Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Make your own iPhone ringtones for free using iTunes

It's Christmas so here's a little gift for you. This is a step-by-step tutorial showing you how to make your own iPhone ringtones for free, meaning you don;t have to pay over the odds prices for expensive ringtone in the iTunes store. All you need is iTunes and your music library.

The tutorial was written on a Mac and the screengrabs refer to a machine running OS 10.6.2 but it's a very similar process for Windows users. You can view the images over on Flickr here. You should also be able to see full size images there if you need them. I start with the presumption tht most people will have their music library setup as .MP3 files. If your music library is mainly .AAC files then this tutorial is not for you. The same method can be employed but there is an extra level of complexity involved which involves converting files to any other format

And so, on we go...

Step 1

Open iTunes
itunes a

Step 2

First thing we need to do is setup iTunes. Go to Preferences. On Windows, select Edit. On Mac select iTunes or hold "cmd+,"
itunes b pref

Step 3

A pop-up should have opened on the "General" tab. Navigate down to the "import Settings"
itunes c pref general copy

Step 4

We need to make sure that files will be imported and encoded as .AAC files (Apple's preferred format for the iTunes store). Make sure the "Import Using" field reads "AAC Encoder" - the "Setting" field can be a number of different settings but the "iTunes Plus" setting is a decent enough quality setting for a ringtone. Select OK and go back to iTunes main dashboard
itunes d pref general import

Step 5

Find a song in your library that you want to turn into a ringtone. Right click the track and select "Get Info" (Mac keyboard shortcut: "cmd+I")
itunes e get info

Step 6

A popup should open
itunes f get info

Step 7

Select the "Options" tab and pay attention to the "Start Time" and "Stop Time" fields
itunes g get info options

Step 8

Ringtones can be up to 30 seconds in length. In the "Start Time" and "Stop Time" fields enter the time frame from your song of choice and ensure the boxes to the left are ticked. I've just selected the first 30 seconds of your chosen song but you can pick the middle or the end - whatever you like. Select "OK"
itunes h get info options 2

Step 9

Back at the main iTunes interface, right-click on your track and select "Create AAC Version". iTunes will now create a 30 second (or whatever time frame you selected) version of the track in the .AAC file format
itunes i create AAC

Step 10

After a few seconds you should see two versions of your track in the iTunes library - one for each file format. The new file will be smaller in file size and shorter in length
itunes j two files
Step 11

Right-click on the new .AAC file and select "Show in Finder". There should be a similar command in the menu for Windows machines.
itunes k show in finder

Step 12

There should new be two copies of the file on your machine, with the one you want being highlighted. They should be distinguishable by their file extension. We are looking for the .m4a file
itunes l in finder

Step 13

Select the file name as we are going to edit the extension. Mac users can just press "Enter"
itunes m change file name 1

Step 14

Change the .m4a file type to .m4r
itunes n change file name 2 copy

Step 15

You may get a popup at this point, asking if you want to change the file type - which you do!
itunes o filen name copy

Step 16

Now, import the new file into iTunes by either dragging or double clicking. The file should now appear and the file kind will read as "Ringtone". Drag the file onto you iPhone or select it as a file to be synched when your iPhone is connected
itunes p ringtone copy

Step 17

That should be it! You might want to do a little bit of house-keeping by going back to the original .MP3 and going into it's "Options" tab and deselect the "Start Time" and "Stop Time". If you donlt do this, you iTunes libraary will only ever play the selected file as an abridged version!
itunes q clean up copy

Hope that was easy to follow. Go and have fun

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Leverage change with social media

There are lots of ways in which the tools of Web 2.0 have enabled the public to get involved in political issues or take part in public pressure groups. The readily available free content hosting offered by YouTube, AudioBoo, Blogger, Flickr, etc, to name a few, has given anyone with an issue they want to talk about the ability and the platform to do that with a geographically dispersed public. This is often talked of as the 'democratisation' of the media - anyone can be a content producer and distributor these days.

I have some reservations about embracing that kind of rhetoric wholeheartedly - not everyone finds themselves with the same power and reach as a well-established transnational media business - but there is no doubt that web has opened up debate to include more vocal players than in previous eras of broadcasting. Not everything published across these kinds of sites is going to be of interest to everyone, but I dare say that much the same could have been said of legacy media and its output.

The easily shareable nature of the new platforms has brought with it significant benefits (a broader public sphere) as well as dangers (the sacrifice of privacy). I presented a short paper (slides below) to a bunch of colleagues recently about the use of social media tools to remediate the #IranElection of 2009 in which I pointed out that the state ran broadcast media was heavily censored and activists took to the web to organise their protests. Twitter was used heavily in this campaign - the Iran Election was the highest trending topic last year. One of the points I made in the presentation was that Iranians using the service, who found their message being retweeted, may have had some unwanted attention directed thier way (security forces were monitering the service, hence the high porfile campaign to change the location of Twitter users to Tehran, to try and fool them).

It's the dangers or problems of mediation that I want to focus on in this post, and I'd like to do that by turning to an example drawn from digital activism ('hacktivism'?).

I was listening to this week's edition of Digital Planet from BBC World Service that featured an interesting segment on informational activism. You can listen to the section by clicking this link here (the BBC is testing the use of chapters in its audio content, which is a great idea). This comes about on the back of a new documentary movie entitled '10 Tactics For Turning Information Into Action' from the international NGO Tactical Technology Collective.

The film advocates a number of ways in which human rights advocates can leverage change via social media tools. The film makers are keen to emphasise that new media opens up new opportunities for spreading messages about rights violation but they also open up new potential dangers:
Just as each new technology has the potential to bring new opportunities and freedoms, they also present new challenges, difficulties and forms of suppression – from new forms of censorship to threats to privacy. This issue is extremely important for advocates who handle sensitive information in hostile environments and for marginalised communities for whom technology can be a 'double-edged sword' as it carries the potential to both liberate and further marginalise.
Once information is disseminated via the web it may be hard to guarantee what will happen to those people involved in the process. It may seem like one of the best ways to combat persecution is by making your voice heard, but video interviews with people who have suffered at the hands of others may draw attention to those people who may then be subject to more abuse by virtue of their newly acquired visibility.

Advocates have a responsibility to protect their sources - the Tactical Technology Collective are keen to stress this issue and have some useful advice to offer. I'm looking forward to seeing the film. In the mean time, if you are interested in using the web to affect change you could do worse than check out the TTC guide here. You can find related resources at the DigiActive and Global Voices sites.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Tracking musical expenditure: November

This month has been a curious month in terms of purchases as a number of factors have come together to produce a few interesting things - call it serendipity. Firstly, I had planned on doing all my Christmas shopping online in November given the recent postal strikes delaying things. Having said this, I only ended up buying one CD as a gift so the impact this will have in the big scheme of things is minimal at best. Secondly, Juno Records gave me £5 worth of credit to spend on digital downloads for being a member of an online fan community. This might have been money I wouldn't have typically spent but never look a gift horse. Thirdly, a filesharing site I have access to was 'promoting' the iTunes LP format, which have all sorts of extra features, which led me to buy one from the limited range on offer. Fourthly, I purchased a Sunday paper solely in order to get a 'free' live album (via iTunes) which needs to be taken into account - it's unlikely that I'd have bought the paper otherwise.

