Digital Media, Storytelling and the Repression of Communication

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An installment of Town Hall's new series with University of Washington Department of Communication, The Revolution is Here: How Digital Media and Awakened Citizens Are Changing the World, features Hanson Hosein, director of UW's Master of Communication in Digital Media. Formerly a foreign correspondent for NBC News, Hosein will discuss how people under authoritarian regimes, such as Iran, are using new technologies to communicate, and seizing back some of the concentrated power formerly exerted through a tightly controlled state media.

Slideshow design by Jay Al-Hashal.

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Digital Media, Storytelling and the Repression of Communication

  1. 1. The Revolution is Here: How Digital Media and Awakened Citizens Are Changing the World The Storyteller Uprising w w w.mcdm.washington.edu Hanson Hosein hrhmedia@uw.edu Twitter: hrhmedia Thursday, January 14, 2010 1 Seattle Town Hall 1/13/10. Today: Haiti, Google turning off censorship in China, assassination of an Iranian nuclear physicist. This all plays into tonight’swtalk, and has w w.mcdm.washington.edu various digital media streams buzzing.
  2. 2. Photo credit: Walt Handelsman, Newsday Thursday, January 14, 2010 2 Here’s some Standard Operating Procedure “start of talk humor.” Reflects both the promise and vulnerability of digital media as a communication savior. Something I’d like to address tonight.
  3. 3. Bethlehem 10 Years Ago Thursday, January 14, 2010 3 I’ve long been intrigued by how technology can make communication more transparent. 10 years ago, I was at NBC News, desperate to tell smaller, more under-the-radar stories. I came across this great computer center in a refugee camp outside of Bethlehem -- palestinian refugee kids speaking to other throughout the Middle East (held back by physical barriers). Rumored local imam didn’t like boys and girls together, arson burned down the center. PROMISE + TENSION.
  4. 4. “anyone can practice journalism” “and anyone usually does” ~ Joan Konner, Columbia J-School Dean ’94 Thursday, January 14, 2010 4 This idea of “other voices” was planted early in my head. I think my Dean at Columbia J- School was referring more to how professionals needed to assert themselves as the gatekeepers of trustworthy, credible communication. But it was a powerful idea nonetheless.
  5. 5. “more and more people will join the ‘craft’ of journalism, less money to pay them.” ~ NBC VP Photo by FromTheNorth (flickr) Thursday, January 14, 2010 5 Even as I graduated and headed to this building (now lampooned by “30 Rock”), a prescient VP warned me I was coming in at an exciting, less lucrative moment. Again, he was thinking less about the digital threat, than about the explosion of new news sources, particularly on cable TV.
  6. 6. Thursday, January 14, 2010 6 Still, I was in 20’s, and captivated by the power, glory and opportunity of working for a well- resourced news organization. Even as they sought to get rid of a guy with the last name “Hussein” by shipping him off to a glamorous overseas posting...
  7. 7. Thursday, January 14, 2010 7 ...in the Jewish state of Israel. It was a wonderful time for a young journalist to perfect his craft overseas, telling stories from a region where stories had been resonating since the Garden of Eden in Mesopotamia.
  8. 8. Thursday, January 14, 2010 8 But I didn’t forget what the Dean and the NBC VP had said, and I was intrigued by the digital technology I was beginning to see “in the field.” I wanted to tell more stories like the one in the Palestinian refugee camp, NBC...not so much. So I quit the network at the height of my career, and ended up on the Russian front. Or with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in BC, where I learned to shoot and edit my own stories. But it was still a major media institution, and I was uneasy.
  9. 9. Thursday, January 14, 2010 9 I would end up starting my own company, and re-joining NBC as a hired gun at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Suddenly, they liked the fact that I could use this smaller, cheaper technology in close quarters -- like being embedded in a military unit. I then traveled around the region, and went live hundreds of times, while pioneering this “backpack journalist” technology.
  10. 10. Thursday, January 14, 2010 10 Still, I was on borrowed time back at NBC. I just don’t think it was in my DNA to work within such a large organization, and I wanted to tell stories myself without being controlled by a particular editorial policy.
  11. 11. The Power of One Thursday, January 14, 2010 11 Here, I’m about to interview a surly Hezbullah official who was far more accustomed to two- camera Mike Wallace interviews, than my portable digital setup. I was really intrigued by the thought of wresting control away from the traditional media powerbrokers...
