Sunday, 28 November 2010

Mad Men- series 4 almost over...

In October, I managed to watch the first three series of Mad Men, which I'd somehow failed to catch over the last few years. It's gripping stuff, despite the fact that not much happens in most episodes and I'm glad that I've now knocked off 51 episodes so that this Wednesday when I see the final episode of series 4 I will be completely up to date.

If you don't know the show, it's set in the 1960s and tells the story of the Madison Avenue advertising executives through a fictional agency and particularly through the messed up central character, creative director Don Draper, an anti-hero for our time, as much as any other.

The title sequence is a graphic tour de force and takes you straight into the mindset of Don Draper, who appears to be falling from a high floor of a New York skyscraper.

Mad Men Title Sequence from Caleb Woods on Vimeo.

Across series 1, we see Don's series of adulterous relationships set against the backdrop of his family life, creating a tension which is then layered with flashbacks to his own childhood, revealing his secret past. By series 2 it becomes impossible to contain all his secrets as his marriage starts to disintegrate and in series 3 it falls apart completely. Series 4 sees him in a bachelor pad in New York, but unhappier than ever as his life and work seem to unravel around him.

But this is only a part of a complex web woven by the writers; there are several interesting characters who develop over the four series, notably Peggy, who starts episode 1 as the new girl secretary introduced to the firm but by series 4 has developed into the only female creative in the company and in many ways the only character who can handle Don- possibly because she is one of the few women who hasn't had a sexual relationship with him.

The programme is all set against a backdrop of American social and political history in the 1960s, including Kennedy's election and assassination, the black civil rights movement, the Cuban Missile crisis and the Beatles at Shea stadium, but it is also a fascinating analysis of power relations, especially the role of gender in US society of the time. Despite the appalling behaviour of the male characters at times, especially Don, the viewer is drawn into a strange sympathy with them as their complexity is allowed to emerge. It is an interesting example of the American tradition of quality TV drama, as seen in the Sopranos, ER, House and others, but in its ad agency setting it defies the usual genre characteristics of the crime series or the hospital show. If you haven't seen it, there's a box set of series 1-3 available (£30 in HMV), but be warned, once you start you won't be able to stop!

And here's the official site, where you can play games and even take on the role of characters

Twitter- why it might be useful for A level

Are you on twitter? Do you tweet? Last week, I saw a list of the ten most influential brands in the UK and the US and Twitter was up there near the top of both them, along with Google, Facebook and Apple on both and John Lewis on the UK one. But if you ask in the average classroom, 'who uses twitter?' the numbers will be well down on who uses facebook- so how come it's seen to be so important?

It was started in 2006, and in case you don't know, involves being able to send messages of up to 140 characters (a tweet) to all users of the system who follow you. Your messages are not private, but can be seen by anyone signed up to twitter, though they only automatically get messages from people they have elected to 'follow'; all other messages would involve a search. Messages can be grouped together by the use of a hashtag #, so for example if people are at an event and want to send live comments on it to the twitter feed there can be a common hashtag which they all use for their messages so they get to read anything related to it, rather than just messages from people they already follow.

There are currently estimated to be 200 million people signed up to Twitter, though many may just be readers of tweets or people who haven't signed in for a while; nonetheless there are huge numbers of people who do use it daily. One feature that makes it stand out from other forms of blogging and social networking is the number of well known people who use it. Unlike websites for bands or actors, where usually someone is employed to send out messages and keep us informed about the star's life, twitter is frequently used by celebrities themselves to send out their thoughts, which is one of the reasons they frequently get into trouble with it. As it is an instant medium and easily used on a phone, very often people tend to tweet their thoughts without considering the consequences. A number of sports people have got into trouble in this way after tweeting their reaction to being left out of teams, for example. Politicians likewise have a tendency to 'put their foot in it' when left to their own (mobile) devices, without their spin doctors to tell them what to say.

Many people think of tweeting as rather self-indulgent and narcissistic, saying 'who cares what so-and-so had for breakfast', which is of course true, just as it is with endless status updates on facebook, but as with any new medium, with twitter you have to be selective. If people you follow are rather boring to read, you can just as easily 'unfollow' them.