All said and done, this month's expenditure on music comes in at £27.63, bringing the grand total to date of £770.49.

If we go only on single and album sales to date the figure arrives at £51.85

After a quarter of the year has passed, it seems that the amount spent on music has began to increase

It seems I'm getting closer to the £77 figure mentioned in the Demos report from October 2009 (Powerpoint file here: 3.7 mb). I wonder how, if at all, the Virgin Media/Universal deal will impact on those sales hen it eventually gets rolled out? If Virgin Media customers have full access to Universal's back catalogue, will they spend less on music? I'm still waiting for pricing plans for this service to be announced

Sunday, 29 November 2009

File under procrastination...

I'm meant to be writing or marking. It's the weekend and I can't find the motivation to do either. Instead, I'll play with Twitter and Tweetcloud and make up a nice tag cloud based on the last 12 months worth of tweets

Here's the list of words tagged in order of the most frequently used:
media iphone time greader music students feed free google post week piracy found apple copyright news blog newcastle industry thanks people digital please watching reader facebook nice paper social looking email little internet start looks sunderland lost read future live online trying bought users currently change getting wife games journalism guardian pirate version believe marking look season site help hours

Friday, 27 November 2009

Children of the net..

I was recently reading a blog post by Ethan Zuckerman, a research fellow at the Berkmen Centre for Internet and Society, which got me thinking. I normally like what Ethan has to say and I encourage you to check out his site which touches on his thoughts about 'Africa, international development and hacking the media'. In the blog post he talks a conference he attended in which Don Tapscott (co-author) of Wikinomics fame presented.

Essentially, the blog post summarises Tapscott's major argument in the book, something I've touched on in the course of teaching my Cyberculture (MAC281) and New Media & Society (MAC309) modules. I've mentioned him a couple of times on this blog. For those of you unfamiliar with the thrust of the main argument it goes something like this...

Tapscott watched his kids grow up in the 1990s and was amazed by the effortless way in which they used technology. The demographic born between 1977 and 1996 was the first to 'grow up in a digital age ... bathed in bits' (2008: 47), which Tapscott refers to as the Net Generation. This generation is distinct from previous ones due to the myriad ways in which they not only consume media, but scrutinise it, and re-purpose it. In Zuckerman's blog recounting Tapscott's presentation, the latter claims that the kids of this generation are more interested in reading web content rather than reading books (he cites Rhodes scholar, Joe O'Shea, as an example) or watching television.
We might conclude this is a problem, or we might embrace this. “If you spend 24 hours a week being a passive participant, consuming tv – as Baby Boomers did – you get a certain sort of brain.” If you spend those hours searching, researching and building connections, you get a very different brain
I feel Tapscott sets up a bit of a false argument here, which Zuckerman reiterates (nb: I'm not trying to suggest that Zukerman thinks this - he is recounting Tapscott). He claims these are not passive consumers but rather, are driven by a desire 'for choice, convenience, customization and control by designing, producing and distributing products themselves' (ibid: 52). There seems to be a dubious binary set up which equates:

old media vs new media
television vs internet
passivity vs activity

There is a wealth of ethnographic research from European Media/Cultural Studies scholars which disputes such a simplistic understanding of audience engagement - something we cover here on our Media Studies modules (MAC201). Qualitative research in this area paints a varied and complex set of cultural negotiations and competences from, say, a television audience. The work of David Buckingham, David Gauntlett, David Morley, Charlotte Brundson, Ien Ang, Janice Radway, Dorothy Hobson, etc all point to this being the case.

Overall, Tapscott's desire to challenge the assumption that the Internet is making kids dumb by focussing on the ability of young people to forge new connections, engage in distributable editing, scour and research a topic using online tools results in their being an overemphasis being placed on the power of the Internet.

I can see why he wants to embrace the optimism of the Internet especially when online behaviour seems to be coming under attack from neuroscientists like Baroness Susan Greenfield and Gary Small, as well as cultural critics and authors like Andrew Keen and Nicolas Carr (you can watch some footage of Carr below, taken from a forthcoming BBC Digital Revolution project). We can add to this the concerns of educationalists who fear that student use of the Internet is fostering an uncritical and superficial sense of engagement with information.

Implicit in this camp is the assumption that there are some potentially problematic changes occurring - the Internet has encouraged a new form of informational engagement - one which sacrifices depth for sporadic leaps from section to section or site to site. Carr fears we have sacrificed our contemplative approach to thinking. This sounds like the passivity mentioned by Tapscott in relation to TV in another guise.

I'd like to think that is a middle road here, what sociologist John Thompson refers to as an 'interaction mix' - that consumption of media is nebulous and works across platforms. Creating artificial divides between media use is misleading at best. What are we to take from Tapscott's argument: that television is a passive activity or that the reading of books is inferior to Internet-use? What do we take from the opposing camp: that new media habits are potentially changing how we make sense of information? It seems to me that this divide between old and new media is a straw man argument - one sets up the other to create a false argument that serves the best interests of those starting the posturing.

All new media forms will require new literacies - the argument over whether one is better or worse than another is misleading when taken in isolation.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Students quiz me on piracy

I've been asked by a couple of our Magazine Journalism students to help them with a second year module by answering some questions about filesharing. I thought I'd share the questions and my responses to them here as they touch on some of the issues I've been posting on here in recent weeks. There is a little but of cut and paste to be found in one of the answers but mostly, the questions and the answers differ.

Student 1's questions:

I am going with the angle that as much as the government is trying to get rid of file-sharing, it is always going to exist because it is a relatively new technology and is still evolving. The first generation of file-sharers have established the act but now the new generation are expanding it making it close to impossible to eliminate completely.

Do you think that the government were slow to act on file-sharing sites and underestimated how popular they have become?

What do you think to the 'three strikes and you are out' method of coping with individuals? is it all coming too late?

Do you think that the DEMOS report on file-sharing has shown us anything that we didn't already know?
Do you think that file-sharing will continue to exist and what from will it take?

My answers:

The government were very slow to react to digital file-sharing, as was the entertainment industry. The reason for this is complex but comes down to their suitability as a regulator of the Internet - a technology which transcends traditional (read: old media) forms of regulation in that traditional territorial rules don't always clearly apply. A file-sharing site may be registered in one country, it's servers hosted in another, it's user's in many different countries - which national legal system should be drawn upon? How does the law react to these international issues? Generally, laws take a long time to be proposed, written and drafted into being. Given those logistics it's no surprise that the responses were slow.

The 'three strikes' policy as it stands is poorly thought out and is wholly inadequate as a method for combating file-sharing. There are a number of reasons for this - too many to go into here, I suspect. However, I shall try and outline the key points.

Firstly, the methodology for identifying suspected copyright infringers is far from an exact science - a 2008 report from the University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering department revealed how a networked printer managed to be implicated in DMCA takedown request. It was highly unlikely that the printer was downloading copyright content! This hasn't stopped over zealous legal firms like Davenport & Lyons from issuing false claims against innocent parties with insufficient evidence, such as Mr and Mrs Murdoch (aged 66 and 54) who were accused of downloading the Atari game Race07.

Secondly, the law fails to take into account the role of the exact infringer - many people may share an Internet connection, especially if they live in large family or student household. An infringement may take place on the network but it is very difficult to prove who was responsible for the act without a thorough investigation - something the 'three strikes' policy refuses to do. The accusation would then fall at the feet of the bill payer who may not have done anything wrong, but will potentially be labelled a criminal.

