Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tabloids - (mis)understanding class in the UK

Strong comments have been made about all kinds of morality, with appeals to "journalistic ethics" in the News of the World phone hacking scandal. Now that the story has moved to include accusations that London's Mirror newspaper also utilized hacking and digitally devious methods to gather and manipulate information, there are a few things we need to reconsider.

It is fair to say that UK tabloids are based on the continuation of the British class system. How else can the continuation of a system that is ill-informed about decency and civility flourish? There is a gap between our understanding of journalism as informed reportage of  everyday life and journalism as the intentional manipulation of information and affect (emotions).

Journalistic education at the university level is about the former. Tabloid activity addresses the latter.

Tabloids are for people whose lives operate at the level of the immediate everyday, where emotion is the primary source of information. It is at this point that the internet exerts a powerful pull because it offers emancipation from the barriers of rationality, logic, regulation or law. This is where new definitions of proletarianization can be operationalized.

Tabloids reproduce the class bias of irrationality. Proletarianization offers a way of understanding how journalism is "degraded" from the standards of "journalistic ethics" which are laughable when applied to tabloids. Journalistic ethics cannot coexist with the internet.  

There is massive cognitive dissonance when journalistic academics and critics intone about university standards like "journalistic ethics" in the context of News of the World or tabloids in general. The disconnect is massive.

For academics this is a dilemma. Universities exist to train middle class professionals and thereby socialize them into systems of thought and behavior that reproduce the values of civility. (That's why a fascist university would be an oxymoron).

Why did universities fully emerge after the Enlightenment? Before the Enlightenment, in the tenth and eleventh century universities were exclusively a part of the literate class and belonged to the priests and monastery monks who wrote and read, then told the people what to believe (and give us your money while you are at it!). The rise of secular knowledge came with the Enlightenment, the printing press and Martin Luther's suggestion that people could read the Bible for themselves and make decisions for themselves: free will. Universities emerged in this space and we still enjoy the pleasure of liberal education for this reason.

Does this have anything to do with tabloids? It suggests that freedom from standards imposed by university educated journalists is embedded in tabloids and the digital. People who own tabloids knowingly generate material to feed the emotional needs of the uneducated. It's good for business and no reviews, reports, inquiries or regulations will be able to reconfigure the appeal to class-based emotions in tabloids.

For universities training journalists, there are no courses in tabloidization. However, in business schools that's where we teach students how to get at those tabloid emotions.

Pop culture is another story.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Wilful blindness" and News International - old and new on the internet

Is is possible to get a handle on the goings-on around News International? Surely anyone who watched the interviews of Rupert and James Murdoch, Rebecca (look at my big, red hair!) Brooks to the UK House of Commons, Culture, Media and Sports Committee on Tuesday 19 July, 2011 would be hard pressed to reach any conclusion but one - this is a massive organization run by hundreds of ambitious managerial neophytes who do whatever they can to impact the bottom line.

No one in civil society, with its laws that demand certain decency standards, expects to see and hear executives say they do not know what the neophytes do! But there it was. Perhaps on this basis alone, News International as a company, is too big.

The best question of the day was the one about "wilful blindness."

Q 269 Mr Sanders: "Finally, are you familiar with the term "wilful blindness?"
James Murdoch: "Mr. Sanders, would you care to elaborate?
Q270 Mr Sanders: "It is a term that came up in the Enron scandal. Wilful blindness is a legal term. It states that if there is knowledge that you could have had and should have had, but chose not to have, you are still responsible."

It could be the touchstone for any discussion of corporate analysis in the context of digital communications. The point is not to discuss the details of the Murdochs and Rebecca Brooks et. al., but to understand how "wilful blindness" translates into the communications and media fields.

(Can someone please count the number of times Rupert and James admitted that they did not know, or had no knowledge of, or were unaware of? If this is not willful blindness, then is it incompetence? These are important questions for media, to which civil society entrusts the informing, entertaining and education of citizens. Then again, the very idea of civil society itself must be in debate because the internet suggests new theories of civil society, namely that of a global state of flux.)

The task is to recognize how the internet may enhance "wilful blindness," making it possible for new types of behavior to come into play. These types of behavior, as my theory of proletarianization suggests, are the unregulated ones: the values and ideologies that civil society has previously managed. By managed I mean suppressed. (Note that Rupert Murdoch himself mentioned human nature in the hearing.)