It is estimated 65 million tweets are sent every day, so there will be a lot of variety in terms of what is sent in the messages. It does tend to be more of an older group of people who use it by comparison with facebook and other social networks, with only about 11% of its users being in the 12-17 age range.Women are slightly more likely to use it than men and about 75% of content on it comes from 5% of users. A popular use of twitter is the re-tweet (RT) function, where you can send on an interesting message you have seen to all your followers.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian last week wrote an interesting piece on the importance of Twitter which you can find here. He outlines 15 things that twitter does effectively, which include the effectiveness and swiftness of its distribution, its value as a search, aggregation and marketing tool, its diversity and the ways it is challenging and changing conventional politics. Well worth a read, as is this article from The Guardian about how people tweet during certain TV programmes to form commentating communities. Some programmes, such as 'Giles and Sue live the Good Life' have benefited hugely from the amount of discussion from tweeters during the episodes.

So who is worth following for A level Media?

@julianmcdougall wrote the OCR textbook and he tends to use his tweets to send out useful links for the A2 exam in particular

@henryjenkins is the American academic who wrote 'Convergence Culture' and has done a lot of research on fans

@ainnucci Armando Iannucci the creator of 'The Thick of It' and Alan Partridge, amongst much more, is always amusing and interesting

@petesmediablog is me- I don't say much but you might find other people I follow quite interesting!

Get yourself on there, add a few people then have a hunt around for comedians, actors, film-makers, politicians, journalists you find interesting. It could open you up to a whole load of interesting stuff!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Twitter on trial: #iamspartacus

Last week saw the first stirrings of rioting in response to the coalition government's policies as students holding a demo in London broke into the Conservative Party HQ in Millbank Tower and smashed some stuff up. On Thursday, almost every national paper had the same picture on the front page, but with a variety of different headlines, offering slightly different perspectives on the whole event. there is an interesting analysis of the coverage on the POLIS blog here while this montage from Political Scrapbook shows just how dominant the image was.

I was quite struck, however, by this slightly wider shot of the moment which someone tweeted on friday:

In this, we can clearly see just how many photographers are there with a ringside view so that what seems like chaos starts to look...set up?

Twitter was a good source for inside material on wednesday during the demo when people were tweeting about what was happening as it happened and others were re-tweeting and commenting upon the flow of events.

On thursday, Twitter itself hit the news with an appeal case in Doncaster Crown Court. Back in January, a man called Paul Chambers, on his way to see his girlfriend in Northern Ireland, got to the airport near doncaster to find it was shut. He tweeted: "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!!". It was meant as a joke and he didn't really think that anyone other than his girlfriend would see it. Unfortunately, apart from his 600 followers, someone did and called the police. neither they nor Robin Hood airport thought it was a serious bomb threat, but he was brought to trial and convicted for sending a menacing communication. His appeal this week was thrown out, with the judge actually increasing his fine and making him pay costs. In the meantime, he has lost his job as well.

On Twitter, this caused a bit of a stir, with avid tweeter Stephen Fry offering to pay off his fine and many people seeing it as a threat to free speech. The judge appears to have taken the view that there was no humour involved, saying the tweet was "menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed."

The implications of this case are wide-ranging, as people using twitter or indeed any social network, like Facebook, could be open to prosecution for any public remark, however it may have been intended. This case coincided with an incident where a Conservative councillor, Gareth Compton, from Birmingham was reported to have tweeted after getting annoyed by a phone-in on Five Live: "Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan't tell Amnesty if you don't. It would be a blessing, really."

He too was arrested and has been suspended by the local party. His tweet contained the hashtag #R5L indicating that his words were a response to the phone-in, where Ms.Alibhai-Brown had been making some forthright points about the war in Iraq, with which he disagreed. Though his words were rather clumsy and even offensive, it would be hard to argue that they were meant as a direct threat.

She heard about the tweet and suggested he should be arrested and someone went on to report him to the police. He was arrested under suspicion of a breach of section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act – Improper use of public electronic communications network, where "a person is guilty of an offence if he sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character". Though this law is rarely invoked, it is a bit alarming in terms of its breadth, as it would appear that many thousands of messages on twitter or facebook each day could fall foul of it- think of some of the things you may have sent or just posted on your facebook wall which you thought were just funny...