Thirdly, an unsecured wireless network may be used to share bandwidth meaning that anyone in a certain radius can access the Internet with that connection. There are different legal implications regarding this behaviour, but ignoring those for now, the bill payer will be held responsible in this instance despite having not committed a crime. There are many reasons why a network may be unsecured, from a lack of technological knowledge through to a purposeful attempt to share bandwidth - the proposed 'threes strikes' ruling would treat both as the same when they are clearly not.

Add to these factors the increasing dependence on the Internet for public services and its future use as a medical tool (video streaming a doctor!), then disconnection seems wholly disproportionate and at odds with a recent All Party Communications Group report (.pdf) regarding the promotion of eGovernment.

If a crime is committed it should be dealt with in the courts, not by the content industries who employ dubious methodology to make their accusations.

As for the DEMOS report, I'm not quite sure what you mean about the 'what we didn't already know' bit. If you are referring to the claim that file-sharers typically spend more money on music than those that don't admit to file-sharing then the report does echo the sentiments that have been expressed quite vocally on many public and private file-sharing sites and services. However, what the report does do is it points to an empirical basis for measuring attitudes towards file-sharing. I think a Norwegian paper from earlier in the year did much the same thing

One of the key ways in which file-sharing is monitored is by tracking the IP addresses of people involved in torrent swarms. This how the basic tracker service works in torrent technology. However, technologies like DHT, PEX and Magnet Links completely do away with the need for file sharers to be identified in this manner. Add to that, people can use encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Networks) or services like TOR to hide their identity online and continue their file-sharing activities. WASTE networks will also play a part. If the deep-packet-inspection (DPI) techniques some ISPs are using continue to improve so they can examine traffic on their networks then I wouldn't be surprised to see the exchange of large but portable hard drives in school yards and parking lots in much the same way cassette tapes were traded in the 1980s.

Student 2's questions

1) What was your reaction the news that file sharers also buy the most music legitimately?

2) Why do you think people choose to download illegally?

3) How much of a negative effect, if any, do you think it has on artists and labels?

4) What are your thoughts on the digital economy bill and the proposed move to ban users who download illegally from the internet?

5) Do you think, in practice, it is possible to completely quash illegal downloading?

6) What could record labels do to encourage music fans to buy legally before looking elsewhere?

7) What are your views on artists joining the file sharing debate, for example Lilly Allen and her recent (bizarre) comments which you twittered the link to?

My responses:

1) I wasn't at all surprised by the findings. The claim that file-sharers typically spend more money on music than those that don't admit to file-sharing in the DEMOS report does echo the sentiments that have been expressed quite vocally on many public and private file-sharing sites and services. However, what the report does do is it point to an empirical basis for measuring attitudes towards file-sharing. I think a Norwegian paper from earlier in the year did much the same thing

2) The reasons for piracy are nebulous and far ranging. I can give you at least 10 reasons off the top of my head without even going down the 'free music' route:

1.File-sharers resent years of overpriced products (expensive CDs & ‘filler’ tracks)
2.Pre-release exclusivity
3.Discover new music/ lost classics without financial risk
4.Community spirit (private sites, social networks, blogs)
5.Very easy to do and low risk!
6.Reaction against mainstream mass-produced pap/pop
7.Fan ownership of musical products & free will vs. industry attempts to control content
8.DRM encourages passivity and limits future development/creativity
9.The sound quality of legitimate digital music is insufficient for many audiophiles
10.Music consumption has changed (gigs, merchandise, Guitar Hero, etc)

Have you seen this study (.pdf) by some behavioural economists who experimented with price differences to see how people reacted? They offered a group of subjects a choice between two chocolates, Hershey's Kisses for one cent and Lindt truffles for 15c. Three quarters of the subjects chose the truffles. When they did it again after reducing the cost of each chocolate by 1 cent (now free & 14c), they found the obvious - that the order of preference was revered with more people choosing the free offer. Now despite the price difference being the same (14c) the consequences of shifting to 'free' was dramatic - it produces a completely different consumer dynamic.

3) It's difficult to quantify a 'negative effect' in this case as there are way too many variables to consider. If music fans stop paying for music then there is an obvious problem, but there is little conclusive evidence to suggest this is the case - in fact, a recent report (.pdf) by the Performing Right Society concluded that UK music economy is getting bigger, not smaller. The figures bandied around pointing to how widespread file-sharing is are also subject to exaggeration. The point I'm trying to make is that nobody really knows how harmful filesharing is, if it is at all, but it is PRESUMED to be in a common sense manner taken as fact. Very problematic. The real problem, as I see it, comes through the typical royalty rates given to artists by labels - as seen in the Gowers report from 2006 (p51). This was typically about 9% for CD sales and is about 8% for digital downloads. Labels and retailers (& even credit card companies!) make more more than the creators. Even though there is no shop space or physical packaging to pay for, the artists are worse off due to the licensing of digital content.

4) My thoughts on the Digital Economy bill are on my blog (mentioned above: pirate finder general post). I think that the bill is an attempt to force unworkable laws into being that will end up doing more harm than good. Copyright needs reforming, but not in the ways proposed by Lord Mandelson.

5) I'm not convinced it will be entirely possible to quash illegal file-sharing. Technology has a knack of offering new possibilities at a rate far faster than the legal system can adapt. One of the key ways in which file-sharing is currently monitored is by tracking the IP addresses of people involved in torrent swarms. This how the basic tracker service works in torrent technology. However, technologies like DHT, PEX and Magnet Links completely do away with the need for file sharers to be identified in this manner. Add to that, people can use encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Networks) or services like TOR to hide their identity online and continue their file-sharing activities. WASTE networks will also play a part. If the deep-packet-inspection (DPI) techniques some ISPs are using continue to improve so they can examine traffic on their networks then I wouldn't be surprised to see the exchange of large but portable hard drives exchanged in the school yards in much the same way cassette tapes were traded in the 1980s. Even if a new method for blocking content is developed I suspect hardcore copyright infringers will find a way to continue their activities - they may just be physically scaled down somewhat.

6) I'm not really sure what record labels can do about this. Usually they fund lobbyists groups like UK Music or the BPI to do this in the form of educational campaigns about the problems of piracy (ie hurting artists). There have been a few innovations in recent years that are often heralded as an alternative to piracy (eg Last.FM, Spotify, We7, iTunes, RouteNote, etc) but as for whether or not they actually help support artists is another argument entirely given the royalty deals mentioned earlier. There have been some stories that suggest Spotify pays artists slightly more than nothing for streams, but only just! One of the problems with setting up new services like Spotify is that these small companies have to negotiate with the record labels to be able to carry their copyrighted content. If one of the major labels refuses or demands a royalty rate higher than Spotify can afford to recoup then the service will be incomplete or it may struggle to scale up and find a sufficient user base to make it a viable alternative. Record labels could help foster innovation and their long term survival by relaxing their restrictive licences.