Like all astute people, Rupert's mention of human nature is utilized as a countervailing strategy to avoid responsibility for doing things that are unacceptable in civil society. If people are fundamentally interested in human nature, then the media must engage in the presentation of weakness, of evil and of good, which are its characteristics. According to this world view, people are viewed as fundamentally good or evil and it is here where the business opportunity arises. The argument goes that business is merely meeting and channeling human nature. The role of business, of the media, is to recognize that and allow it to flourish. This is liberty, the characteristic of emancipation.

At the time it was used at News of the World and elsewhere in News International, phone hacking was a means of exposing human nature.

If you have read this far, you will know that you do not need to be Einstein to realize where this line of thinking leads. It leads to excess, to admitting and allowing human nature to flourish, regardless of the consequences.

In the unregulated internet domain, you allow human nature to flourish and you do so by not applying old ideas like "wilful blindness" because that's irrelevant in the new era. It's a wonderful circuit of syntactical logic, cultural politics and the displacement of Enlightenment ideas.    

Any review of the phone hacking scandal could utilize "wilful blindness" as an analytical tool with which to evaluate the phone hacking activities. It would be a way of elaborating on the political economy of the media.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Proletarianization, News of the World - political economy

Proletarianization insists on analysis of the formation of new social relations due to digital communications. As an unregulated space, the internet is the game changer as News International is discovering.

The UK House of Commons hearings of Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebecca Brooks will come and go - watch for the appeals to Enlightenment values. West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller is quoted (July 13, 2011) as saying that News Corp's "reported hacking" is "a serious breach of journalistic ethics."  The Foreign Corporate Practices Act has been invoked by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, because a US based company, such as News Corporation cannot bribe foreign officials.

Are these analog values? We see pre-internet and post- internet values such as dignity, "the right thing," collective interests, compassion, civility clash with prurience, privacy, individualism, narcissism, aggression. All of these values already exist, but in the internet context they have newly independent power to circulate without regulation.  The clash is more intense. Who or what mediates the values in circulation on the internet?  (What happens to "journalistic ethics" as a category? In fact, isn't it better to reveal wrong doing -however that is now defined - using digital means?)

Answers to these questions have answers in political economy, defined here as the relationship between social, economic and public policy.

Internet values reflect a massive shift. They unravel the past, making more transparent the present, freed from legal and regulatory structures. The political economy of this change is profound, as proletarianization suggests. The emancipation that the media offers in its association with social and economic opportunity also creates the conditions for the rise of values that are not at once intellectually, socially or historically associated with progressive ideas. Emancipation is a complex thing.

For example, News International's use of digital phone hacking in the unregulated internet space, can be seen as the manifestation of its claim to emancipation from old regulations. This is the political economy of the digital and why it is attractive to business.

Take another example, the cable television industry. This generally unregulated  (not public) space is not constrained by established free to air television regulations. It's a great business because it offers emancipation from the public space of broadcast television and its regulations.

In ever increasing increments - how much a consumer is prepared to pay for cable and any digitally defined content - it is possible to imagine ever increasing levels of emancipation. You pay and in return you get more profanity, more nudity, more violence, more connectivity... Can this be considered a development in emancipation? This is the trajectory of emancipation and it is where proletarianization operates in the digital era. Forget the old analogue values.

News Corporation executives believed they were free of the old analog rules. They believed, apparently mistakenly, that it was permissible to hack into private phone calls and personal records because it was the internet. The unregulated space. Oops! Did the Enlightenment and its values come back to bite them?

For another take on the culture of News Corporation here is a You Tube link sent by Hans Sagan

Uprising: The Internet's Unintended Consequences

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Proletarianization, Les Hinson, News of the World - evidence

Proletarianization in action - the internet, the uneducated and News International

"If Rupert Murdoch asked me to get him his lunch I still will."

Back in the day when I worked for News Corporation's suburban newspapers in metropolitan Melbourne, Australia, Les Hinson was "the man." Or perhaps it was the talisman? He was the standard for success in News Corporation - total, unmitigated loyalty. Like Rebecca Brooks who allegedly started as a receptionist somewhere in the bowels of News (Hinson as a 15 year old copy boy), these executives were uneducated. No university is mentioned in their bios. In fact, Hinson may not have completed high school.