  12. 12. From Correspondent Photo by Darwin Bell (flickr) Thursday, January 14, 2010 12 engaged in one-way communication to a passive audience... http://www.flickr.com/photos/darwinbell/292626608/
  13. 13. To Distributed Correspondent Photo by katphotos (flickr) Thursday, January 14, 2010 13 ...to something hopefully more decentralized, democratic, and diverse. photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/20195637@N00/2340647999
  14. 14. From Correspondent Interviewing Thursday, January 14, 2010 14 What if we could move from “Big Media’s” “Big Get” of interviews with heads of state like Israeli PM Ehud Barak...
  15. 15. To Interviewees Corresponding Thursday, January 14, 2010 15 ....to heads of state like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad corresponding directly with their constituents through online platforms?
  16. 16. Why Now? Thursday, January 14, 2010 16 That’s all happening now. Why? Simply, we have the inexpensive communication tools to create content, and readily-available platforms to distribute that content beyond our traditional social circle of immediate family and friends. This means we don’t have to rely solely on a small circle of experts and powerbrokers to share an idea...
  17. 17. No one knows everything. Everyone knows Dr. Henry Jenkins: Convergence Culture something. All knowledge resides in humanity. Thursday, January 14, 2010 17 ...and in the history of our species, never had we had access to so much information to take such a “do-it-yourself” approach to communication. Henry Jenkins formerly of MIT.
  18. 18. The Paradigm of Narrative I am writing a book! as it Relates to Social Trust and the Conveyance of Knowledge in Networked Systems and Society Thursday, January 14, 2010 18 All this readily accessible information demands that we have to be more transparent in our actions -- as it’s so easy to fact-check online. So full disclosure, I’m writing a book, with this academically-worded premise. Okay, my working title is actually “The Storytelling Uprising: How to Connect in the Disruption of the Digital Age”
  19. 19. trustmebook.blogspot.com and a blog! Thursday, January 14, 2010 19 Obviously, a book is very much “old media.” But it’s just one part of a new information ecosystem that allows us to share ideas, such as the ones that I’ve collaboratively produced with my students over the last couple of years. And I want to try those ideas out with you tonight, with the understanding that with digital media, we’re engaged in an ongoing conversation. I’ve got a blog. I expect some pushback from you during the Q&A. “The Storytelling Uprising: How to Connect in the Disruption of the Digital Age” will be a better book if I engage a community in its formulation.
  20. 20. Everyone is a media organization. Thursday, January 14, 2010 20 We all have the power to communicate this way now. Just today, with the Haitian earthquake, Rainn Wilson sent out an appeal to his million plus followers to donate; so did Wyclef Jean. The Red Cross raised $1 million by soliciting donations via text messages. When President Obama spoke on Afghanistan a few weeks back, the Taliban used the Internet to issue a rebuttal. The media middleman is disappearing.
  21. 21. More choice More voices Less time Photo by albertopveiga (flickr) Less attention Thursday, January 14, 2010 21 This is fabulous, a diversification of our communication universe. More information than ever before, but less time and attention than ever before too.
  22. 22. Less trust More noise Photo by albertopveiga (flickr) Thursday, January 14, 2010 22 We used to trust mass media organizations. That trust began to erode in the early 90’s as monopolies began to form. And now with so many more voices in digital media -- because it’s so CHEAP AND EASY to communicate -- we’re even more confused. We don’t know who many of these people are. How can we trust someone if they say on Twitter that they just saw a plane land on the Hudson River?
  23. 23. Today’s Communication Conundrum How do we persuade someone to pay attention to what we have to say? Thursday, January 14, 2010 23 We’re no longer facing the challenge of HOW to communicate to the public. That’s the easy part. It’s more how to PERSUADE them to pay attention to what we’ve just said publicly.
  24. 24. Today’s Communication Conundrum Once they notice us, how do we keep them interested enough to engage in some sort of transaction? Thursday, January 14, 2010 24 and even if they pay attention, how do we convince them to trust them to change their mind, take some kind of action or share the idea with others. Because we’re just so trustworthy? Why will I donate to some charity just because someone shared a URL with me on Facebook?