Anyway, this point was taken up in a big way on friday, when thousands of twitter users, including many celebrities like Dara O'Brain, Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry re-sent the Chambers tweet along with the hashtag #iamspartacus, a reference to the 1960 film where rebellious gladiators refuse to let Spartacus carry the blame and all claim to be him.

Charlie Brooker's tongue-in-cheek column for The Guardian takes it one step further.

If you aren't on Twitter yet, don't be put off by commentators who suggest it's just a middle-aged and middle class fad. There are a lot of influential people on there and a lot of people who tweet interesting and useful stuff; next week, I'll be suggesting some people you could follow on Twitter, so in the meantime, set yourself up an account!

I'm @cmdiploma by the way!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Conference 21 October

What a great day! We all really enjoyed ourselves and felt a great atmosphere from the whole event. As I get them, resources from the day will be added here.

The day began with an excellent presentation by David Buckingham deconstructing the attacks on Media Studies which often appear in the media. The presentation is here

This was followed by Julian McDougall's presentation in which he encouraged students to take on a critical role in relation to theory and applying it to mainstream media. Julian emphasised the political nature of claims about democracy in the media. His presentation is here.

My presentation after break was made easy for me because I had so many great bits of student work to show to illustrate my points (and one or two not so great bits). Most of what I said is covered in previous blogposts but I have also added the written bits of the slides here and one of the videos.

Annette Hill's presentation on media representation of the supernatural was very interesting and her book is linked here.

Jenny Grahame gave an overview of how you might develop your skills as a student of media and how MediaMagazine might help.

View more presentations from petefrasers.

The panel session at the end of the day was very entertaining, with some lively questions from the audience and some good advice from our panellists. Paul's advice was to always be on time, Lindy's was to not be fearful of getting knockbacks and Ed advised to really know what you want to do and be focussed.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Media Magazine Conference: Getting inside the Media Industries

At the conference on Thursday, I will have the privilege of chairing the afternoon session where three creative people from different media fields will be talking about their work and showing us some examples of what they do. This blogpost is a taster for the session to give some background on the three panellists and to show some clips from their work.

Edward Stern

Edward is Lead Writer at Splash Damage, a game development studio specializing in multiplayer First Person Shooters. Splash Damage has won over 200 awards and nominations and has an average MetaCritic rating of 87. He studied A Level English, History and Economics, and then relieved Glasgow University of a M.A. Hons in Modern and Medieval History, while being heavily involved in student radio, theatre, and music. In 1996 he moved to Hong Kong where he worked in business news television, then moved back to the UK in 1999 to work for a variety of doomed dot.coms, eventually ending up making television about games. He got hired by new startup game studio as freelance writer, then part-time, then full-time, then designer-writer, then senior designer, working on Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, then Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. He’s currently working on Brink for Bethesda Softworks, to be released next year.

You can see an interview with Ed here

Official site for Brink here

Paul Harding

Paul has been a full time professional photographer for 12 years, working in sport for the last decade. He spent a year with Allsport (now Getty Images) before leaving to go freelance for a while, then took on a staff position at Action Images sports photographic agency and has been with them ever since. Originally he joined as a member of the picture desk, shooting mainly features and studio assignments but slowly taking on more sport and working less in the office.

During this time he has covered many different events in all areas of sport ranging from the obvious (football, rugby, tennis etc.) to the strange (bog snorkelling & toe wrestling!), and all areas relating to sport (sponsorship, events, awards, PR) and has worked for many prestigious clients including FIFA, UEFA, Powerade, Lucozade, Barlcays and the WTA.

Some of Paul's pictures:

Lindy Heymann

Lindy’s second feature film, KICKS was released theatrically in the UK in June 2010 and is due out on DVD in November. Her live concert film for legendary British band The Specials to celebrate their 30th Anniversary Tour was released on DVD in March 2010 and has been nominated for a UK Music Video Award for Best Live Coverage.

She has a prolific career in Music Videos, directing well over one hundred to date. She has worked with artists and bands as diverse as Take That, The Charlatans, Suede, John Lydon, Sinead O'Connor, David Gray, Paul McCartney, Leftfield, Terry Hall and Faithless. She directed both Suede's first video and their last, which starred the veteran British actor John Hurt.

