Tag Archives: media

Death of the Narrative: A Radio News Perspective

Jane working the early morning hours at 570News (circa 2009)
Jane working the early morning hours at 570News (circa 2009)

This morning I am struck by a strong sense of time and narrative. Triggered by what, I’m not yet sure. Whether it’s because just this week I noticed a few grey hairs on my head, (for who knows how long; it just snuck up on me). Or whether it’s because my teenage daughter is now starting to fight with me the same way I used to fight with my mother, with a hint of condescension as if to say, “what the heck do you know anyway?-you’re out of touch”. Or, whether it’s the 1993 video veteran newscaster Dick Smyth shared this week of our 680News team in the early days of the first 24/7 news wheel format in Canada. I sense that it’s this latter scenario drawing me in, provoking a strong need to reflect on the perception of time, narrative, and what it does to the psyche. But first, a little background story.

In March of 1988 I was a high school senior partying in Cuba over Spring Break, living in the moment, not thinking too hard about what I really wanted to do after graduation. There were close to fifty other teens who came together from various regions in Ontario, all feeling the same way. We were escaping our futures, holding on to the moment, and to our youth. One of the teens from our small 10-member Niagara group would go on to embrace the future the following year, marrying a co-worker at her part-time student workplace. Still another would go on to serve in the Canadian military, dying 15 years later in Afghanistan from an improvised explosive device going off underneath the Armed forces’ light armoured vehicle he was traveling in. But these were not the potential realities we were thinking about in Cuba. Excited by our new-found independence and celebration of youth as a collective group, we spent the nights drinking and talking, and the days sleeping on the beach.

One late night we let “living in the moment” slip. A boy from Cambridge talked about his plans to go to college for Radio Broadcasting. It was all I could think about for the rest of the trip. What was I going to do with my life? Shortly after I returned home, the sun melted the Spring ice and a TV crew showed up on our door to film my mother for a gardening episode on TVO. I got some advice from a young crew member and set my sights on applying to Ryerson and getting a co-op placement at the local radio station.

At CHSC, the afternoon news anchor and later, my friend Ed Eldred took a chance on me and sent me out to do a story on the tall ships that had sailed into the Welland locks. I found a young sailor who invited me to sit and listen to stories of his travels and description of what a typical day was like living on the ship. It is this first interview that remains ingrained in my memory, succeeded only by a handful of others including an interview with the sister of NHL hockey player Brian Bellows. A strong spirited survivor, Sandy wanted to reach out to other young women after she was raped and savagely beaten in the snowy woods by serial rapist and murderer Peter John Peters. She had lived because a retired police officer overheard her screams of terror and rescued her, and she now had a strong desire to tell her story. I held two pieces of ID up to the window while two dobermans sniffed enthusiastically at the cracks of the door before being let in for a 2 ½ hour interview.

I joined the 680 News team right after graduation. In fact, Dick’s video was taken on the day Jamie Munroe and I had to leave work early to attend convocation. With the fresh 24/7 news wheel format, we were now responsible for getting news out around the clock and by the second. I often think back on this time as the moment radio reporting died for me (though I continued to anchor off and on). Instead of meeting with people and really hearing their narrative, the immediacy of the new format largely forced us into gathering sound bytes with man-on-the-street and over-the-phone interviews. Since that time, other shifts have worked to reinforce its death. Our evolving technology has combined with our post 20th century desire to live in the moment, acting like a hammer hitting the final nail on the coffin of the style of radio reporting I fell in love with almost 25 years ago.

I do not mourn the passing of the radio medium as a major news source sent into the back corners, but rather the passing of a public’s narrative and with it the echoes of empathy heard through the recounted stories of those we connected with; those we took the time to hear. Much the same demise has played out on our 24/7 news television screens, turned by audience desire for immediacy and entertainment. Many of you may argue with me, citing the unusual full-length playing of Charles Ramsey’s step-by-step account of how he saved three kidnapped women and a child from confinement. You may say, “the narrative isn’t dead. They even played the full 2 ½ minutes of Ramsey’s interview this week during a radio newscast”. I can’t help but hope there is a fraction of the public seeking to revive the narrative, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s entertainment they’re after.