  25. 25. reach out with a value proposition Photo by mcgraths (flickr) Thursday, January 14, 2010 25 We have to strike a bargain. Some sort of quid pro quo. photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcgraths/3277839203/sizes/l/
  26. 26. relevant useful relatable engaging in an ongoing relationship of mutual benefit Photo by mcgraths (flickr) Thursday, January 14, 2010 26 We have to show how the communication that we’re offering is some how relevant to my life. Is it useful? Can I relate to it? Is it relevant? photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcgraths/3277839203/sizes/l/
  27. 27. People pay attention to stories that help make sense of their lives. story Photo by mcgraths (flickr) Thursday, January 14, 2010 27 STORYTELLING helps to resolve this value proposition. that’s the heart of the transaction between storyteller and community.
  28. 28. Independent America Thursday, January 14, 2010 28 I decided to experiment with this idea by producing my own documentary about what I thought was a growing insurgency in America against big box stores like Wal-Mart. I couldn’t get any institutional support or a broadcaster, so we decided we just head out with these new tools and try and tell the story ourselves.
  29. 29. Thursday, January 14, 2010 29 We created a blog, and shared the story with a growing community even as we were traveling and filming it. This community became so engaged, that they ended up spreading the word about the film, and even asked us to sell them DVD’s before we had completed the trip. So even though we didn’t have institutional support, they learned to trust us through our story and how we shared it. A storytelling bargain. Here’s the 2-minute trailer.
  30. 30. Thursday, January 14, 2010 30 So a grassroots community sustained us, and only later would mass media take note, purchasing the film in various countries, and broadcasting it to wider audiences. The film continues to screen online at Hulu.com
  31. 31. Aristotle’s Poetics The Bible for screenwriters from 4th century B.C. Photo by albany_tim (flickr) Thursday, January 14, 2010 31 None of this is particularly new. Aristotle studied the power of story himself in Poetics. photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/albany_tim/2605180337/
  32. 32. Aristotle’s Story Structure “Climax” Middle Beginning End Thursday, January 14, 2010 32 Aristotle: “Complication” tying of knot” (tension) then “untying” (empathy). This makes stories memorable and “sticky.” In our case, a story of a couple traveling across America -- would they make it? Could they stick to those two rules? They do, and they also have a revelation.
  33. 33. Dillingham & Ohler Story Structure Thursday, January 14, 2010 33 This power of story further refined Joseph Campbell by the idea of “transformation” and the idea that stories are deeply embedded in who we are as humans.; child (discipline, dependence); adult (self-responsible, power); old age/death (dismissal, disengagement).
  34. 34. So, we’ve been telling stories forever. What’s New? Thursday, January 14, 2010 34 If there’s too much noise our world of communication, if there’s a lack of trust because so much seems like hearsay, what if we looked at how stories can create a relationship between the storyteller and the listener through emotion, empathy, and a 2-way connection? 20th century industrialized communication through mass audiences and mass media. Social media breaks that down.
  35. 35. New Technology Inexpensive Accessible Available Thursday, January 14, 2010 35 And it’s facilitated by cheap transmission tools. Especially flash video and cellphone cameras.
  36. 36. Stories resonate when they have authenticity & emotion. Photo by Victor Bezrukov Thursday, January 14, 2010 36 Why, for example, does something like the Haiti earthquake galvanize us so much? So many victims, the magnitude, a huge challenge to overcome. And digital media gets us closer, even allows us to take action. photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/s-t-r-a-n-g-e/382031318/sizes/o/
  37. 37. message consumer audience Thursday, January 14, 2010 37 So this top-down approach to communication is quickly disappearing.
  38. 38. user This newfound power coincides with a loss of control by institutions relationship over information and message, thanks to democratizing technology. community Thursday, January 14, 2010 38 Digital media is changing the actual balance of power. We’re no longer a captive audience anymore. We demand more, we can take action and collaborate without the need of a major company or government intervening in the transaction.
  39. 39. Tonight: Iran Photo by Hamed Saber Thursday, January 14, 2010 39 Case in point, where communication has been controlled for so long, the Middle East, and Iran. Quintessential top-down, command communications economy. http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamed/2120544345/sizes/l/
  40. 40. Iran Online Internet is censored FB & Twitter unblocked in 2009 Thursday, January 14, 2010 40 There’s a great deal of online activity in Iran especially. They unblocked Twitter and Facebook early last year. The opposition leader has a highly successful Twitter account.