She has recently completed the screenplay for her next feature, IN CLOSE UP, which she has co-written with Ben Bond, having been awarded development funding from the UK Film Council.


Suede- final video starring John Hurt

Take That- behind the scenes

Kicks site

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Music Video: Rich Mix presentations- Liz kessler

Material from two sessions at Rich Mix in Shoreditch 9/11 and 18/11. These videos were shown by Liz Kessler from academy films



Will Young


Friday, 1 October 2010

Magazine work for A level

One of the most popular coursework tasks at A level is to make all or part of a magazine. For the OCR specification, this involves producing the front cover, contents page and a double page spread from a new music magazine. Usually, the task is done individually. You can work in a group of up to four people, but if you do, you have to produce the equivalent number of editions of the same magazine in a 'house style'. What I cover here is particularly of relevance to the music magazine task, but the ideas could be applied in relation to other types of magazine assignments.

Many centres choose this task because they think it will be easier to manage than video work, which may be the case, because more of the task is 'desk-bound'; this is probably true, but in my experience this task is extremely hard to do well and needs a lot of careful planning, organisation and preparation, as well as the ability to stand back from your work, take criticism and admit when you have got it wrong.

Lots of students do lots of good research for this task, but very few seem to be able to carry that research through to the final production to make something that shows they understand conventions. I think for this task, you need to consider both the magazine as a whole and the three components you have to make. So that means looking at the overall style and conventions of real magazines but also looking closely at the specifics of front covers, contents pages and double page spreads.

You might start with magazines in general and then home in on music magazines more specifically, but you need to end up looking at the sub-genre for the target audience at which you are aiming. It is very easy to get it completely wrong by trying to replicate the conventions of one sub-genre when really your audience belongs to another.

A search through google images for 'music magazine covers' gives you a good range to look at- though be careful, as you can see, some of these have been mis-filed!

The same is true for contents pages and double page spreads, though what you begin to notice is that this search also includes examples of student work, from their A level blogs!

It is really important that you look carefully at all elements of the magazine that you are being asked to produce to ensure that you really understand exactly what the conventions are and why they are there. A good way to do this is to annotate your research material as research evidence. But remember when you come to produce your own, use that annotated model and really look at it, rather than just forgetting it!

Here's a basic annotation of a cover from a student blog

Covers are usually the easiest bit to get right, but you still need to think carefully. Where is your masthead going to be? there's a reason that they tend to be at the top and from the left- that's to do with how the magazine will be displayed in a rack in the shop. If you put it elsewhere on the cover, in effect your logo/branding becomes hard to find. Why do we need a barcode and a price? What's the point of a strapline and how many of the features need to be flagged up for us on that cover? If you look at a few different magazines, certain patterns start to emerge.

Look at the colourscheme and the use of fonts- how many different colours are used on the text and how many different fonts are used? They may be different sizes but they don't vary that much. Look at the picture chosen- usually the model will be looking at the camera and in turn the viewer. Think about how that image has been posed and the probability that many images will have been taken to select from. Then consider the layout of the whole thing. How much can the model overlap the masthead without a loss of identity for the brand?

Contents pages often go wrong, but again a few simple observations will help you a lot.

This edition of Q magazine is quite typical. There is a main picture of a band from one of the lead articles and a smaller one of Nick cave from another section, so a visual sense of some of the variety to be found that month. There is a lso a list of what's in the magazine which extends to at least fifteen examples, with several elements to the 'Oasis Special!'. This gives us a sense of the value for money that we will get from the magazine. Surprisingly often, a student contents page will only feature half a dozen items, but who would pay good money for such a small publication?

Note also the use of colour and font here- it is clean and limited- simple, despite the amount of detail. The whole layout is in columns, with boxes being used to guide the reader's eyes. Your contents page needs to do the same, whatever genre of music you use. There is also repetition of the logo from the cover, smaller, but a reminder to the reader, as well as a link to the magazine's online presence at the top. All this needs to guide your thinking when you make a a magazine.

Finally, the element where most students 'come unstuck' is the double page spread. there may be a lack of clarity as to what this might mean, as some students just seem to see it as an opportunity to make any two random pages from the magazine (I've even seen a horoscope page!). What it should be is a feature article which gives you the opportunity to show what you can do with text, image and layout.