Sunday May 12, 2013 Update

More evidence that the narrative is taking a hit for the sake of its audience comes in the Toronto Star today with media analyst Robert Thompson saying, “Basic rules need to be taught, not only on consuming media but how people themselves use media in these completely democratized ways. And that would include a sense of ethics, even if you are not a professional journalist.”

The article is largely about how news outlets keep getting the big news wrong time after time with the pressure to publish first. Coincidentally, the Toronto Star obviously failed to re-read before publishing. Reporter Mitch Potter used direct quotations for a person named Bleier twice. However, Robert Thompson is the man who should have been quoted throughout. He is the director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Centre for Television and Popular Culture. The use of “Bleier calls the rush of…” and “said Bleier” shows that even the Toronto Star can’t seem to write an article on journalistic mistakes without making mistakes of their own.


The Other Side of the Microphone: I’m the One Being Interviewed


On September 14, 2010 I was interviewed on two CBC morning talk shows about my documentary. I discussed how as a result of my research, I am allowing students to use cell phones in the class room so that I can teach them proper social etiquette, digital citizenship, and help them learn how to manage their compulsion to text through cuing their attention. By the time I drove back to Kitchener, I had two messages from CTV asking to do a feature on teens and texting and a story on how I handle cell phone use in the classroom. The next day, while I was taping CTV’s Provincewide the Toronto District School Board announced it would be reviewing their policy on banning cell phones in the school. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was then asked to weigh in on the issue and supported the Board’s decision, saying schools should be open to using cell phones in the classroom. The CBC called me back and asked me to participate in their radio talk show syndicate circuit for the following day. After CTV spent the morning in my classroom taping footage for the news story, I went home and spent 3 hours on the phone speaking with 11 talk show hosts across Canada. A special thanks goes out to Neil Andersen for sending me a copy of one of the live recordings from St. Johns.

CBC Ontario with Wei Chen -September 14, 2010


CBC Metro Morning with Matt Galloway -September 14, 2010


CBC St. Johns -September 16, 2010


CTV Kitchener -September 16, 2010

Please keep in mind that restricted use is the first step in teaching students to become self-regulators. It is the only way to draw their attention to their own habits and open a space for discussion. Gradual release of responsibility follows.

Another Look at Pointless Populism

the|G|™ / Stock Photos

William R. Seaman’s “Active Audience theory: pointless populism”, 1992

Active audience theory grew in practice during the application of ethnographic research methods in the study of TV audience viewing practices in the 1980’s. In John Fiske’s 1987 book, “Television Culture” he explains how ethnography came to be a valid method of studying television and its viewers. David Morley (who Seaman actually criticizes in his 1992 paper), felt that Stuart Hall overemphasized the role of class in producing different readings (Hall’s work was in encoding/decoding, examining preferred reading, negotiated reading, and oppositional readings). There were some cross similarities between people of different social backgrounds such as bank managers and apprentices, and Morley surmised that the two were similarly constructed as subjects of capitalist ideology, inserting themselves into the dominant ideology in a shared interest of the economy’s survival and success. As a result, the emphasis of ethnography shifted away from the textual and ideological construction of the subject to socially and historically situated people. The emphasis in the late 80s turned to studying “the way people live in their culture” and acknowledged the differences between people despite their social construction and pluralized the meanings and pleasures they found in television. (Fiske) Greg Philo later writes that people do read the intended encoded message of a media text the same; it’s not polysemic in having different meanings to different groups. He believes instead that audiences are likely to criticize the content of a message in relation to another perspective, which they hold to be correct. “They are therefore aware of the encoded meaning and the manner in which it was constructed -they just do not agree with it.” (Philo, Active Audiences and the Construction of Public Knowledge, 2008)

Summary of reading

Seaman has an aversion to ethnographic research in the field of cultural studies, rejecting the overall view that, “television audiences hold far greater power over the medium than is generally acknowledged.”(301) He also says that an “active audience approach has tended more to mystify than to clarify, to rationalize a set of practices rather than to explain them.” (309) Further, he charges active audience theorists with taking a rhetorical role in theory construction, rather than an analytic or descriptive approach. (306) Seaman also argues against the active audience theorist view that the viewer’s individual interpretation constitutes interaction, implying a measure of control over the televisual text, as the text is just an A/V signal and is not altered itself by the viewer. (306) This goes against Fiske’s view that TV doesn’t have an effect on the individual, but rather on the ideology of a society in that it promotes and prefers certain meanings (that already exist).

