed as a search term. It seems a terrible shame that in the era when media technology has opened up the possibility of knowledge being most readily accessible, the archive of media history unlocked and the opportunity for young people to create their own media being at its clearest, schools and colleges are subject to a censorship which puts them on a par with China and Iran. It's like setting up a library and then stopping students from entering particular bits of it by putting in locked metal doors.

If you want to find out more about recent media history, this is a good place to start by looking at social media. This very informative article puts it in context.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Media in the online age; Evaluations for Production work: DIY post-it videos

The best way to understand the way that media in the online age work is to have a go at making some yourself. Lots of people shoot bits of video and upload them to youtube, but a lot of it is a bit random or just documenting stuff in an unplanned way. Some of it turns out to be interesting or funny, but usually just for a small minority of viewers- maybe if you shot some material at a gig and uploaded it, the people who were there would watch it to look for themselves in the crowd; or if you had some footage of your mates falling over, they'd watch it to laugh at it. The real challenge is to make something that other people will watch and get something from.

When you make your A level production work, like a music video or a film opening, it's worth uploading to youtube or vimeo so that you can display it on your blog; you can also see how many people have watched it and whether you get any feedback. Sometimes, you might get accidental views if the title of the music track is well known, or your film name is the same as a real film. If what you've made is any good, perhaps they will come back for more or leave a comment.

When you come to do your evaluation, it is possible to do a voiceover and post that online, or you can use things like the annotations available in youtube. Sometimes these can be quite annoying when they pop up when you are watching videos, but you can turn them to your own advantage for your evaluation. In this one, Yasmin and Tilly are annotating their video to answer the question on how they addressed their audience:

There are lots of online tutorials about how to do these kinds of thing:

This one on youtube explains it well, if you follow the steps.

These though are 'virtual post-it notes'. There is a whole genre of videos on the web which use real post-it notes. This piece of work, reflecting on the life of its maker, has over a million hits:

And there are a number of homemade videos which were entered for a competition run by the Post-it note company to advertise their products. Post-it stopmotion features quite a bit on youtube- I like this one:

You could also make videos about the ways in which you use the web and how it all fits together. My colleague Nick just made this one as an introduction to ideas about media in the online age.

He calls it a lo-fidelity post-it video.

First Attempt at a Post-It Presentation from nick on Vimeo.

Instead of powerpoint presentations and slideshows about what's happening on the web, why not try using post-its as the starting point for video presentations and uploading them to youtube? This is a challenge to students to make post-it videos useful for everyone for the exam- to help them with ideas and revision, choose a topic- some aspect of media in the online age which you find interesting and try to explain it with the help of post-its. make the video- keep it simple by just using a webcam or a stills camera- and then upload it to youtube, tagging it with 'post-its' and 'media magazine' Let's see how many we can get up there and I'll give a prize for the best one I find!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Media in the online age; Music Industry; Portico Quartet

I went to see a band called Portico Quartet this week; you may not have heard of them, but they are gathering quite a following for their music which is variously described as ‘post-Jazz’ or ‘World’. The sellout tenth date of their UK tour, at the Junction in Cambridge, was a homecoming for two of the band, Nick and Duncan, who both did their A levels at the college where I teach. Just before the interval, Nick suggested to the 200 audience members that they might like to visit the merchandise stall and sign up on the mailing list. In the spirit of solidarity, I shelled out 12 quid for their new CD, Isla; the person in front of me asked whether it was available in the shops and the polite guy running the stall helpfully pointed out that it is also downloadable via iTunes, but that he couldn’t take card payments because he didn’t have a card reader.

I started wondering whether it should be cheaper to buy the album at the gig in cash, as I had done, or in a shop or online, or via digital download. You can even get a vinyl version, which I noticed a few people buying at £15 a pop. There is an app for the iPhone called Red Laser which can help you with this; it’s quite clever, as once you have it, you can scan any item using the camera on your phone and it will instantly search the web for the cheapest price. It tells me that had I gone to I’d have saved over £3 as it’s £8.95 there, or at amazon £8.98. I used my phone to go to iTunes to see how much the album is there; once I’d got past the front page packed with christmas greatest hits and TV spin-offs and done my search, I found I could get it for £7.99. Although I could download the album artwork (all done by the drummer, Duncan Bellamy), it wouldn’t be the same as actually having the artefact in my hand.