Throughout the process, you should keep full records of everything you do- all your research, your planning step by step, revisions and drafts. As much visual material as you can gather will hold you in good stead.

Have a look at the student blogs here and here for some really good examples of how you might work and what you might produce!

Good luck!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Beachcombing: Getting creative ideas and making them work...

Over the next few weeks I will be posting blogs about practical production, designed to help you get the most out of your work. These will be specific to popular projects like the music magazine and film opening which lots of students do at AS level, and the music video, short film and trailer which are popular at A2. This week’s post is about some techniques and ideas which can help you generate creative work of your own.

At the weekend, I was lucky enough to be at a talk given by Tim Clague, a BAFTA nominated screenwriter and film-maker who describes himself as “a storyteller for the google generation”. I have heard Tim speak before and if you ever get the chance to see him in action, you should take it, as he is extremely entertaining and has lots of good tips for ‘thawing’ what he calls the ‘creative freeze’ that often happens when people are trying to come up with ideas and be creative.

In this video which introduces his work, Tim talks about how he uses story charts and visual tools to help him to put stories together.

Tim's blog at Projector Films is packed with useful resources and ideas. In the post called beachcombing, Tim discusses how gathering together fragments of ideas from which you might eventually make something is a process that doesn't happen instantly and needs to be worked through.

Uploaded by martonhouse. - Explore lifestyle, fashion, and DIY videos.

Tim's ideas are aimed at helping people get the most out of their jobs, notably media creatives, but they could apply equally to media students. In future weeks we will look more closely at the precise needs of particular assignments, but you should have a look at Tim's videos and other resources to get thinking about ideas and planning for your work.

A useful resource on his blog is his storyboard template for word which you can find here.

Tim likes to gather stuff together and store up ideas which eventually come together in his projects; this is a technique which is not unique to him. His storycards, where he literally pins up little cards with fragments of ideas on and then re-organises them into the shape of his overall project, is a good way of working.

He notes that this collecting of ideas was the way H.G. Wells worked. In his case, he used to write things on scraps of paper, screw them up and pop them in a jamjar. When the jar was full, he would empty them out and start to put together his stories. imagine, this may have been how 'The Time Machine' and 'War of the Worlds' were written. Tim recommends that you collect ideas from everywhere- the world around you is a good place to start. Snap pictures on your phone of anything interesting that you see; keep fragments of text messages or facebook updates- you never know when they might come in handy. A good source of powerful ideas that Tim mentioned is post which describes itself as " an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard". Imagine these tiny secrets becoming the starting point for a story.

Some years ago, director Mark Adcock whose showreel can be found here, did a talk for my students where he told us that he used to put together a 'steal-o-matic' before making a music video, which consisted of ideas from films that he wanted to use. In his case, the one he showed us was a VHS tape with clips from old silent movies and surrealist films, for a music video he made for an artist called White Town. These days, with so much stuff on the web, it is much easier to get these ideas together and make your blog your 'steal-o-matic'. the key for Mark, as for Tim, was not to steal just from one place but to get ideas from everywhere.

So start beachcombing!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

9/11 Controversy and news coverage

"Is the Terry Jones who's going to burn the Koran the one from Monty Python? Because if so he's a very naughty boy." tweet by David Schneider last week. When I read this and various more sick jokes that were floating around online, it did make me think about how the threats of an eccentric bigot from a little known sect had gathered such momentum to become a major talking point.

A few weeks ago, no-one had ever heard of Pastor Terry Jones from the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, yet towards the end of last week as the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America approached, he became the top story on TV, Radio and online (though not in the English tabloids, where it was still Wayne Rooney). Listening to radio coverage on Friday, the day before the anniversary, I noticed that the emphasis was starting to shift to commentators asking the same question. How did this get so out of hand that someone whose views should have very little credibility and who represents a group of people that you could fit onto a bus, is being pleaded with by the President of the USA and the UN Secretary General and invited onto every US network to speak live to the nation? And can this story tell us anything about the way news is distributed in the current media landscape?