Seaman has trouble with the term “free agency.” Unless viewers are aware of the “highly constrained character and content of programming…of the information, analyses, perspectives, beliefs filtered out by mainstream media, it is wrong to suggest they are truly free of their decisions to act.” (307)

Ethnographic Research

-Seaman believes it allows cultural studies theorists to makes self-serving judgements

Seaman’s first critique of ethnographic research in active audiences is that it focuses on the apparent characterizations of these theorists in certain cultural practices as “resistant” or “oppositional”. He criticizes Morley’s playing with the oppositional reading. Morley countered an earlier view that Thomas Lindlof and Paul Trandt had earlier observed in that television is used to create personal space and may actually be used to avoid conflicts and be used to lessen conflicts within larger families with his own reading that television is used for things such as acceptable zones for private pursuits and provides organizing centres and an opportunity for new types of communicative contexts. In doing so, Morley started to replace words such as “can be seen” with the more definitive “television is”. Another example Seaman gives is when theorists say that the text is being “used” in a particular context, it implies that the subject is controlling the text for his or her own purposes. Other questions must be asked first, such as whether or not the subject is even aware of alternative choices so that essentially I think what he is saying is that comparisons need to be made in order to judge the assessment’s validity or plausibility. Seaman warns that theorists must be careful that possibilities are not turned into judgments as this can be misleading.

Audience Interpretation

-Ineffective override and negative reinforcement

A) Seaman warns that mediated effects cannot confirm whether or not a target subgroup interprets degrading representations of that subgroup in ways that overthrow the dominant reading.

He used the example of Fiske’s work in stating that “women have told me how much they enjoyed Charlie’s Angels when it appeared on their screens in the 70’s and that their pleasure is seeing women taking active, controlling roles was so great that it overrode the incorporating devices that worked to recuperate feminist elements in its content back into patriarchy.” The way that the women may have perceived the experience of viewing cannot stand alone as the success of overriding the incorporating devices of a television program. “The word “pleasure” has to be explored in context. Seaman surmises that interpretations that rest on such elements as “viewer pleasure” can be self-serving.

B) He also warns that an oppositional reading of a text by a subgroup may work as an affirmation of their prejudices, giving them even more strength. He cites the anti-Arab racism in the American mainstream media and says the harm is not the demoralization of the subgroup, but the reinforcement of the prejudice and an encouragement to continue racist feelings in the dominant group.

Empowerment and the Active Audience

-Seaman wonders how can Active Audience findings empower, if there’s no readable action being taken?

Seaman says viewers do use the information they pick up on TV as reference points in making sense of the world but worries when theorists see this as an empowerment. He argues that viewer empowerment through the use of interaction with television is alarming to the “degree that elite interests dominate our news media and so constrain the field of options for ‘reference points’, examples and analyses” (305). I think he means that knowing that not all of the information and viewpoints make it to the audience by way of TV, it would be scary that we only see what does make it to the tube as worthy enough of conversation, consideration, or even value. More evidence to this view is on page 308 when he writes, “The problem does not lie with audiences, but rather with a system of mass communication that systematically excludes certain forms of programming and imagery in favour of a profoundly restricted and highly interest driven selection. The problem is not with audience interpreting practices, but with what is available for interpretation.”

Seaman seems to have a problem with theorists who use the term “empowerment” when it doesn’t really have a measurable effect in terms of action. On the subject of empowerment, he writes about Madonna as empowering for young women, “does nothing to decrease the staggering risk of date rape and other all too common forms of sexual assault and harassment.” (308) The result deals more with thoughts and feelings, which Seaman says is difficult to characterize, and makes the point that it’s not that he feels audience thoughts and feelings should be ignored.