Both Hinson (most recently chief executive of Dow Jones, Wall Street Journal)  and Brooks have resigned from News International.

My first point and I will return to this later, is that Hinson, the outstanding "lieutenant" and Brooks, were  bereft of any theoretical framework with which to view their obligations to the corporation. In polite society where corporations are given carte blanche to do pretty well anything as long as they are not caught, loyalty is the only required quality.

Hinson claimed he was "ignorant" of the hacking at NOW when he was running the London operation.

This is a subset of my theory of proletarianization - the absence of Enlightenment principles like civility and compassion give way to anything that advances the bottom line. Ignorance is just a short hand way of admitting to and absence of curiosity: the condition of the untrained mind. The internet makes thess bottom line objectives of willful ignorance without civility or compassion more possible because it is unregulated - meaning there is no recourse to the standards of civil society. The uneducated can invoke this much better than anyone else because they have no theory, no moral compass. Their compass is loyalty... The banality of loyalty...Hanah Arendt anybody?

Hinson gave a talk on March 10, 2011 at Boston College's CEO Club which is where the epigraph comes from. Titled "News, Information and Technology: The New Age of Collective Intelligence," the talk is full of the kind of self-serving self interest that long term watchers of the internet have come to expect.

In reporting the talk The Boston Globe (July 16, 2011, page A3) drew attention to Hinson's comment, highlighted by the CEO Club: "Everything we know about news and information is changing - what it is, where it comes from how we consume it, and what we can trust."

That's why they pay him the big bucks!

This is why proletarianization theory is a powerful tool for understanding what's happening here. There are no rules and News Corporation used the unregulated, (can I say?) lawless world of the internet to enter the space of change.  This is the "creative destruction" world where business opportunities and new social relations are made and magnified - Joseph Schumpeter was right.  As I noted in an earlier blog, the original News International  blog scandal was in the earlier 2000s, specifically 2005 when there was even less understanding of the new internet domain.

Rebecca Brooks and Les Hinson "oversaw" the use of internet-based activities to hack phone calls and it seems, took private files of everyone from Jude Law, Elle Macpherson and the former British PM Gordon Brown. Apparently Hinson is married to a former adviser to Gordon Brown! This is a study in the culture of loyalty at News Corporation and elsewhere. In the unregulated world of proletarianization, loyalty maximization is always invoked.

But wait - more evidence of what really matters in the highly structured world of the Enlightenment past appears in The Guardian. Rupert Murdoch, on July 15 personally apologized to the Dowlers, the parents of Mill, the murdered girl whose phone NOW's people hacked. Here we get back to basics -    

Lewis (their lawyer) said Milly's parents, Sally and Bob, and her sister, Gemma, had told Murdoch his newspapers "should lead the way to set the standard of honesty and decency in the field and not what had gone on before".
Murdoch had replied that the News of the World's actions were "not the standard set by his father, a respected journalist, not the standard set by his mother", Lewis said.

With the internet, this appeal for going backwards to earlier principles of moral certainty will not have much appeal.

As a Melbourne boy and a former employee of Murdoch's News Corporation, I know how close Rupert Murdoch and his family are. There's a mountain of sentiment there. My experience suggests that his mother has told him to get the house in order. He will try to make Enlightenment principles part of his quest for salvation.

Proletarianization suggests that the internet will put paid to such a quest and to News Corporation as it has been known. Rupert Murdoch will start by hiring educated executives to run his business.

Uprising: The Internet's Unintended Consequences by Marcus Breen

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

News International - old media faces new media

As of today - July 13, 2011- News International is seeing its global business footprint unravel. Forget News of the World (it's folded anyway) and The Sun and The Financial Times, all London-based News International vehicles owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Perhaps the real news comes from Australia where John Hartigan, Chief Executive of News Limited, the Australian parent (?) of News International issued a statement that included the following:
"I have absolutely no reason to suspect any wrongdoing at News Limited. However, I believe it is essential that we can all have absolute confidence that ethical work practices are a fundamental requirement of employment at News Limited."