7) I'm all for artists joining the debate about filesharing. It's possible to find many artists who refuse to condemn the practise as they see it as a potential business opportunity. I'm thinking of Matt Mason on 'The Pirate's Dilemma' and Chris Anderson's 'freemium' argument here where free content (downloaded music) can serve to act as a marketing tool around which other services/goods can be sold (gig tickets, merchandise, naming rights deals, etc). Lily Allen, I think, has a tendency to engage in public arguments without always fully understanding the range of positions available. She has done so in the past when talking about being middle class, she did it again with the piracy debate and her most recent outburst: "If someone comes up with a burnt copy of my CD and offers it to you for £4, I haven't a problem with that as long as the person buying it places some kind do of value on my music". The woman is a walking contradiction.

Monday, 23 November 2009

EU Parliment's credibility undermined by 3-strikes U-Turn: follow up

You may recall that last month I blogged about the EU's credibility being undermined by the 180 degree reversal that was made regarding the Telecoms Package, incorporating Amendment 138. I wrote to my three MEPs (Martin Callanan, Stephen Hughes and Fiona Hall) expressing my concerns. Only one of those MEPs took the time to acknowledge my email, the Lib Dem MEP, Fiona Hall. Her response from the 16th of November is outlined below:
Dear Mr Jewitt

Thank you for your email regarding the EU Telecoms package.

The European Parliament and the European Council reached a deal on this text last week after the Council agreed to MEPs' demands that internet users suspected of uploading or downloading illegal material should face a "prior, fair and impartial procedure" rather than an arbitrary ban on their internet use and being simply cut off.

For many people, the internet is not just an optional add-on: it is a vital lifeline. Citizens rely on the web to do business, buy goods and maintain social contacts and some of our most vulnerable people need it most. I believe that the European Parliament has acted to make sure that those who are accused of breaching the law are treated in a fair and impartial manner.

The British government is planning its own telecoms bill later this month and I am concerned that it is expected to feature a three-strikes-and-you're-banned policy. The British Government must respect the decision on this made at a European level and ensure that its own telecoms bill reflects people's rights to internet access.

Thank you once again for your email.

Yours sincerely
Fiona Hall MEP
As you can see, the Lib Dems share many of the concerns that I've covered on this blog in recent months - notably the imminent Digital Economy bill in which the unelected Secretary of State Lord Mandelson is planning on giving himself 'secondary legislation' powers to write into law anything he sees fit to help protect copyright owners, even if that means disconnecting Internet users without due legal recourse. Nicholas Lansman of the Internet Service Provider's Association has been highly critical of the government's recent behaviour, especially the burden it is placing on ISPs:
“ISPA is extremely disappointed by aspects of the proposals to address illicit filesharing. This legislation is being fast-tracked by the Government and will do little to address the underlying problem.”
Too much power is being accrued by Mandelson. Visit The Register's site for more details.

Old letter I forgot to publish

I usually use this blog to publish any of my engagements with MPs or MEPs regarding digital matters and I found a copy of an email I sent last month to my MP, David Miliband, regarding Tom Watson's Early Day Motion on filesharing. You can find the email below:
Dear David Miliband,

I'd like to express my desire for you to support Tom Watson’s cross-party Early Day Motion, 1997, on file sharing. I believe that it is crucial that external organisations who suspect internet users of file-sharing are not able to require Internet Service Providers to disconnect or throttle data based on accusations (especially given the well known problems associated with the methodology used to gather such "evidence").

I would find it difficult to support a political party that approves of such measures which would impact on a wide range of essential digital services (commercial services, online shopping and banking, etc), and a recent YouGov poll for the Open Rights Group suggests much the same:

I support disconnection for court proceedings, but not for accusations

Yours sincerely,

Robert Jewitt

All this was in vein as my MP is a memeber of the cabinet and can't vote on Early Day Motions, which is prorbably why I didn't post the message back on the 19th of October when I originally sent it.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Pirate Finder General

Yesterday it emerged via Cory Doctorow's boing boing blog that the UK government is planning to introduce some radical changes to the Digital Economy bill that will seek to combat copyright infringement in a most aggressive manner. One of the consequences of these changes is a serious threat to democracy in that the Secretary of State (currently Lord Mandelson) will have the power to make "secondary legislation" (legislation that is passed without debate) to amend the provisions of Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988).

Effectively, this would give an unelected official the power to do anything without Parliamentary oversight or debate, provided it was done in the name of protecting copyright - something which benefits big business in cases where only around 2% of copyrighted products are worth supporting in law (98% of copyrighted material is no longer supported by the market but is still covered by the blanket law). This is clearly a case of industry being more important the people. Doctorow attribute the following reasons for his new proposal:

1. The Secretary of State would get the power to create new remedies for online infringements (for example, he could create jail terms for file-sharing, or create a "three-strikes" plan that costs entire families their internet access if any member stands accused of infringement)

2. The Secretary of State would get the power to create procedures to "confer rights" for the purposes of protecting rightsholders from online infringement (for example, record labels and movie studios can be given investigative and enforcement powers that allow them to compel ISPs, libraries, companies and schools to turn over personal information about Internet users, and to order those companies to disconnect users, remove websites, block URLs, etc)

3. The Secretary of State would get the power to "impose such duties, powers or functions on any person as may be specified in connection with facilitating online infringement" (for example, ISPs could be forced to spy on their users, or to have copyright lawyers examine every piece of user-generated content before it goes live; also, copyright "militias" can be formed with the power to police copyright on the web)

What does this mean for you?

There are far ranging implications at stake in the changes being proposed here. Imagine the implications for uploading a recording of, say, a birthday party featuring background music to YouTube... That music would be subject to copyright law making the uploader a copyright infringer and a potential victim of this new bill - liable for any breaches made. Place this scenario in the context of point 2) and you can imagine being the target of record company surveillance watching your every move, even going as far to restrict your access to specific content. At what point did the British public decide to let the entertainment industry police its behaviour as if it was a state authority?

Get involved

Naturally, organisations like the Open Rights Group are campaigning against such changes and encouraging members of the public to phone their MPs with their concerns. I urge you to do the same as time is very short. You can email your MP here but due to the time limits a phone call is more likely to be effective.

Further reading:

Charles Arthur, Guardian, 20/11/09 'Treasury secretary defends government's online piracy plans'
Charles Arthur, Guardian, 20/11/09, 'Why are cyberlockers suddenly such a problem, Lord Mandelson?'
Dept for Culture, Media & Sport, 2009, Digital Britain report

Top slicing the BBC - the result

Earlier in the week I blogged about the threat facing the BBC posed by the proposed top-slicing. I encouraged readers of this blog and follower over on my Twitter feed to get involved and contact their MP to voice their concerns about the implications of such a move. The civic action group 38 Degrees was crucial to mobilising protest against this movement with it's email template and MP finding resource. I wrote to my MP and I encouraged my colleagues in the University of Sunderland Media department to do this same (a big thank you to all those who got involved - it's appreciated!).

I thought several of you may be interested in the verdict...

I received a mail from 38 Degrees over on Facebook which poitned to the success of the campaign. You can read the message below:

Dear friend,

This week thousands of us worked together to persuade the government not to top-slice the licence fee. The government had been expected to confirm their top-slicing plans in the Queen's speech on Wednesday. This would have threatened the BBC's funding and independence, by handing a chunk of the licence fee to rival broadcasters. After thousands of us signed the petition and wrote to our MPs, the government announced that they aren't pushing ahead with top-slicing, and that the matter will now be reviewed by the next government in 2012.