  41. 41. Iran Online Strong & diverse blogging culture Thursday, January 14, 2010 41 25 million users online, blogging is huge: 40-700,000 blogs?, 1/2 have mobile phones. http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2008/Mapping_Irans_Online_Public/interactive_blogosphere_map
  42. 42. “I love my mobile phone Photo by Hamed Saber like a baby!” ~Um Bassm Thursday, January 14, 2010 42 Mobile technology has had great impact in the Middle East. Egypt, Jordan SMS, Twitter. The Economist: "asked to name the single biggest benefit of America’s invasion, many Iraqis fail to mention freedom or democracy but instead praise the advent of mobile phones..."
  43. 43. Most people’s “first and only access to the internet will be through a mobile device – not a PC.” ~Nokia CEO Thursday, January 14, 2010 43 there are about 4.6 billion mobile subscriptions among the planet's 6.8 billion people today. "For the majority of the world's people, their first and only access to the Internet will be through a mobile device - not a PC. And this access is spreading very, very fast." "In China, every month more than 7 million people gain access to the Internet for the first time, and mostly on mobile devices," he said. So suddenly, we have this very powerful, pervasive communication tool -- though we which we can convey content and powerful ideas TO THE WORLD with a click of a key.
  44. 44. filter then publish. Thursday, January 14, 2010 44 compare that to our mass media approach to communication; when the technology was so expensive, that there were few actors. And anytime you wanted to communicate, you had to make sure the content was highly polished and digestible by a large audience so as to justify the cost and give you a decent Return on Investment. So as NYU’s Clay Shirky says, you would first filter your content, then publish it.
  45. 45. publish then filter. with “excess capacity” to take advantage of these tools. Thursday, January 14, 2010 45 Now, we don’t even have to think about it. Everything is so cheap and so pervasive that we should put it out there and rely on people to decide what they want to take in. And our motivation isn’t primarily monetary, we do much of this production and communication in our spare time (i.e. it’s not something that most of us get paid for). That’s what thinkers like Yale’s Yochai Benkler mean when they say “excess capacity.”
  46. 46. Iran Elections The Twitter Revolution: Started June 13, 2009 Photo by Hamed Saber Thursday, January 14, 2010 46 That’s what happened in Iran last summer. The controlled, filter then publish mass media system came up against an increasingly engaged, frustrated phone-toting “publish then filter” community”
  47. 47. Photo by Hamed Saber Thursday, January 14, 2010 47 Meanwhile, the government shuts down mass media. Foreign journalists are expelled. All these photos are taken by non-professionals in Iran. This is Henry Jenkins’ dream realized.
  48. 48. #iranelection Thursday, January 14, 2010 48 Suddenly, for many outside of Iran, this becomes a 24-hour news channel -- the “hash” tag of Twitter. It becomes so crucial as an information conduit that the State Department asks Twitter to postpone a system update so the platform will stay up. Green avatars abound.
  49. 49. #cnnfail Thursday, January 14, 2010 49 And this 24-hour news gets accused by Twitter users of failing to cover the protests. More mistrust of mass media.
  50. 50. A Girl Named Neda Thursday, January 14, 2010 50 But it was this emotional video, shot on a cellphone camera and uploaded to YouTube that galvanized the opposition movement, and really caught non-Iranians’ attention. By now, the government was blocking Twitter and Facebook, but dissidents were using proxy servers, etc.
  51. 51. How much of this technology can be controlled? Thursday, January 14, 2010 51 This digital technology is incredible. Powerful. Empowering. But it also has challenges. In many of these countries, the internet and mobile platforms are controlled by the government -- and tracked. There are ways to get around it, using foreign servers etc. But governments still have the nuclear option. They can shut it down, they can find dissidents.
  52. 52. Google Reconsiders China Associated Press Thursday, January 14, 2010 52 Which is why it’s such a big deal that Google announced that it will no longer censor search results in China, after saying that their systems were infiltrated by “high level” attacks. Someone was trying to get information about Chinese dissidents who were using GMAIL. There’s only so much an authoritarian government can slow or shut down crucial systems like internet and mobile phones.
  53. 53. And Who to Trust? Thursday, January 14, 2010 53 Who was actually on Twitter. Why would you believe you were hearing directly from Iran if it was in English? Government infiltration. Mossad? Just a group of big city urbanites (strong bonding capital, but not huge bridging capital?)
  54. 54. @greenthumbnails Support Change from your Cubicle! Slacktivism “Neda Agha-Soltan” Photo from http://iran.greenthumbnails.com Thursday, January 14, 2010 54 Where did all the green avatars go? the transitory nature of digital emotion/motivation (because it’s so easy to take action online).