Hartigan shows the disadvantages of not having studied semiotics: the study of the meaning of language connotations. A denial like this is as good as an admission. Or as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet:  "...protest too much..." suggesting that in the popular vocabulary the protest is an admission that something is in fact wrong.
Opponents of News Corporation/Limited/International and its multitudinous offspring are appearing more confident than ever to hit the injured, thrashing animal. Hartigan has not followed Winston Churchill's admission to never surrender, then not followed American business ethics to never admit wrong doing or the old saw, " say nothing do nothing."  

David K. Johnson has reported and then it was re-reported on National Public Radio on (July 13, an agenda setting strategy) that "News" paid no taxation but made money from tax breaks and gains from various financial transactions based in non-tax havens. News was paid almost $5billion in tax refunds, through tax haven subsidiaries, according to the report.

And "News" has withdrawn it bid to takeover BSkyB in the UK. 

Remember where this started - hacking new media cell phones! 

The unregulated use of digital media of which BSkyB is a part as a satellite provider, has relevance to proletarianization. In fact, proletarianization is at the core of this story. If total immersion in unregulated media excess is advocated - and Rupert Murdoch and his cohort have advocated self-regulation, a trope for no regulation - the result is what they now see: a collision with established values of decency, civility and respect for bourgeois sensibilities. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

News of the World, News International and the so called clean up

The Guardian has been extraordinary in its coverage of the NOW story especially given that it has seen the story escalate to a crisis for News International and the Murdoch family. 

Former Labour Member of Parliament and policy maker Peter Mandelson published a well considered piece in The Guardian on July 11, suggesting five ways to avoid what I have described as proletarianization.

He offers a variety of standard managerial solutions, which any established white male would be expected to support. Then he adds the truth that will make the entire edifice of contemporary media obsolete.  
"Fifth, digitise the process. Technology has shone a much brighter light on the nooks and crannies of public life. Public bodies should be much more open about media inquiries. Media organisations should be obliged to publish online the extent to which they check stories and the full response they receive, including whole email trails if appropriate. Articles that are subject to complaints should be clearly flagged on newspaper websites. If the process of scrutiny becomes more visible and easy to follow, fact-checking and reporting will quickly improve. ...
Utilising technology to create greater transparency and using a system of newspaper fines when pre-publication intervention has failed will give the public greater confidence."

Proletarianization theory suggests that it is precisely in the digital - the internet - that the challenge exists. While shining more light on the situation as Mandelson suggests, the situation will become more intensified, more outrageous to established tastes and standards of decency and ultimately rapidly move towards its own demise. Yes there will be scrutiny, but I suspect you don't want this kind of scrutiny where old standards like privacy cease to exist.

Mandelson's suggestions for reform indicate that he does not get it. Applying analogue policy ideas to the digital domain is like applying a horse analogy to the space shuttle.

 Welcome to the internet.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Proletarianization and News of the World

Proletarianization as it currently operates in the digital domain - the unregulated circulation of everything that can be digitized - can be observed in the phone hacking controversy at News International's News of the World, which closes Sunday 10 July.

The English have been particularly enthusiastic about the benefits of minimal regulation in the media space, believing that the best way to advance economic growth is via Chicago School market economic orthodoxy. (Tony Blair's New Labour was all about this, as is the totalizing agreement by social democrats pretty well everywhere. That subject is not the topic of this post.) Since Margaret Thatcher from the late 1980s on, English political ideals have been about removing as much of the welfare-statist system from the polity as possible and this includes any regulations at all. This is the ideology that allows the individual to maximize all their benefits, regardless of the previously existing standards of human interaction.

This latter characteristic when linked to demands for reducing regulation must be included in any full description of proletarianization.

News Of the World's efforts at breaking big stories by using leads and rumors created by hacking into mobile phone data bases and altering them was a masterstroke. It met the basic demand of News International as the epitome of market rationality - and it sold newspapers. If every human action is determined by economic concerns, then phone hacking was merely the means to the end. And so what? There were no laws, no regulations, nothing that suggested that this should not be done.

Of course, altering the phone records to make it possible for journalists to create falsehoods about news stories is in a class of moral turpitude all its own. But only after the fact. Or should that be facts? Once the full context about the so-called stories was revealed, then the stories were shown up for what they really were - fantasms of market manipulation.