We've had a big success, which shows that it works when we stand up for the BBC together. But politicians and media millionaires continue to attack the BBC and there could still be a big cut in the licence fee in the future. The more of us there are involved in the campaign, the stronger we'll be when it's time to stand up for the BBC against future threats.

Ask your friends to get involved in the campaign by forwarding this email and asking them to click this link:

We've always known that top-slicing is not the only threat facing the organisation. Many powerful interests will continue attacking the BBC - from rival media companies who resent the competition, to politicians who think that it should tow their line. We know the BBC isn't perfect and has made mistakes which make it more vulnerable to criticism, but it's definitely worth protecting.

The Conservative Party are talking up their plans to cut the licence fee, and potentially close down whole parts of the BBC. Just yesterday, David Cameron said "the BBC has got very overextended and the licence fee is high". [1] [2]

The media multi-millionaire Rupert Murdoch is increasingly vocal in his attacks, calling the licence fee a "scandal". [3] His son, James Murdoch, the chief executive and chairman of News Corporation, says the licence fee should become "much, much smaller".

Together we've seen off the threat of top-slicing, which shows that people power works. The more of us there are, the more effective we'll be in standing up for the BBC against future attacks. Can you ask your friends to join in? Please forward this email and ask them to join the campaign by clicking this link:

Thanks for getting involved,

David, Hannah, Johnny, Nina and the 38 Degrees team



Good news in the short term! However, the commercial sector will always look to the BBC as a threat and seek to lobby government to curb it's reach. The medium term future of the BBC looks rocky, especially if the Conservative party get into power by next summer. It needs the support of the licence fee paying public, so, stand up for the BBC.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Top-slicing the BBC

This week the government will be discussing the future funding of the BBC, as will be announced in the forthcoming Queen's Speech on Wednesday. This was also something suggested in the final draft of the Digital Britain report. You can read the BBC's response to these proposed changes here (.pdf 57kb). I'm not keen on the idea of government top-slicing the current BBC licence fee as it sends mixed messages to the public about where responsibility lies when audience members feel aggrieved on the back of specific programmes. It also undermines the role of public service broadcasting more generally.

In an email discussion with colleagues at the University of Sunderland about this subject Professor Andrew Crisell, the esteemed broadcast historian and author of several books in the area, had this to say:
The purpose of a public service broadcaster like the BBC is to overcome the limitations of the commercial system of competition and serve everybody, including those groups who are too small to interest advertisers. So if the government introduces competition into public service provision, this means that it either doesn't understand what public service broadcasting is or doesn't give a damn about it anyway. Competitive public service broadcasting is a contradiction in terms and will result in the same kind of audience chasing that already characterises the commercial sector.
There are a number of campaign groups mobilising in support of the BBC like the Citizen's Coalition for Public Service Broadcasting, which has the backing of several high profile media scholars. You can follow them on Twitter or join the Facebook group. You can also express your dissatisfaction with the new proposals by contacting your MP. The campaign group 38 Degrees has a handy template and email form on their site which enables people to have their say and petition their local MP. I've already contact David Miliband on this matter - the text of the letter can be found below:
Dear MP,

I hear that the government is considering including plans to topslice the BBC in the Queen's Speech. I'm concerned that this is a threat to the BBC's long-term future, and will undermine its independence. One advantage of the current licensing of the BBC is that the public can clearly identify the correct avenue of complaint when confronted with an emotive issue. A mixed method of funding in which commercial bodies receive licence fee money complicates this relationship.

The example of the funding support given over to the Digital Switchover Help Scheme and the subsequent underspend should not function to act as a precedent that undermines the licence fee paying public's relationship with the BBC. This example is frequently used to support the top-slicing argument, but lacks adequate weight. This was an extraordinary use of the public's money to drive technical innovation, new platforms for public and commercial content creation and improve audience choice. This benefited all involved when commercial sector had failed to provide a viable platform.

Given the global prominence of the BBC brand in an field where very few other British success stories exist, it seems counterproductive to siphon funding away. If the proposed top-slicing goes ahead the danger is such that future governments will be able to leverage commercial and political pressure against the BBC in a perpetual 'casus belli' which may undermine one of the democratic functions served by the Corporation. There is no guarantee that the percentage of top slicing proposed today will not increase over time - this has happened in other countries which have adopted similar models.

Many other suggestions have been made for ways of funding public service content made outside of the BBC, without top-slicing. Please contact Gordon Brown and Ben Bradshaw urgently and ask them to take a fresh look at these alternatives, rather than push ahead with top-slicing the BBC. Please also sign EDM 1891 to put on the record that you oppose top-slicing.

Please let me know when you've done all this, or if not please let me know why not.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Jewitt
Get involved.

Edit: I've had a response back from my MP. It was pretty quick - less than 30 minutes after I sent the email it had arrived. The reason for that is my MP is a member of the cabinet so does not sign Early Day Motions:
Strict Parliamentary rules state that members of the cabinet do not sign EDM's. However, I have passed a copy of your email on to Ben Bradshaw's department so they are aware of your concerns
Ben Bradshaw is not my favourite MP - he has already levelled criticism at the way in which the BBC is funded so I suspect my argument will fall on deaf ears. This is why your voice counts even more.

Get involved

Monday, 2 November 2009

Tracking musical expenditure: October

The second month of the experiment to track my music related expenditure has ended and, as I expected, fell far short of the previous month which was packed with festivals and live concerts. I almost spent a fortune buying Fleetwood Mac tickets (for my wife!) on eBay but I couldn't afford them in the end.

So this month was a relatively tight month with a grand total of £69.72 being spent on music. £50 of that was the deposit for Glastonbury next year, with the rest being spent on 2 CDs and 1 digital download album. I think that is the first time I have ever paid for a digital album. I always opt for the CD version if it's available, but this was a digital-only release.

This brings the total spend on music up to £742.86 (the data for the 2 months to date can be found here) in a month where a few different sources have suggested that filesharers spend more money on music in a year than non-filesharers.

The idea that filesharers spend more on music than non-filesharers is nothing new to those people who actively participate in music file-sharing communities where you can find many posts on the subject of how much they spend on music. The Mail cite a Demos paper which claims filesharers spend £77 a year on singles and albums as opposed to £33 for non-filesharers. This data is very similar to an Ipsos-Mori poll in the Independent which says the same thing... Hmmm. If I add up my expenditure to date on albums and singles only (excluding music bought for games like Guitar Hero) my total comes to £28.71. If I add on the Guitar Hero DLC that comes to £34.39 - more than non-filesharer spends in a year!

Despite this, Lord Mandelson is still intent of curbing the behaviour of those accused of filesharing even though they seem to contribute more to the music industry. Admittedly, the data seems to be gathered from those people willing to admit to filesharing which many of the 1000 respondents may not have wanted to do, especially as it is being increasingly linked to criminality. I suppose Mandy will see this as evidence that more money can be squeezed out of people that are willing to spend money on music.

Friday, 16 October 2009

EU Parliment's credibility undermined by 3-strikes U-Turn

Quick post. This week a strange turn of events occurred within the corridors of Europe which casts doubt on the faith we should have in the EU Parliament. Essentially this comes down to the long-standing "3-strikes" which threatens to have internet users disconnected if they are accused of illegal file-sharing (even if the way in which this data is collected is fundamentally flawed). Access to information via the internet is a right - disconnection compromises our civil liberties.