But why pay for it at all? Surely we can get our music for free these days? A hunt around the web for the album on torrent or rapidshare did turn it up; Spotify, my favourite music program, has their first album but not this one. The advantage of Spotify is that the artist does get a royalty payment every time the music is played, but the disadvantage is that you don’t actually ‘possess’ the album. In the end, buying it at the gig fulfilled two needs- to have the physical artefact and to have it now! It also meant my son could stay behind and get it autographed- you can’t do that with a digital download.

This choice between old media (buying a physical artefact) and the online choice (having it digitally) goes well beyond the choice I made here; interestingly, recent research shows that the people who download the most illegally tend to be the same people who spend the most on CDs and go to the most gigs. Increasingly, there is evidence that going to see the live act is closely linked to purchasing the music in a more tangible form- the loyalty of the fan wanting to possess the CD or the vinyl as an artefact. These are all points to consider for the A2 exam topic of media in the online age where music and its audience would be a really interesting case study.

So back to the band; why are they interesting? Their music features the sound of an instrument which sounds like a steel pan but looks like a wok or barbecue called a hang, but the overall sound is not really dominated by the hang- there’s a double bass, a sax and a full drumkit as well. Their new album was produced at Abbey Road studios by John Leckie (who has previously worked with the Stone Roses and Radiohead) . They are on the independent label ‘RealWorld’, they were nominated for the Mercury prize in 2008 for their first album and have a number of videos on youtube featuring them busking near popular tourist spots in both London and Paris. They have also been chosen to record their version of The Simpsons theme tune for a new film by Supersize Me director Morgan Spurlock which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the programme. Check out their music- it’s different and you may well like it!

The band in the studio

Busking in Paris 2006

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Video games; media regulation; WeMedia and Democracy; Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

This week, the big media event has been the launch of the latest instalment of the video game ‘Call of Duty’: Modern Warfare 2. It has been interesting on a number of fronts; firstly, it was priced higher than the norm at £55 a copy, with stores opening at midnight and queues outside, the likes of which would not be seen again...well until the Jimmy Choos launch at H&M on Saturday. Then because there’s a price war around it, with Sainsbury’s, for example, undercutting even the internet prices, coming in at over 50% discount.

Thirdly, the game had a record-breaking first day, with an estimated 4.7 million sales, taking £186m between the UK and US markets alone, which was a larger take than for the
opening weekend of record breaking ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’ film release. It has considerably outsold the 600,000 copies GTA4 did on its first day.

The game itself is described as a cinematic experience and I suspect, unlike me, many of the readers of this blog will already have been playing it- perhaps up all night to do so online? I suspect also that many of the players are under 18.

The controversial airport terrorist attack scene which leaked out a few weeks before the game’s release made front page news for several British papers- an example of a moral panic about the media which is very familiar to those of us who have taught the subject for years. Usually, in such circumstances, the first people you can rely on for quotes to support the outrage of The Daily Mail are British politicians; over the years, various films, comics, TV programmes, music and games have provoked our elected representatives to pass comment on our behalf, usually without actually having seen the text concerned.

This time was no different on one level, as MP Keith Vaz, who has a history of pronouncements on videogames, raised a question in Parliament for the Culture minister:

"Is the Minister aware that at midnight tonight a new and violent videogame called Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is to be released? It contains such scenes of brutality that even the manufacturers have put in warnings within the game telling people how they can skip particular scenes."

"Given the recommendations of the Byron Review, specifically paragraphs 32 and 33, what steps is the government proposing to take in order to ensure these violent games do not fall into the hands of children and young people? It’s not about censorship, it’s about protecting our children,"

But on this occasion, instead of a host of MPs nodding ‘hear, hear’ and a minister over-reacting, Sion Simon, the minister, reminded Mr Vaz of the classification system, which gave this game an 18 and Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich, defended the game and the wider games industry- which is a major employer in the UK- on twitter and facebook. He also started a pressure group on Facebook called Gamers’ Voice, which by the end of the week had acquired 14,000 members.