Proletarianization offers a  magnifying glass through which to examine these events.

No regulation of the digital space, the internet means that any action can be attempted in this new "zone." From the perspective of proletarianization, News's action was understandable because it was operating  in the unregulated zone which "everyone" knew was the exciting new digital space where information was "free." For News Corporation that meant freedom from the tired ideas of modernist moral organization, liberty from the standards of decency and  emancipation from responsibility towards others. (When the market is everything and you are only responsible to yourself andf your family, then the tired ideas of the past, such as regulation aimed at managing the excesses of human nature, are always considered a constraint on business, improvement, growth...).But how quickly people caught operating against the modernist (or Enlightenment) standards return to them.

 Look at some of James Murdoch's claims from his July 7 statement:
In addition, I have decided that all of the News of the World’s revenue this weekend will go to good causes.
While we may never be able to make up for distress that has been caused, the right thing to do is for every penny of the circulation revenue we receive this weekend to go to organisations – many of whom are long-term friends and partners – that improve life in Britain and are devoted to treating others with dignity."
Claims to high minded liberal modernism. He could have been quoting John Wesley, the founder of Methodism in England.

The hacking events appear to have taken place in 2005. Given that and in retrospect, it is feasible to see the events in the light of the great big new vista of digital entrepreneurship. For News Corporations this is the gold standard - using whatever is available to make the market work in its favor. Dignity?

Jettisoning established standards and utilizing the digital to claim space in the zone is the new standard.

What happened in the News of the World case is that the News International executive Rebecca Brooks and James Murdoch forgot the phrase John Pilger made famous - "Truth is the first casualty." Curiously, no one else cared - including the readers - until the elaboration of the hacking emerged. Suddenly, faceless technical guys were altering phone records and pretending that the "truth" was what they had constructed. Everything is OK until you're caught.


I started this post writing about proletarianization. I have ended up in a curious place.What is the relationship between truth and proletarianization? Can the truth can be revealed in the unregulated zone? Would this truth be truth as it is classically defined, or the truth according to News Corporation and News of the World. I'd suggest that "the truth" is what we know outside of the determining logic of the marketplace. And yet it is a massively grey field of discourse that needs to be carefully defined in each situation in which it appears because we may never be outside the logic of the market.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Developments in proletarianization theory

News that the African Union has refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Court to demand the arrest of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi confirms the deepening rift between the west and the rest. The report from Associated Press appeared in the New York Times on July 2.

You'd think that this rift between Africa and the west would be maximum news and provoke much hand wringing. But no. As the saying goes, " No one cares."

Such cynicism would be deeply troubling if it was not understood as a combination of the balkanization of the west against the developing world - or sections of it at least - and the emergence of proletarian interests. By the latter I mean the increasingly large numbers of people and nations (including Russia and China) that have diminishing interests in western constructs of liberalism.

Enlightenment notions of rationalism produced the structures of western bourgeois liberalism. The courts, churches,  businesses, police, the state, civil society all coexisting are giving way to alternative sectarian systems. This aspect of proletarianization is characterized by the way it is promoted and mobilized by the internet.

Sadly, NATO and the US appear to be united on the utility of bombing the sovereign government of Libya into submission, assuming that Gaddaffi's government will give way to western styled democracy. The internet assures me that this cannot happen. Instead, the ongoing war or whatever it will be will be a thoroughly fragmented system of tribalist interests. The connectivity of people through the internet will lead to continued refusal to cooperate with the west's constructs, as proletarianization finds it energy through communication.

I suspect that many if not most recent uprisings have been the result of new communication technologies making it possible for a confused mess of non-elitist interests to be mobilized. The "confused mess" is now the standard system for understanding national organizations. In fact, the emergence of proletarianization means that the internet makes it possible for even tiny tribal interests to be organized around their own self-interests. Nations will increasingly be massively policed becoming police states, militarized to within a millimeter of the death of civil society.

Massive counter-western forms of social life are emerging and it is clear that proletarianization will become the standard operating method. Democracy may be shown to be a multi-headed hydra as well as a system that refuses the modernist imagination of the west. Alternatives to Enlightenment liberal bourgeois forms of social order are already in the beta stages of innovation.

More theoretical work sorely needed...