Parliament has voted against this disconnection process on separate occasions with an 88% majority. Just this week the MEP's negotiating team wanted to dilute these judgements (especially Amendment 138) whilst seeking a compromise with the EU Council. Historically, the EU Parliament has been relatively weak in the face of the EU Council and u-turns like this one do not bode well for democracy.

There is a little more detail on the Open Rights Group blog. They also point to an analysis by La Quadrature du Net.

Take action: write to your MEP asking them to put pressure on their team to preserve our rights and the EU Parliament's credibility.

I have written to my MEPs regarding this matter. I urge you to do the same if you care about your digital rights and/or democracy Full text below:

Thursday 15 October 2009

Dear Martin Callanan, Stephen Hughes and Fiona Hall,

I have heard the worrying news that Catherine Trautmann and Alejo Vidal-Quadras (Wed 14th October) have succeeded in leading negotiations to overturn the Telecoms Package, incorporating Amendment 138. As I understand it, Amendment 138 guarantees Internet access and protects fundamental civil liberties and is in danger of being diluted by the aforementioned Parliamentary negotiators seeking a compromise with the EU Council.

It appears that discussions between the Council of the EU, the Commission and the negotiators led to a compromise position regarding Amendment 138 that goes against the intentions of the Parliament that voted for citizens to have guarantees regarding access and other rights. These principles have twice been adopted by an 88% majority of the European Parliament.

This turnaround seems to suggest that Parliament's powers are being undermined. The negotiating team seems to have ignored the mandate they were issued from the Parliament delegation and this sets a dangerous precedent and displays a worrying lack of transparency.

Pressure needs to be placed on the negotiating team in order to preserve our rights and the credibility of the EU Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Jewitt

It looks like pressure is mounting around this issue: ORG. More effort is required. Get writing to your MEPs if you care bout your digital rights

Saturday, 3 October 2009

A year long project tracking music related purchases

There are lots of claims made about how damaging piracy is. The music industry and the groups which represent it, like the BPI, tend to claim that filesharing damages the industry and prevents artists from getting paid or making a living. The recent rant by Lily Allen is an example of how artists are rallying under the BPI's lobbying. Many of these claims are based on dodgy 'facts' and figures - something I touched in a recent post.

There are other studies which point in the opposite direction - that filesharers tend to spend more money on average than non-filesharers. A report by PRS recently showed that spending on music in the UK had actually increased. Inspired by this claim I thought I'd do a little experiment and track my annual spend on music and music related activities.

I'm going to have set a few ground rules. It's relatively easy to keep track of traditional sales like CD purchases but I think tend to spend a lot more money on live music and that brings with it a whole series of indirect costs which contribute to the music experience. Of course, I'm talking about booze (!), without which the experience is less, ahem, enhanced. So, I'm going to include alcohol expenditure as part of the experiment where appropriate. I'm also going to include video games that are music-based, such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

I've been thinking about doing this for a while and I've started going through last month's spending. I'm going to share this data via Google Docs on a monthly basis. This is where you can find the most recent data.

Currently, September looks like a big month with a total spend of over £670 but that is mainly due to attending a music festival (Bestival) and buying a music-based video game (Guitar Hero). This type of cost is not a typical monthly spend!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

An interesting week for misleading statistics

A few technology news headlines have attracted my attention this week that seem to be somewhat less than honest. Some of the ones that stood out included the 10% surge in BBC iPlayer traffic following its inclusion on the new PS3 Slim which in turn has been reported as bringing about a massive sales spike in Sony PS3 units following the slimmer redesign. The other noteworthy report involved the claim that 7 million of the 61 million UK residents is engaged in illegal file-sharing activity. Let's take a little look at those claims...

Sony's sales and why they might not be so impressive

There have been several reports that Sony is having a very successful PS3 Slim rollout. Popular games blog, Kotaku, noted that the redesigned PS3 sold more units in Japan in the first three days following the relaunch (150,252) than it did back in November 2006 when it was originally released. It sold 88,000 units in two days but there were issues with supply levels at launch, so not everyone who wanted one could get their hand on one.

The more interesting PS3 story came from VG247 courtesy of Chart-Track director, Dorian Bloch, who claimed that UK-based PS3 sales in financial week 36 were up over 999% on the week prior. This is a story which has snowballed and appeared in several other places. Great news for Sony. Or is it?

On the surface the 999% or 1000% sales boost seems impressive but this has to be seen in the harsh reality that very few people were likely to be buying the older PS3 model when the new slimmer model was about to be launched at a reduced price. It's not hard to see why a huge sales spike may occur when very few units were being sold in the week prior - but it makes for great headlines!

What is also unclear is exactly how many of these purchases were by new customers. Many existing PS3 owners have expressed an interest in trading their older machines in for the new model (the local GAME store where I live was accepting a trade-in deal of one 80gb PS3 plus two games and £60 cash for a new slimmer PS3).

This might not be so great for Sony after all. Sony are still producing the PS3 slim at a loss and require customers to purchase software in order to offset these losses. If they are selling lots of new units to existing customers who already own plenty software then they are unlikely to profit dramatically from these impressive sales figures. Also, Sony get no financial gain from the second hand hardware or software market. The more new customers the PS3 redesign attracts, the healthier Sony's bank balance.

It's understandable that Sony would want to view its new product launch as a success, given that the PS3 languishes in third place in the console hardware sales. It's also no surprise that Sony has announced a massive ad campaign to push its new hardware in the Christmas run in (with a campaign budget of £82 million!). Whether or not the PS3 proves to be the success that Sony needs it to be remains to be seen, especially since it experienced its first full year loss in fourteen years.

How many filesharers?

The other attention-grabbing (and more worrying) story that warrants a little exploration involves the claim that 7 million UK residents are file sharing criminals. This figure is one which has been around for some time now. The BBC ran a report back in May which cited the figure in a government-backed report. The report was issued by the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property (SABIP) and can be found on their site (.pdf here). Intellectual Property Minister David Lammy said the report put into context the impact illegal downloads had on copyright industries and the UK economy as a whole.

This figure of 7 million criminals is quite catching, seems precise and scientific and has helped perpetuate the notion of digital criminality amongst UK web users. It was also calculated that these file-sharers had access to £12 billion worth of free content. It has also helped keep file-sharing and its supposed criminality in the media spotlight in recent weeks - something Lord Mandelson has been using to great effect in his attempt to lobby for hard-hitting punitive measures against file-sharers.

Credit needs to be given to the BBC who took a second look at that figure of 7 million and decided to see if they could locate its origin, following an enquiry from the audience of the BBC Radio 4 show, "More or Less".

The figure may have been reported in a government document, but it's not a government figure. It transpired that the government commissioned a report from the CIBER research group at University College London, which contained the number. The CIBER report mentioned the figure four times. However, the figure actually came from yet another report from consultancy firm, Forrester. It doesn't end there. The Forrester report doesn't actually contain the 7 million figure despite the CIBER citation. The figure actually comes from a different piece of research called the Jupiter Industry Losses Project, which was an industry funded (BPI) attempt to gauge P2P use and the related losses produced by such internet use.

