Wednesday, February 29, 2012

James Murdoch leaves the UK - News goes for TV and Rupert Tweets

Whoever said the world is a simple place has been disconnected. Following the continuing unravelling of News International / Corporation in the UK, it is a challenge to get one's head around the entire enterprise of this "family business."

Here is a smattering of news from this date: March 1, 2012. All the news embodies aspects of the digital -
  • James Murdoch resigns even as the UK Government inquiry continues into digital phone hacking News of the World (NOW, closed); 
  • moving from newspapers to TV, which is converged digital video / applications by any other name; 
  • Rupert Murdoch tweeting;
  • members of the Inquiry tweeting him!
A non-digital aspect to the story stream is the news that Rebecca Brooks, former NOW editor saved a horse from the glue factory.!/rupertmurdoch/status/174810157082091520  This was Rupert Murdoch tweeting, so back to the digital. (This is, I'd suggest, a perfect communicative strategy for dedicated conservatives like the Murdochs - talk about animals in distress.)

James Murdoch has resigned as executive chairperson of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of News Corporation.  At least one commentator - Michael Wolff, author of a recent Rupert Murdoch biography - suggested that James may face time in prison for his role in the hacking business. For such a possibility to play out, there will need to be a significant collapse of elite support for News - that may in fact be occuring.

Such an outcome would be the result of utilizing the Internet in the newspaper domain.

The standards for Internet behaviour in the un-regulated digital domain are or have been, unknown. You could do anything you wanted on the Internet - including hacking people's phones. The default is to rely on Enlightenment legalities about decency and civility - that is, allow people privacy on their telephones. (Frankly, you cannot blame the so-called journalists employed on English tabloids for doing anything but what their bosses instructed them to do or whatever was necessary to get the story. If I am correct, many of these "journalists" are uneducated well connected young people for whom the terms "critical thinking," "reflection" and "academics" are totally unfamiliar terms.  Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the Banality of  Evil offers a take on this. A reading of Arendt on Eichmann should let the implications of "I was just following orders" explain itself to this generation of the mindless).

In many ways the Leveson Inquiry is an attempt to claw back the idea of civility in the face of the digital. A similar claw back took place in the US after the commercialization of the Internet and the Telecommunication Act of 1996, with the Copyright Millenium Act, the Digital Decency Laws, Children protection laws and a multitude of other post-factum efforts to regulate the otherwise unreglated. (See Uprising for more on this).

 I want to draw attention to what is possible in the uncivilized twittersphere. I want to repeat here the tweet from the Levenson Inquiry Committee Member Tom Watson after Rupert Murdoch tweeted about the horse.!/tom_watson/status/174811123030298625
"@rupertmurdoch You comment on her horse but not on her insider knowledge of a criminal investigation into your company. Have you no shame?"
Then again, maybe this is more of the same: is the appeal to "shame" anything more than an appeal to the civility of Enlightened values?
News Corporation is planning to focus on television. This is understandable given that so much quality visual media is around. Given what I have seen in the 3D and games platforms dimensions, it is only going to become more engaging and immersive, perhaps even transformational. The size of the global market for Internet-based communication is vast.

Rupert Murdoch in his letter about James's resignation said:
"He has demonstrated leadership and continues to create great value at Star TV, Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia, and BSkyB. Now that he has moved to New York, James will continue to assume a variety of essential corporate leadership mandates, with particular focus on important pay-TV businesses and broader international operations."

 It may as well say digital video.  Is it really possible for James Murdoch to end up in prison? If so he will have plenty of TV to watch, much of it very, very good! Complex indeed.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Proletarianization meets News Corporation

The end of journalism as an ethical practice continues. At least this could be the conclusion reached by the unravelling of News Corporation in the face of the UK government's Leveson Inquiry into the media. (I have blogged on this previously.) There is not much room to believe in the future of newspapers as established institutions for information, as the story continues to emerge about the way News Corporation journalists in the UK collected news.

They appeared to take two roads: they used whomever they could to hack into mobile phones to illicitly collect private information and secondly, they paid police and UK Ministry of Defence officials for secret information. Both sources were used to create news and sell papers.

According to old school moralists, this is not acceptable. The clear message from the moral gate keepers is that established standards of journalism should prevail even while the Internet makes that ideology obsolete. It's a case of attempting to reproduce nineteenth century reporting standards in the twenty first century of digital feeds. The two do not fit together. They cannot fit together.

Curiously, The Guardian newspapers persists with the idea that News Corporation is the embodiment of immorality. 

The story in The Guardian on 11 February 2012 - apart from its self-serving claims to holier-than-thou status - was instructive because of the sheer joy The Guardian appears to derive from seeing News Corporation in trouble.  With a headline like this, why bother asking readers to read on?

"Murdoch media empire engulfed in scandal as Scotland Yard net spreads."

The more significant comment was this line in the story:
 Following the first set of arrests, a News International source suggested it was intent on "draining the swamp", a comment that provoked fury among the company's journalists.

Draining the swamp of what? It would be correct to assume that the higher ups in News Corporation have determined that they can get back to old fashioned journalism if they can just rid themselves of the crooks in the organization.

More strident critics than me would suggest that the entire ediface of News Corporation is a swamp. A more accurate interpretation could be that the organization may be finished as a global newspaper player because the Murdoch model of newspapers cannot be sustained, not because a few toads got into the pond to mess up an obsolete moral universe.

The fact remains that cell phones and new technology make something of a mockery of print media and its journalistic standards, even though print media continues and in some parts of the world is growing. (Latin America and parts of Asia). Draining the swamp would mean some kind of effort to find lilly-white journalists who rely on ethics as it once was. The internet has made that approach impossible.

Proletarianization means that the dirt circulates without the kinds of controls News Corporation wants to put in place. It can drain the swamp all it likes. The circulation of the vicious, the vindictive and the venemous is already here. Pretending that some kind of swamp draining will work is a fools errand.