Making a Difference in News Journalism

Heidi_Hirsto

Heidi Hirsto
Lecturer in Communication
Aalto School of Economics

The main ideals of news journalism used to be simple: strive for objective, impartial reporting of facts. This was also a time when the central task of news journalism was to help citizens make sense of the world through organizing the chaos of real life into a set of coherent accounts.

Of course, this model is badly outdated.

The new way of news journalism is the “individual diversity” model of Google News and other news search engines (Carlson 2007). These engines provide user-citizens with links to multiple news outlets and multiple viewpoints, supposedly without legitimating one view over another. The new model promotes the values of diversity, polyphony, pluralism, personalization, and access. The idea is to offer as many viewpoints and stories as possible – and let the reader choose.

It seems that, in some respect, the model of individual diversity has gained ground also in traditional forms of news media, such as newspapers. Take any noteworthy social or economic event – such as the collaboration of Nokia and Microsoft – and look at how it is represented in Helsingin Sanomat. I promise to eat my doctoral hat if you cannot find several perspectives, multiple voices, and divergent stories of the topic.

And surely there cannot be anything problematic about that?

I would argue that there can. The problem is that the relations of different viewpoints are often left not only unsettled but entirely untouched.

Political theorist Chantal Mouffe has promoted the idea of “agonistic pluralism” as an ideal model for democracy. It is first and foremost an alternative to consensus-oriented ideas of democracy, including all sorts of third way and win-win politics. At the core of agonistic pluralism is the notion of the political as an insoluble struggle between ideologies or discourses that are mutually incompatible. Continue reading

Liberté, Fraternité, Accessible!

Antti Raike

Antti Raike
Senior Advisor in accessibility
Aalto University

In this article I seek to clarify the concept of accessibility to media professionals. My aim is to make it useful in media productions covering film, television and games. In other words, the aim is to offer a working term for professional use in media.

Accessibility is making constantly new proponents. The utopian concepts like ‘accessible’ and ‘universal’ are vague but respectable enough to tell in a word how important democracy, diversity, equality, multiculturalism, and participation are for the proponent in question. Who might oppose these kind of worthy themes that make us happy and keep the customer satisfied although we are not quite sure what they actually mean? Any objections? Thus we can nail down our values, vision and mission (accessibility included) on a suitable location like office wall.

However, accessibility will not be so axiomatic if a casual media producer aims to mobilise it in practice. Then the tune typically changes, because accessibility tends to equal the increasing costs of conversions in production, and accessibility loses the all-embracing traits. Above the line or below the line, producers easily start the usual “someone should do something for free and quickly” and “who pays if it is done” haggle. This easily leads an experienced and streetwise producer to operate in such a situation as in changing a light bulb asking “actually, is it necessary to change it at all?” Perhaps the dualism of the concept is the reason why accessibility is preferred to stay as an abstract policy statement, instead of an essential component or a part in modern media production.

According to dictionary accessible could mean things like available, accessible, understandable, clear, friendly and easily approachable. Thus a lot of confusion has been caused by the word ‘accessible’ – surprisingly – pointing to access. How come friendliness or understanding has anything to do with access? So let’s make the first basic division for the practical implementation of accessibility. It can be distinguished as follows by two terms: accessibility and barrier-free. In addition, British tradition uses the term ‘inclusive design’, consistent with the terms of ‘barrier-free’ and ‘accessible’. Then the ‘barrier-free’ can be targeted to situations where the default is inaccessible. Continue reading

Is Software the Next Optics?

Mikko Kuhna
Researcher, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, Department of Media technology

Computational photography is a new buzz word in many universities. In an artistic viewpoint, the term has been used in creating images and visualizations using programming. Since 2005, the term has also been used by research communities working with new types of imaging techniques (Levoy, 2010). A well-suited definition is by Stanford University: “Computational photography refers broadly to sensing strategies and algorithmic techniques that enhance or extend the capabilities of digital photography”. In a way the idea behind computational photography is to challenge the basic principles of photography that have remained almost unchanged since Niépce’s invention in the 1820s.

The biggest challenge in developing new imaging techniques, is the fact that stand-alone cameras are closed platforms. This has lead to research habits where new imaging techniques have only been tested in a laboratory or at most taken in the field, but processed afterwards. Without proper field tests, many artifacts and unknowns are evident in computational photography techniques.