That's right. The official sounding figure cited by the government-backed report actually came from the British recording industry which has a vested interest in putting a figure on its losses at the hands of P2P users so that it can then lobby government to change policies and laws favourable to the industries interests. That explains why Lord Mandleson has been so anti-P2P in recent weeks...

It gets worse. The actual report was never published publicly and the industry declined to pass it over to the BBC but they managed to get in touch with Mark Mulligan, one of the report's authors, who revealed some interesting methodological assumptions. The report estimates that there are 6.7 million illegal file-sharers in the UK. It arrived at this figure when multiplying the total number of Internet users in the UK (estimated at 40 million by the report despite the UK government putting the figure at 33.9 million) against the percentage of the population engaged in file-sharing.

As for the estimate of the piracy percentage, that comes from a 2008 survey of 1,176 UK households. The survey actually found that 11.6 % of respondents admitted to using file-sharing software, but this figure was inflated to 16.3 % to account for "under-reporting". It's not quite clear how this figure was arrived at but it was based on the assumption that some respondents would lie about their P2P use, and Mulligan claims to it be 'based on evidence'.

The differences between these figures are staggering and produce vastly different results. If the lower figures are used instead it transpires that only 3.93 million UK residents are criminals, not 7 million.

And finally...

What does this all mean? Can we actually trust the figures used by goverenemtn and industry alike? As Nate Anderson (over at Ars Technica) puts it:
"The problem isn't that such calculations are done; they can serve as useful tools for industries and even for policymakers. But problems develop when the numbers are ripped from their original, provisional context by repetition and citation, eventually taking on the force of Fact. When such "facts" end up being used to make policy, the problems are compounded."
Statistics and facts are not always what they seem. Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science and regular Guardian writer, puts it slightly differently:
"As far as I’m concerned, everything from this industry is false, until proven otherwise”
I'm inclined to agree, but there is a worrying point to these examples of misreported statistics and over-inflated figures. If they go unchecked, they become powerful rhetorical strategies that can gain momentum and if repeated enough times in the right places can take on the appearance of 'truth' from which it is only 'common sense' to act accordingly. I wonder how successful the new PS3 actually is and are shareholders seeing the benefit of increased sales? Does this equate to more inward investment in the technology at both the software and hardware levels, and does this bring benefits to the end user? Can we really believe the figures bandied around by the recording industry and what are the consequences if they are not contested? Who benefits from being disconnected from the internet on the back of wild exaggerations?

Monday, 7 September 2009

Crowdsourcing the sources of a citizen journalism essay

In the second half of last year, I ran a Level 2 module called Cybercultures in which students were introduced to the study of cyberculture and some of the current debates being prompted by developments in digital technology. One of the weekly sessions looked at the role of citizen journalism and its impact on traditional/professional journalism. The assessment question set for this session was as follows:
It could be argued that only those with professional training should be allowed to publish news. Critically examine the threat posed by citizen journalism.
I have received an essay from a nameless source which seemed very well composed, but it lacked sources. The essay was submitted via our electronic plagiarism detection, aka EPD, (TurnItIn) which flagged the essay as 96% original which was unusual in itself, as the service cross checks work against several electronic databases and scholarly sources. Usually, student work tends to hover around the 75% original point, taking into account the inclusion of primary and secondary sources as citations.

In the past, marking essays often involved typing phrases into a search engine to see if they produced any similar results but this was time consuming - the new process is much quicker but not always fool proof. Not every academic source is logged by the EPD. Also, work that has been created via a service offering custom written students essays are capable of sidestepping this service as these pieces of work are seldom indexed by search engines, hence are unlikely to appear when searching for key phrases.

A modest proposal

Given the above point I'd like to run a little experiment. All students who submit work for assessment are required to sign a form or agree that the work they submit adheres to the University's regulations regarding infringement. Consequently, any student who pays for an essay has already broken those regulations, yet it is very difficult to prove as those pieces of work are seldom freely available online and are unlikely to ever appear so unless someone published them to the web. A student who has knowingly plagiarised or infringed would be unlikely to publish their work as they risk being penalised for doing so. However, if that essay is published to the web anonymously then 2 things can occur:

  1. The essay will eventually be picked up and indexed by search engines so any subsequent submission of similar content will be flagged against it
  2. Any readers familiar with the content may be able to spot gaps in the EPD database and assist in a crowdsourcing experiment
How should an educator respond to a piece of work that seems suspicious but is unable to locate the sources? Ignoring the material is not an option as it brings the reliability and validity of the assessment process into question and those students who produce their own original work may feel short changed if nothing is done about suspected violations.

Below, you will find an argument that hasn't been picked up by our EPD services. Neither does a random search for key lines bring up anything. This may be a plagiarised essay. However, it may also be a unique piece of work. If you can spot sections which seem notable, please get in touch either in the comments section below or by emailing me at


When looking at the threat posed by participatory media to professional practice, it is first necessary to understand the seeds of the former's existence, and the stance of the latter. The concept of professional training poses immediately the idea of the amateur, self-educated free media, the effect of which is a much discussed topic among authors, of books and blogs. Citizen journalism's slingshot into the public awareness brought with it not only the benefits, but faults and flaws within the system. Ultimately, that which it seeks to change, modify or rectify, that is the rigidity of professional journalism, can offer things from that structure, that the open-sourced public bank of information can not. To establish the threat that citizen journalism poses to the commercial media, an assessment must be made of its impact on the existing standard, and an evaluation conducted as to the weighting of the negative or positive connotations of said impact. The flaws in professional journalism are what drove the rise of citizen journalism if it is to be a threat to the very foundations of the professional industry, then it should not only correct these flaws, but prevent an overriding, more useful source of information.

The history of citizen journalism and its ascension to such status is a product of a direct marketing supply and demand idea. The general public called for an alternative to existing journalistic style, and the Web 2.0 generation provided it. Aaron Barlow explains that the defining property of Web 2.0 was the personalisation of the internet, it moved from a communication and information device, to a social networking media that connected thousands of people from all corners of the globe. He explains that whilst professional journalists felt the public were becoming increasingly wilfully ignorant “the citizen journalists believe there is a desire in the public for information that allows careful consideration of the issues” (Barlow, p.141). With regards to the news, the members of this internet revolution; the blogosphere arose as more and more people hosted their thoughts, opinions and observations in the virtual world. Commentary news blogs came forward into the public scope of view, as Baase discusses in A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal and Ethical Issues for Computing and the Internet, online blogs were popular because they “present a personal view; they are often funny and creative; they provide varied, sometimes quirky perspectives on current events” (Baase, 2008, p.5) allowing the reader to form a connection with the writer. The absolute lack of mainstream filtering and the independent presentation of the opinion seems genuine, therefore evoking common emotions and feelings among its readership. This quality is what led blogs to becoming so popular among the people of the population.