The group's mission statement explains that its members will discuss "how UK video gamers can find their voice in newspapers and government." It’s really interesting to see in how short a time, something started by a politician can take on momentum from the people joining it and it would be a good case study for the A2 exam topic of WeMedia and Democracy, to look at how gamers can have a say in a debate that often excludes their voices. Members have already posted well over 100 links on the wall, including to BBC and newspaper coverage and to satirical comments on the media effects argument. They go well beyond just this week's coverage and into looking at pressure groups worldwide and the arguments they make.

Try this video from The Onion and this article from The Times which challenges assertions about the effects of the airport sequence. Why not join the group and see how the campaign progresses? For Contemporary Media Regulation, Media in the Online Age and WeMedia and Democracy, this would undoubtedly be a very fruitful case study.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Media in the online age; Web 2.0: The anthropology of the web

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be at a presentation in Liverpool by American professor of anthropology, Michael Wesch. I had seen some of his work previously on Youtube, but when I heard him speak in person and show the research he and his students had done about online video, it struck me that this is something that A level students should really be looking at.

Wesch works at the Kansas State University, where he lectures to as many as 200 students at a time. He manages, though, to involve his students in massive collaborative projects to explore what's going on. In this video, he collaborated with 200 of them to look at what they think of their education.

Though their experience in the USA may be rather different from yours in the UK, many people will, I am sure, recognise something in what they are saying. Wesch's video essay 'The Machine is us/ing us' gives a tour of the implications of this thing we call Web 2.0, a concept with which you need to be familiar for the A2 exam and something you are encouraged to make use of for your coursework.

A much longer video, but one which is really worth watching, features Wesch doing a presentation in the US, making use of the video research which his students had put together. Even if you don't have time to watch the whole thing, have a look at the first seven minutes, where he discusses the phenomenon of the Numa Numa viral video. You will probably have seen this- the guy miming along to the irritating Europop hit, which was then copied endlessly by other people posting videos on Youtube. Wesch points out that in 2004, when the guy sang into his webcam, it was quite difficult to post video on the web; then in 2005 along came youtube which made it incredibly easy; now it is hard to imagine a time when we didn't have youtube! The presentation goes on to look at some other global web phenomena which are also examples of UGC (user generated content- in other words DIY videos). Think about other videos that you have seen that have spread like wildfire- the star wars kid, chocolate rain, chuckling did you hear about them? Where did you first see them? what have you seen since that echoes or responds to those videos?

There is an excellent episode of South Park which makes use of some of these web heroes- 'canada on strike'. The boys go to collect their reward for their own internet stardom and a massive fight breaks out in the waiting room amongst the internet stars.

In a random search, I found this pie chart of youtube use, which struck me as a bit surprising:

It suggests that youtube use is evenly distributed across age groups; maybe this is accounted for by the ban on youtube which so many schools have, thus stopping teenagers from accessing it! Figures relating to who uploads videos to youtube probably look very different- see if you can find out what sort of people are doing the uploading.

Youtube, whilst a useful resource in itself for media students and teachers, also makes an excellent topic of study in its own right, particularly for the exam units Media in the online age, WeMedia and Global media. It would be worth comparing some of the stats you can find on Youtube's homepage with those for other forms of social media, like facebook and twitter, to see who is using them; it would then be worth considering how they use them; Wesch talks about social media as potentially democratic forms, particpative by nature and leading to greater degrees of social activism and political participation. But if that participation just consists of adding another performance of Numa numa or a comment on a dramatic look from a small animal, is that really an advance for democracy?

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Welcome to the blog

This blog is designed for students and teachers of A level Media Studies who subscribe to Media Magazine. Each week I shall pick a topic relevant to the course and suggest some ways to think about it and some links to have a look at. The aim is to be up to date and topical. Do feel free to add comments and your own suggestions for sites and articles to look at.