Some might say that camera phones have already changed photography for good, just check the most popular cameras used in Flickr , but with current feature sets, camera phones have all the possibilities to do more. Camera phones have a complete operating system, connectivity options and a great touch-screen interface. Still camera phone apps are clearly derived from stand-alone cameras without taking advantage of all the new possibilities. With the mushrooming of mobile apps, more inventive photography apps have emerged. Unfortunately there is a clear limitation for camera phone photography apps. SDKs (software development kits) for mobile cameras are similarly closed systems. Without the possibility to control operations such as focusing, exposure metering or file compression, the possibilities are very limited for developers. Continue reading

TestiKaista – Exploring Media Practices at Arki

Arki (http://arki.mlog.taik.fi/) is a multidisciplinary research group that is part of the Media Lab Helsinki (http://mlab.taik.fi/) of the Aalto University’s (http://www.aalto.fi/en/) School of Art and Design (http://www.taik.fi/en). It focuses on the co-evolution of digital technology and the practices of everyday life with a design perspective. Arki’s activities include researching people’s media practices and experimenting with the opportunities provided by new digital tools in the context of audiovisual media. One of Arki’s recent experiments is TestiKaista (http://arki.mlog.taik.fi/2010/05/21/testikaista-boxee-application-prototype/) application prototype, which was built for studying how TV experience could expand to include media from Internet and computers at home. The prototype is built with the Boxee (www.boxee.tv) media center open-source platform, and provides Finnish TV content, using the feed from TVKaista service. As Boxee enables viewing media from a variety of sources from the couch using a remote control, the experiment has enabled studying how more traditional and online media content and practices get mixed in current media ecosystems. The work carried out is part of the FinLab project, co-funded by TEKES.

The TestiKaista source code is published in Google Code (http://code.google.com/p/tvkaista-boxee/) with MIT Open Source license, so you are free to explore it. In case you are interested to know more about TestiKaista, please contact Aapo Rista (aapo.rista[at]taik.fi).

Designing Character-Driven Games

Petri Lankoski
Lecturer in Game Design and Production
Aalto University/School of Art and Design/Department of Media

Single-player character-driven games are a popular contemporary genre. These games typically involve action (action as in action movies) or exploration. Notably, use of social relations between characters in (big budget) character-driven titles have been marginal. Recently, games (such as Sims series, Baldur’s Gate series, Dragon Age, Grant Theft Auto IV Mass Effect series) include romances and friendships. Importantly, how these romances and friendships develop depends on player’s choices, but the execution of these social relations is rather simplistic. The approach of modeling social relations as gameplay in these games is good to add flavor to the game, but it might not be enough to bear as the main content. I believe that it is possible to develop games revolving around social relations. Exploring possibilities of gameplay of social interaction between game characters in single-player games is a challenging but worthy goal.

In my doctoral dissertation “Character-Driven Game Design: A Design Approach and Its Foundations in Character Engagement” I propose that game designers can learn from the writing methods from the dramatic writing, especially from Lajos Egri’s character-driven method. However, games and drama differ. To utilize the Egri’s method, we must understand where it is usable and where it is not. For Egri, the conflict originates from the natures and goals of the characters. He asserts that characters needs to want something so badly that there is no room for the compromise. Clearly, this conflict design part can be applied to the game design, but to apply it to game design we need to understand how games reveal and communicate the personalities of game characters. Especially, we need to understand how player-controlled characters do this. I propose that, in addition to perceivable features (such as face, voice, body) of player character, how the game set goals and action possibilities of the character are important in constructing the personality of the character. Importantly, these all are implementable from the character-driven design.

My study includes a design experiment Lies and Seductions. The role of the game has been two-folded. First, the draft version of the character-driven game design has been used in the design, and the experiences are used to refine the approach. Second, the ideas of implementing social conflict in the level  of game system have been tested with the game. Even if the game is based on the novel Dangerous Liaisons, the design approach including character design, has been utilised in the design process.

I claim that games can invade new territory by utilizing nonviolent character–character conflicts. There is much unexplored design space there, and I hope that design space will be in use in the future.

References:

Lankoski, 2010. Character-Driven Game Design: A Design Approach and Its Foundations in Character Engagement. D.Arts dissertation, Aalto University, School of Art and Design. Available at http://www.taik.fi/kirjakauppa/ (as printed book and free PDF).