Seaman harshly slams the active audience approach, saying it provides no insight into research in communication and media theory. He refers to the “pleasures made possible by inflected television readings simply will not address, let alone confront, the parochial bigotries, racist and sexist hiring practices, or the conservative voting trends that threaten even the most basic social programs, affirmative action and abortion rights here in the U-S…the violence against women and people of colour. “ (309)

Morley’s Rebuttal

In 2006, Morley wrote a response to the backlash against ethnographic research in his paper title, “Unanswered Questions in Audience Research.” Morley feels Seaman’s “Pointless Populism” is really “a return to a very old story about media effects and largely readable as the return of a narrowly fundamentalist political economy.”

“It is one thing to argue (as I have myself done) that some recent audience work has exaggerated, and wrongly romanticized the supposed power and freedoms of media consumers, imagining that all audiences everywhere are engaged in a continuous form of “semiological guerrilla warfare” (Eco, 1972) with the media, in which they constantly produce oppositional readings of its products.” (Morley, 2006)

Morley further acknowledges Seaman’s criticism of qualitative ethnographic research for not leading to follow-up action. “The further question raised by the critics of cultural studies audience work is whether it matters if people make oppositional or subversive decodings of media material, unless they go out and ‘do something’ (go on a demonstration; start a petition) about it.” Morley defends himself by saying that the many micro-instances of ‘pre-political’ attitude change in the cultural sphere acts as the impetus for political change. (Morley, 2006)

Morley ends up calling for a balanced approach to the two methodological practices of qualitative and quantitative. He surmises that there are times when more traditional types of research such as quantitative (number crunching and statistics) may be useful in audience research but warns that too much content can “deaden” under the weight of the “quantity of unanalysed contextual data. He gives validity to qualitative and ethnographic research in that it provides insight into, “the complexities of how audiences “indigenise” the media materials which they consume”, but warns that it runs the “danger of, descending into anecdotalism” and “we should not mistake the vividness of the examples it offers us for their general applicability.” (Morley, 2006)

Production Tips

Intermediate EFP

Hands-on part of module:

Dana showed me some great shooting tips to help me prepare for shooting at a convention in 3 weeks. It’s less cumbersome to take the boom mic off the pole and kneel down under the shot, directing it toward the subject. It’s also easier in this position to direction the boom mic with your wrist in the position of the person talking.

The camera is best off a tripod. I will need to practice this.

I learned how to shoot multiple people by keeping a wide shot and walking in towards the subject for a closer shot and moving out when another person joins into the conversation to a 2-shot. With three people interacting, it’s best to keep the shot pulled out on all three.

Dana also taught me the duck walk he used at City TV to follow alongside a moving subject and moving forward and back with a subject. (Dana cautioned that it’s best to have someone guide you by the shoulder when walking backwards)

More tips:

-Zebra stripes should be set at 80 for Caucasian skin.

-if you have to use a boom mic on top, do so. The camera mic is too directional and will pick up too much noise

-use a light on top of the camera for fill, rather than key

-close your eyes and listen to ambient noise in the room like fans or other noise makers that will wreck your audio track

-look for backgrounds with a “z” access for visual stimulation

-shoot plenty of B-roll and listen to your subject for good B roll clues.

-practice following people shots for B-roll

-Do establishing shots at the convention location…wide shot, find focal point and pull out, could do tilts, etc. Look for interesting shots like architecture lines and flowers to amp up the aesthetic factor.