  55. 55. Government Response to Neda Thursday, January 14, 2010 55 Last week: Iran decided to try to discredit the iconic Neda film by using the same platform.
  56. 56. Independent virtual news organization Founded by Kelly Golnoush Niknejad in 11/2008 Entered an editorial partnership with Frontline,the PBS public affairs series, in 09/2009 Thursday, January 14, 2010 56 So with trust at issue, attempts to address this. Teheran Bureau: independent, virtual news bureau, in collaboration with PBS. A wire service for news from Iran.
  57. 57. Emerged as a comprehensive one-stop shop for real- time updates from Iranian Internet Proclaimed “The Revolution Will Be Twittered” & called Twitter “the critical tool for organizing the resistance in Iran” Thursday, January 14, 2010 57 bloggers: Global Voice (Berkman), Andrew Sullivan, Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post -- curators filtering through the reports for us.
  58. 58. Lessons from Iran We now have the ability to communicate authentic, credible, useful information directly. Photo by Altmark Thursday, January 14, 2010 58 we can all perform a journalistic function, we are all storytellers. Lesson from Iran for us? powerful institutions losing control over communication. People seek dialog and credibility. New players can establish that trust through storytelling (an ongoing relationship of communication providing a value proposition. Emotion can fastrack that credibility -- Neda). Technology itself may not create revolution, but revolution won’t occur without it (Dr. Phil Howard). photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/altemark/337248947/sizes/m/
  59. 59. New Communication Ecosystem based on a photo by redplasticmonkey/ Thursday, January 14, 2010 59 Journalism is not dead. Mass media is not going to disappear. A new information ecoysystem. Lakewood police killings: first hearda bout it on Twitter, went to Seattle Times, King5, UW Alert, Google Wave during manhunt. Haiti as well, Twitter is huge, Brian Williams is there. Communications system severely constrained in a natural disaster.
  60. 60. A Trust Economy Thursday, January 14, 2010 60 Today’s technology, demographics, and culture demand this. Increasingly a “trust economy.” Charlene Li’s Social Technographics
  61. 61. Thursday, January 14, 2010 61 Ever growing as we get more engaged with these tools. It’s not a flash in the pan.
  62. 62. In 2009, more data will be generated by individuals than in the entire history of mankind through 2008. Information overload is more serious than ever. ~Amazon Chief Scientist Thursday, January 14, 2010 62 The social data revolution; thanks to search engines, blogs, our friends. General sources are on the decline. In this essay I touch on why - faced with infinite choices, powerful search tools and equally helpful friends - Americans are adapting their habits and becoming less loyal to general sources than ever before, and why engaged companies can still find relevance in social spaces and influence their stakeholders in this Age of Media Agnosticism. http://www.steverubel.com/the-age-of-media-agnosticism http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/now-new-next/2009/05/the-social-data-revolution.html
  63. 63. UW Communication Thursday, January 14, 2010 63 Leaves room for new players, new communicators; if they can find ways to create trust. Example the UW. instead of junk mail, cold calls for donations, create a value proposition through story; share, build emotional bond.
  64. 64. Community Scholarship Technology & the new storytellers Photo by Jumana Al Hashal Thursday, January 14, 2010 64 Even in academia, a class “top down” communication institution, we’re taking a more collaborative approach to engage the community in what we do.
  65. 65. Dialogue Thursday, January 14, 2010 65 People are looking for dialog with institutions. A relationship. Dictatorships = traditional communication. Command and control systems.
  66. 66. TR U ST Thursday, January 14, 2010 66 We demand more from trust. Edelman Trust barometer: people need to hear something 3-5 times before they believe it.
  67. 67. Teaching media literacy via education system is more vital than ever. Thursday, January 14, 2010 67 Caveat: not everyone wants to make such an active effort to find information. So on the other side of the equation, need to teach “media literacy” via education system so we’re more critical in how we view information sources.
  68. 68. Power to the Storyteller Thursday, January 14, 2010 68 Control over communication by large organizations -- companies, governments -- is diminishing, and being distributed throughout society. Tell stories!
  69. 69. Q&A w w w.mcdm.washington.edu Hanson Hosein hrhmedia@uw.edu Twitter: hrhmedia Thursday, January 14, 2010 69 w w w.mcdm.washington.edu

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