Lies and Seductions, www.liesandseductions.com

Chronic photography

Mikko Villi, Media Factory

Today over half of the global population owns a mobile phone. And an increasing number of those mobile phones contains a camera. One estimate is that camera phone shipments will exceed one billion units per year in 2011.

As a consequence, photography is becoming quite a ubiquitous activity: in addition to stand-alone cameras, it is possible to take photographs with phones and other electronic devices as well. When the camera is incorporated into a mobile phone, it becomes a pervasive extension of the eye. People can snap all the time, as much as they like. Shooting pictures is a way of being.

This “chronic” photography is more convenient than ever before, as the camera in the phone follows practically everywhere. The camera phone is, thus, not reserved only for special moments, as has been the case for most personal photography before. Photography turns more into photographic observation, capturing the everyday.

The camera in a modern camera phone can also be used to access information without taking a photograph, as, for example, when using augmented reality applications. The camera provides an informational connection to the physical surroundings of the user. The camera in the phone is then not only about photography.

However, a more significant shift brought about by camera phones is that photography can become a widespread and common activity also among the people in the less developed world. For us here in Finland owning a camera is nothing new, but for many people living in developing countries the first experience of taking pictures is likely to be on a camera phone. This is suggestive of how in India or Africa most people will connect to the Internet for the first time with a mobile phone, rather than a PC.

Mikko Villi defended his doctoral thesis “Visual mobile communication: Camera phone photo messages as ritual communication and mediated presence” on the 20th of May at the Aalto University School of Art and Design.

The thesis can be acquired via https://www.taik.fi/kirjakauppa/index.php?cPath=14&sort=1a&page=2&language=en. It is available also in PDF format at https://www.taik.fi/kirjakauppa/product_info.php?cPath=23&products_id=172

Mashup Cultures

Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss
Professor Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss, PhD
Head of MA ePedagogy Design-Visual Knowledge Building
Aalto University / School of Art and Design

Why I have chosen Mashup Cultures as the title for my book has basically two main reasons: one is connected to the definition of mashup, which in Web developments denotes a combination of data or functionality from two or more external sources to create a new service (in the case of this compilation hopefully new insights), and the second reason puts the cultural dimension into the foreground, as these developments permeate through almost all cultural techniques and practices on a global scale. If we consider mashup as a metaphor for parallel and co-existing ways of thinking and acting rather than exclusionary, causal and reductionist principles of either or instead of as well as, then we might gain a broader understanding of the unique characteristics of the plural in mashup cultures.

A historical comparison might also be helpful to find distinguishable and discernable criteria for sometimes confusing terminologies using the example of remix practices. In retrospect we can ascribe these practices certain kinds of techniques (collage, montage, sampling, etc.) and different forms of appropriations within specific socio-cultural contexts, for example John Heartfield’s political photomontages in the 1930’s, or James Tenney’s early sampling of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes” in the 1960’s. Yet how these cultural practices significantly differentiate from today’s mashup cultures could be outlined in the following:

•    Collage, montage, sampling or remix practices all use one or many materials, media either from other sources, art pieces (visual arts, film, music, video, literature etc.) or one’s own artworks through alteration, re-combination, manipulation, copying etc. to create a whole new piece. In doing so, the sources of origin may still be identifiable yet not perceived as the original version.

•    Mashups as I understand them put together different information, media, or objects without changing their original source of information, i.e. the original format remains the same and can be retraced as the original form and content, although recombined in different new designs and contexts. For example, in the ship or car industry standardised modules are assembled following a particular specific design platform, or, using the example of Google map, different services are over-layered so as to provide for the user parallel accessible services.

•    Remix and mashup practices in combination can be considered as a co evolving, oscillating membrane of user-generated content (conversational media) and mass media.

Excerpt from my Introduction in “Mashups, Remix Practices and the Recombination of Existing Digital Content” (p. 8-9)

The Quality of Online Discussion

Heidi Hirsto
Doctoral Student
Aalto School of Economics, Center for the Doctoral Program

The nature of online discussion is currently a hot topic of public discussion in Finland. For some, online discussion is a synonym for hate speech. Others regard it as the savior of democratic participation. Both sides seem to agree on one thing: the quality of online discussion, in actual actuality, is unacceptably low. People do not bother to build solid arguments. Instead, they resort to mockery and profanity; they use dirty words and make too many grammatical errors. In short, online discussion lacks sophistication, eloquence, and class.