Dana went over the paperwork for doc work with me. A plot synopsis is not needed, but a treatment is important for figuring out what technical elements are planned and given consideration, such as camera shots, music, and lighting. If there are more than two people working on a production during the course of a day, a call sheet is necessary just to keep track of the schedule and the people involved. Dana says there’s no excuse not to include a map as well. Google Maps is easy to use. A breakdown sheet is used more for dramas than docs so I don’t need to do them. Release forms are important for people talking on camera. Background people are to be treated much the way the news treats them. No special release form is needed. Audio plans are helpful for finding extraneous and disruptive source of noise such as fans and buzzing lights. An audio plan is not necessary at a convention as I won’t know in advance where I will be shooting, but I will make a point of checking the audio location before I roll tape. No blocked master scene script is needed for docs. EFP storyboards are not necessary, but it is important to do a shot list in case there is some storytelling opportunity through visuals in B-roll. There will not be a set-up and lighting plan for shooting at a convention, again, this is because it isn’t know in advance where the shooting will take place. I will scout the location for outdoor light streaming in and move locations if the light affects the colour temperature of my shot too much. I will also attempt to use a camera light for a fill light instead of a key light. Shoot sheets will be used to organize footage by subject and content, but I will not be individualizing each shot. I may do an EDL but most likely I will use the shoot sheet as I will be editing my own material.


After Effects

I joined the After Effects group after working with Dana. We used the vanishing point tool in Adobe Photoshop to create 5 .png walls that a camera and lights could be mounted and moved around within. I kept having difficulty with the Create Plane tool and found that when you cross the points over and over on themselves, the create plane blue line tool will finally disappear! So much for CTRL Z!

We found that the Edit Plane tool needs to be very close to the wall lines to work well in defining the 3D walls.

To create a second panel angle, we held down Command and watched for the white arrow with a tiny grid to pop up before pulling the point out with a cursor. To zoom in and out of the Photoshop project, we pressed Command and plus and to zoom out, we pressed Command and minus.

Next, we exported from vanishing Point Filter as a .vpe file. “Export for After Effects” under the drop down menu in the top left corner. We opened After Effects and went to File, then Import, then Vanishing Point VPE. We were able to add a layer and add lights (the camera automatically loaded as we used the vanishing point feature.

Culture IS Ordinary!


While pulling my information together on Raymond Williams, I soon discovered how important it would be to explain his whole background, for this is central to Williams’ socialist outlook on culture. In order to best describe his background and ideas, I played with words and images in PowerPoint to help me organize the information and stick to the most important points of Williams’ contributions to the study of media. I went on the Rolands Collection website and downloaded a video of Michael Ignatieff interviewing Raymond Williams back in the 80s on an interview show in Britain. The file had DMR rights to it so I couldn’t play the video itself, but I was able to record a short audio clip of Williams speaking about mobilized privatization.

Raymond Williams was born to a working class family in Wales; the son of a railway signalman. He went to grammar school and later attended Cambridge on a scholarship. After being called away as a wireless operator and a tank operator during World War II, Williams returned to finish his schooling in modern languages, history and the classics. He became a tutor in Adult Education where he discovered that people who wouldn’t normally be from the same social circles (think of a factory worker and a doctor), could come together for social discourse. As well, because of his own ordinary upbringing and background, he discovered through experience that culture is not for the elite, it is for everyone. In this, he differed from Marxist viewpoints in approaching culture through class conflict. He felt the teachings misunderstand what culture really was, and disagreed that “since culture and production are related, the advocacy of a different system of production is in some way a cultural directive–to serve the ideology”. He felt that socialism wasn’t the only model.

Williams felt culture could not be separated from other factors when studying effects models on an audience. He felt that the interpretation of culture must be done so in relation to its underlying system of production such as its political and economic conditions. Culture is a whole way of life and the arts are part of the social organization.

In looking at Williams’ writing in the article, I focused on three areas and asked three questions in relation to these areas:

1. Q: Williams criticized Lasswell’s sociology of mass communications’ effects model that looked at, “who says what, how, to whom, and with what effect because it excluded the question, “to what purpose or for what intention,” Although Williams believes it’s worth looking at “intention” at least from the point of view that there are interests and agencies of communication involved, the problem with the social model itself he says is that it, “abstracts social and cultural processes to concepts like socialization, social function, or interaction,” which basically amounts to filtering the results until you get what you want from them. The problem with this Williams says, is that you can’t isolate certain influential factors in socialization (such as school, work, home, television, and the press) because they are interwoven in social and cultural process. Can you think of another example involving a communications medium in which these socialization factors are intertwined?