A bit of background. Jones' church has apparently existed for about a quarter of a century, like many 'born again' sects in the USA, not picking up many members. He has campaigned against Islam and homosexuality for quite some while, and recently published a book called 'Islam is of the Devil'. For the past few months, his youtube channel has featured videos attacking Islam and in July he announced 'International Burn a Koran Day'. In mid-July he began to put out messages on twitter, accusing Islam of being like fascism and announcing "9/11/2010 International Burn a Koran Day."

He started a Facebook group and picked up several hundred 'fans' and by the end of the month some anti-Jones facebook groups had started up. The mainstream media started picking up the story and on 29 July he did this interview on CNN, which was circulated internationally.

Given the huge amount of video contributions on youtube and the range of eccentric minority interest websites around, this would still have little significance, but as is often the case in our media-saturated world, news channels are desperate for material to fill airtime and Jones began to be featured by a range of media outlets. By the beginning of September, this mixture of his use of social media (youtube, twitter, facebook) and opposition to his ideas popping up online led to an absolute scramble to speak to him.

The combination of the annual remembrance of 9/11, which always gets some media coverage, stories about an Islamic cultural centre to be built in New York and the continuing presence of US troops in Afghanistan contributed to Jones' views being given prominence. Though the fire department in the town of Gainesville, where the 'church' is based refused to grant a permit to hold a bonfire, the media effectively 'fanned the flames' before they were lit in giving him such coverage.

The cultural centre had been the subject of scare stories whipped up by some right wing bloggers earlier in the year so that many people believed it was a mosque to be built 'on the graves of those who died on Ground Zero', whereas it was actually some streets away and includes includes 'a theatre, performing arts centre, fitness centre, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare area, bookstore, culinary school, art studio, food court, September 11 memorial, and prayer space'. This of course in the most multicultural city on the planet, so really ought to be no big deal. In the minds of many people, fuelled by the media coverage, it became an insult to those who died, with Islam taking the blame. So Jones' statements dropped neatly into a pre-existing news story.

As the anniversary approached, so he got more coverage, much of it live, with his every pronouncement given the status of something between a plane hijacker and a world leader. His demands for a showdown with an 'Iman'(actually Imam, but he knows so little about Islam that he got the name wrong) to get them to back down on the 'plans for the mosque' and then finally his decision not to carry out the book burning gained him access to live broadcasts around the world. Meanwhile all manner of public figures lined up to pass comment and in Muslim countries there were protests which led to some people dying.

Many commentators have suggested that this was an example of news coverage getting out of hand and creating a story which caused an awful lot of damage. I agree. It's one of the big dangers of social media, that the extreme views of a minority expressed to a minority online get whipped up by broadcast media- which still reach a far bigger audience- and these views gain undue credence and respectability in order to fill airtime and provide 'a good story'.

On Saturday morning, I heard an interview on Radio 5 with the British mother of someone who died in the tower on 9/11. It was heartbreaking and poignant as she told of how she saw the coverage live that day and tried to ring her son but knew that he was dead. But what made it worse was when the interviewer then went on to ask what did she think about the threatened book burning and the proposed mosque, each of which she angrily condemned as just as bad as each other. It was lazy and intrusive journalism; it should have ended with her recounting her grief, but it ended up once again reinforcing the myths and opening up division.

Normally I'd try to put some lighthearted clips in my blog, maybe response videos from youtube, but it wouldn't be appropriate for this topic (plus I couldn't find any!). Instead, I found this clip from a month ago from a little known US radio politics show, where the excellent host lets the Rev Jones explain all his views. If the mainstream media had been sensible, they'd have listened to this and just said, "ignore him, the man's a bigot and ignorant" But they had to have a story...

Saturday, 4 September 2010

We English- Simon Roberts, photographer and Shane Meadows, film-maker. Collective Identity

During the summer holiday, I had the pleasure of visiting the National Media Museum in Bradford, which I had not looked round for many years. If you get the chance to go, you should, as there are some really interesting exhibitions about the history of the media and some interactive features you can play around with, like a bluescreen TV studio and operate some large TV cameras on a set. While there I heard a boy arguing with his parents that the museum wasn't anything to do with his course (which I assumed must be GCSE Media Studies) because it wasn't very up to date (they were in the Photography gallery which traces the history of photography sinvce about 1820). His mother was (angrily) pointing out that to understand the present it is important to know something about the past, and I'd definitely agree! The TV gallery in particular was fascinating for this, with a feature where you could select a video of any one of 1000 classic british programmes and go to a booth to watch it- a bit like live youtube! It also contains loads of old TV sets, dating back to the 1930s, many of which look amazing (and amazingly small!)