In an ongoing empirical study with Merja Porttikivi and Johanna Moisander, we seek an alternative approach to the democratic potential of online discussion. By comparing representations of a factory shutdown decision in newspapers vis-à-vis online discussion forums, we come to the conclusion that online discussion bears social significance not in spite of its characteristic discursive practices but in fact thanks to them.

Our analysis shows that the news press puts up a relatively coherent representation of the factory shutdown, which is largely in line with the neo-liberalist view on business-society relations. In online discussion, no such coherence may be found. The discussion entails comments that openly celebrate the factory shutdowns in terms of share price boost; comments that evoke historical class differences; comments that put the blame on consumers; comments that preach against greed and avarice. Partial, fragmented, markedly subjective comments – which nevertheless manage both to subject the dominant discourse to critical appraisal and to surface alternative discourses.

Rhetorically, online comments employ – in more or less sophisticated ways – tones of irony, humor, and cynicism. It is customary to swear, to moralize, to polarize, and to use casual language. In such a communicative atmosphere, concerns may be voiced without relating them to some bigger picture, and without presenting a solid chain of arguments. And this may be the best thing about online discussion. Building a sound argument, namely, is damn hard; often when we try, we end up resorting to – and thus reinforcing – easily available, dominant discourses. Continue reading

Social media calls for change

Tarmo Toikkanen
Researcher at the Learning Environments research group, at the Department of Media/Media Lab of the Aalto university School of Art and Design
http://tarmo.fi

Social media is creating a cultural change which is much more than just a change in the use of web services. Public conversations, sharing, and knowledge building between people enabled by network technologies – also known as social media – brings challenges everywhere and especially within universities. As a researcher on collaborative learning at the Media Lab of Aalto University I’ve studied social media, as it impacts learning environments not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of culture and pedagogy.

Social media has already changed society. Consumers are no longer alone, but can share their experiences about a product or service to the entire world. The relationship between company and consumer is taking the form of public dialogue. Marketing, sales, brand management, strategy, internal and external communications, product development, HR, CRM, and pretty much everything is changing because of this. Those university courses that touch on these topics need to renew themselves rapidly.

Learning has already changed and keeps changing. Instead of using the handouts of their own lecturers, students can learn with the best educational resources in the world, eg. via the OCW consortium. As high quality lectures are published on YouTube and other video sharing sites, students need more than a passable oration to physically come to a lecture. Even group work, discussions, and peer learning can happen online, so there is sometimes little reason to use the resources of one’s own university except to pass exams. Wikiversity and Wikibooks are examples of fully open learning opportunities.

The remaining strengths the universities hold are their capability to grant degrees and their capacities for study guidance and motivation – as well as the student union activities and their social opportunities. But these turn universities into study guidance centers. If something more is desired, then universities need to compete on the global education market with other forms of education. Free (gratis) education used to be a strong ace in Finland, but independent online studying costs nothing. Continue reading

Researching the Future of Media

Jan Kallenbach
researcher
Aalto University
School of Science and Technology

The future of newspapers, magazines or books is digital. The recent availability of tablet computers with touch displays, such as the Apple iPad, accelerates the already ongoing trend to consume also print media more and more digitally. Entirely new forms of media products are about to emerge and the market for eReading contents, such as digital interactive magazines, is still in its infancy. Exciting times lie ahead for consumers and publishers alike as new combinations of digital contents, social media, and information technology shape the media products of tomorrow.

The Media Factory research project Doing Cross Media (now NextMedia) creates and investigates this future of digital (print) media.  With researchers coming from all three Aalto schools we have started to investigate how people use and read digital newspapers, magazines, and books in detail, e.g. what they like on them and what not. How important is it for a reader, for example, to watch a video while reading a corresponding news article? In other words, what functionalities do people desire and need? What impact has the design and interactivity of digital contents on people’s likings? And how will the new services and devices enable and support people’s established reading habits and use practices?

These questions are just a few that fuel our passion for media research. The results benefit from combining our interdisciplinary backgrounds and methods. For example, we use eye-tracking to find out how people read books on the Apple iPad or Amazon’s Kindle. We enquire people’s emotions to learn their preferences and likings about novel digital magazines. And we observe and aim at understanding people’s reading habits and use patterns in their real life to be able to inform design of new media products. In short, we are creating the knowledge that expands and advances media research and from which media users and producers benefit.