A: For a modern day example, Pricewaterhouse Coopers did research which Don Tapscott was permitted to use in his book, “Growing Up Digital”, a study of the effects of and on the net generation, he admits in his Introduction when writing about interviewing 10-thousand people, holding dozens of private executive briefings on program results and recommendations”, that, “ The reports are proprietary to the research sponsors, but some of the high-level findings and main conclusions can now be shared publicly.” (xi Grown Up Digital, Mc-Graw-Hill, New |York, 2009) He thanks the sponsors on the next page, there are 25 of them including Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Sony, and Ogilvy One. (1. market research 2. technology company, 3. advertising agency. The companies holding the big bucks are directing the research here. What interests might Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Sony, or Ogilvy One have in a book that uses its research to show that Tapscott has discovered not a bunch of spoiled “screenagers” with short attention spans and zero social skills, but a “remarkably bright community which has developed revolutionary new ways of thinking, interacting, working, and socializing”?
(front flap, Grown Up Digital, Mc-Graw-Hill, New |York, 2009)

Furthermore, Williams said conflicting ideology also makes it difficult to focus on a particular aspect of socialization. In the article, Williams points out a preferred or dominant reading that violence is a contributing factor in aggressive behaviour, and an oppositional reading could be that violence is cathartic. (Stuart Hall ) Halloran called this ability to have differing perspectives in a society, ‘the plural values of society’ enabling them to ‘conform, accommodate, challenge or reject’.

Williams facetiously made an argument that if there is much more violence on TV than what is taking place in society, one might think agencies and producers are the ones living outside of the norm. (R. Williams: “Effects of the Technology and its uses”, 1975)

2. Q: Williams mentions that the technological landscape has led to a much broader access to television news, yet he notes the co-relation between voter turnout rates lowering and the numbers of people involved in social protests and demonstrations rising. What is he saying about the effects of television viewing here?

A: “It could be argued that increased exposure to competitive assessment in these terms has weakened adherence to occasional election as a political mode, or even that (given other kinds of political stimulation by television – the reporting of demonstrations, the dramatisation of certain issues) it has had some strengthening influence on alternative modes. (p 4)
Williams questions the preferred reading that the increased exposure to politicians provided by TV has strengthened the public’s engagement with politics. He’s suggesting an oppositional way of looking at this in that maybe watching TV news turns off voters and leads them to act publicly instead in the form of demonstrations and protests.

3. Q: The last question is in relation to Lazersfeld’s two-step flow model in that information is disseminated to the opinion leaders in society with the most access to media and the greatest understanding of content…who then pass on the information through their own politically-altered filters. Keeping this in mind, how would Williams view the use of the Internet for the dissemination of information?

A: I think he would look at the Internet as a broadly based tool in western society for getting both preferred readings and oppositional readings out into the public. (He might also note the somewhat limited use in some more remote areas due to either geographic availability of the service or economic affordability of the technology). The benefit of the medium in its heavy use of interactive, user-generated material, is that people who are willing to get their information from a variety of sources, may be better equipped to enter an educated arena of discourse with people from all different classes. The downside, he would say is the amount of disinformation dispersed on the Internet as a result of members of the public having difficulty determining some of the sources as reliable. This could make it difficult for the public to become genuinely educated on issues. As for the pop-up ads and side-bars, he alluded to a future of controlling agencies with commercial interests in his writing, Television – Technology and Cultural Form. Although he was talking about television as a great tool for helping generate, “an educated and participatory democracy”, Williams cautioned that, “a few para-national corporations, with their attendant states and agencies, could further reach into our lives, at every level from news to psycho-drama, until individual and collective response to many different kinds of experience and problem became almost limited to choice between their programmed possibilities”.

An informal list of sources (not in MLA style)

(R. Williams, Television – Technology and Cultural Form. Quotes republished by Jim McGuigan /Loughborough University, UK on October 22nd, 2004 in Flow TV, http://flowtv.or/?p=685

Stuart Hall http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/marxism/marxism11.html

Cole, Josh (2008) ‘Raymond Williams and education – a slow reach again for control’, the encyclopaedia of informal education.