Initially scorned by members of the mainstream media as being unreliable and less than objective, Baase explains how blogs were first viewed almost as gossip columns (although it was argued by some that this could push mainstream journalists to excel in their work) then eventually came to be accepted as complementary to existing news sources, that they “demonstrated their influence by digging up information before the mainstream media did and by pushing stories the mainstream media did not publish. Bloggers detect and report errors, bias and digitally falsified news photos in mainstream media.” (Baase, 2008, p.6)

He explains that this drive to be impartial, or to at least highlight flaws in professional impartiality, led to their popularisation and soon businesses and organisations realised the potential of blogs to inform and communicate with their consumers. The readership of some blogs is now in the hundreds of thousands, often peaking to millions when a particularly important new story breaks. Baase makes the interesting point that many of those bloggers at the forefront of their newly defined industry, are being hailed not only as near-celebrities, but as respected industry professionals, often given invitations to press conferences, fashion shows, art galleries and the various related media events usually populated by journalists (Baase, 2008, p.5). This new definition of status has taken bloggers out of the virtual world and cemented their status within the real community.

Blogging has become, not only a social and cultural phenomenon, but a legitimate opposer to the multi-conglomerate media centres such as the likes of the Rupert Murdoch group of publications. Stuart Allan looks at the seeds of blogging in more detail with regards to the negative public opinion of traditional journalism. He suggests that its popularity rose as it stood firmly as an alternative, indeed a remedy, to the faults of established journalism, perceived to be restrictive or misleading. Stuart Allan suggests that this comes from journalists’ apathy toward their audience, that there is “a certain degree of ambivalence about opinion polls” (Allan, 2005, p.100). Indeed, he goes so far as to suggest that journalists ignore public opinion and are guilty of staying too close to the factual aspect of reports and ignoring the wishes of the public. Whilst the professionals would argue that news should not be driven by the consumer, it is the consumer they are providing for and unfortunately, without answering the call, the industry would die.

Perhaps the best way to analyse the impact, and therefore any proposed threat, of reader interaction with news reports is to observe the journalistic participation of victims of global natural and terrorist disasters. For example, the Tsunami that struck the East on Christmas Eve 2004, Hurricane Katrina that struck New Orleans, America in 2005 and events such as the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York, America and the 07/07 London attack in England. In both sets of circumstances, evidence of the drive for normal citizens to record and broadcast the experience is apparent. Videos, still images, recorded interviews and statements provided news content to explain the situation to the watching public. Here, it can be observed that the news became not just a factual report, not even a witness statement, but an actual live recording of an event, first hand. In this, those citizens who chose to record and document their experiences placed themselves in the line of danger as would a highly trained war-time correspondents, overriding a biological drive to escape and survive, instead, they chose to record and broadcast.

The worry of professional journalists lies not in recording of events, as any footage or recollection of a situation contributes to the general public awareness of world-events, but in the analysis and discussion of the happenings. The concern of maintained objectivity arises as communities reporting on local events will ultimately by affected by the consequences and therefore, even unintentionally, biased toward the situation. Andrew Keen, in his book The Cult of the Amateur raises the idea that this loss of pure truth arises “because democratization, despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience, and talent.” (Keene, 2007, p.15)

Only those with professional training in remaining morally, ethically and (perhaps most importantly in the modern age) legally just, can seek to comment fairly and abstractly on a news issue. Keene likens the modern users of Web 2.0 to monkeys, typing away in “an infinite universe” (Keene, 2007, p.15), generating an endless stream of personal truths. Instead of there existing a factual, definite truth, each person takes and gives to the collective Web 2.0 knowledge, “shattering the world into a billion personalized truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile”. (Keene, 2007, p.17) Truth has become an amalgamation of people's personal opinion, distributed onto a virtual storage system with no moderator, no censor, no fact-checker. The possible emergence of such a regulatory figure of organisation is discussed by Dan Gillmor, who looks at services like Technorati and Feedster, that browse and search web content and “may enable “consumers” of journalism to sort through the opinionated conversations and assemble something resembling reality, or maybe even truth” (Gillmor, 2006, p.42).

Hailing such tools as the pioneer of content screening, a kind of intelligent RSS, he is however, keen to point out the flaw in the system; that they are simply just tools. They cannot replace either journalism or user-generated content as they cannot assure the core values of journalism; “fairness, accuracy and thoroughness” (Gillmor, 2006, p.42), or span the full scope of the available public media.

With this in mind, it can be seen that citizen journalism, whilst an exciting new medium for the delivery of news information, also has its faults. The main problem it faces is that, unlike professional journalism, it has no code of conduct or set of underlying principles that it must abide by. Richard Keeble explains in Ethics for Journalists that professional journalism bases its ethics on a multitude of various codes of practice, each with the same underlying core values of truth and respect (Keeble, 2001, pp.14-15). Citizen, democratic journalism is not the result of formal training in the rights and wrongs of informing the general public of other people's business morally and legally. In such, it often becomes a melee of rumour and assumption; a free-for-all where any opinion has the same amount of credibility and value as any other. Martin & Hansen examine various critical approaches on this issue, drawing the conclusion that “it isn't that people can't get diverse information swiftly; it's that people can't decided what is significant, relevant and useful while dispensing with unwanted information” (Martin & Hansen, 1998, p.45). That, unfortunately, is the core issue; that without professional investigation, reported events are relayed as opinion and supposition. We expect the news to tell us the truth, but if our trust in journalists is waning, why should we turn to the public arena. What credibility does it posses that we hold it more reliable than the word of those trained to be objective, who seek to be accurately informed. Only professional practice can offer trained, impartial opinion on news, or any other issues. The conveyance of facts and figures, in a delicate situation, is best left to those who have studied the law and ethics of such problems.

Perhaps then, the answer is not to look on citizen journalism as a threat, but instead as a balanced opposer to professional practice; as independent film-makers are to Hollywood production companies. What must not be allowed is for the mass media to replace professional practice and become the sole source of information. Maybe the threats of citizen journalism should be considered not as threats, but additions. The balance of company-funded journalists with the constraints of public publishing, who may be tempted toward bias or corruption, with the free, community sourced media. The rigid limitations of the former cancelled, or harmonised by the latter. Equally, the professional deficit of training in law and ethics can be enforced by those journalists who have studied their craft. In all media; photography, writing, music, art, there are professionals and amateurs who interact within the same space of coverage, why can this not exist in journalism? This balance between those who are trained and those not, keeps the level of work produced as a whole interesting, with tight technical proficiency, balanced by freshness and work that breaks through boundaries, challenging the landscape of the craft. Citizen journalism challenges professional practice, forcing it to change, to acknowledge its own faults and be proud of its standing as a valuable source of information. The two offer to each other a method of self-analysis, a check and balance system for an assessment of how their work matches to their intent.

Since the rise of citizen journalism, spurred by the Web 2.0 generation, professional journalism has constantly faced an opposition. What citizen journalism offers to the general public is a chance for them to speak out on issues they feel need to be brought to public attention. It also allows the 'common man' to question the motives and sources of commercial reporters, either due to bias or inaccuracy. Not only this, but it offers a free, open exchange of information and opinions. However, with this comes the problem of unregulated media. Without an independently fact-checking source, the independent articles within the free media have no validation as to their accuracy, nor can they be excused of bias. As a whole, it offers every viewpoint, every position on an issue, but it the responsibility then lies with the reader to assess the piece objectively. Professional journalism removes this need as its practitioners are trained and expected to remain objective. Unfortunately, individuals may not uphold this, but the free media is not a solution, more a balanced weighing tool.

Allan, S. (2005) Journalism ; Critical issues. McGraw-Hill International.

Baase, S. (2008) A gift of fire: social, legal, and ethical issues for computing and the Internet. Prentice Hall.

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