Anyway, one of the seasonal exhibitions, which came to an end this weekend, particularly caught my interest as it was not only visually intriguing but also tapped into the argument being made above and could be a really interesting case study for the Collective Identity topic in the A2 exam. The exhibition and lots of useful background material actually continues permanently online, so everything you need would be there.

Simon Roberts' exhibition and book 'We English' looks at the English at leisure; he travelled across the country in a motorhome from 2007-8 taking photographs of English people at sporting events, in the countryside, at the seaside and in a range of outdoor leisure activities. Having previously done a book of photographs about Russia, he was keen to investigate a topic closer to home:

"Initially, I was simply thinking about Englishness and how my upbringing had been quintessentially English. How much of this was an intrinsic part of my identity? In what ways was my idea of what constitutes an 'English life' or English pastimes (if there are such things) different to those of others'? My own memories of holidays, for example, were infused with very particular landscapes; the lush green-ness around Derwent Water or the flinty grey skies - and pebbles - of Angmering's beaches. It seemed to me that these landscapes formed an important part of my consciousness of who I am and how I 'remember' England."

Part of the exhibition featured photos which inspired his work for the project, many from the late 19th and early part of the 20th Century, such as this one of Margate beach(1890s)

His pictures, like this one of Skegness beach, go against a prevailing tradition of landscape photos without people to show a sense of the collective in their landscape.

Simon discusses his work in the project on Russia and the ideas behind 'We English' in this really interesting video interview

Simon Roberts: Lens Culture Conversations with Photographers from Jim Casper on Vimeo.

On his extensive blog about the project, there is a lot more background information and thoughtful discussion of the idea of Englishness, as well as links to other viewpoints. This would be a fantastic starting point for a study of englishness for the A2 exam, given the range of material available on the blog.

As the exhibition ends, so another text focussing on this collective identity begins, as channel 4 begin their four part series This is England 1986, in which director Shane Meadows takes the characters from his film set in 1982 and updates us on what has happened to them four years on. The trailer gives a bit away, but it looks 'not to be missed'!

The ShaneMeadows fansite gives you a lot more information and links to a good overview interview with Shane from The Independent.Lots of people used the original 'This is England' as a source text for the Collective Identity question in the June exam. I'd expect to see many more using the Tv series next summer, but it would be nice if some of them used simon Roberts' photos as a comparison.

This is England 86 is on tuesdays at 10 pm on Channel 4 from september 7th

Friday, 3 September 2010

Welcome to the new academic year

Whether you are a new student of Media Studies at AS or someone coming back to start A2, welcome to the blog and good luck with your studies over the coming year. Each week this year, I shall try to post something of interest and potential relevance to your studies. I hope to meet some of you at the one day Media Magazine student conference on October 21 in London, where I shall be presenting a session on student production work and giving you some tips on how to get the most out of it. I shall also be chairing a session where creative media practitioners will be talking about and showing some of their work. Main speakers on the day include the distinguished writer and researcher David Buckingham, from the London Knowledge Lab, who will discuss the representation of Media Studies in the media, Annette Hill, professor from the University of Lund in Sweden, who will be talking about the TV audience's interest in the supernatural and Julian McDougall, who wrote the A level textbooks and will be presenting on the idea of convergenece between 'old' and 'new' media. We all look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Another exam case study- Fans: WeMedia or Media in the online age

In this post, I shall suggest ways in which the work of Henry Jenkins writing particularly in 'Convergence Culture' (2006) could be useful in the exam using fan videos as a case study.

The conventional image of the fan, as portrayed in fictional representations, is of a deranged fanatic, endangering the life of the fan's hero. Examples would be Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin in King of Comedy (1982) or Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990).

Henry Jenkins' work on fan fiction challenges this view as simplistic; in Convergence Culture he looks at a number of case studies to suggest that fans are engaged in quite a range of cultural activity. His chapters consider:

Survivor and ‘spoilers’- the ways in which fan groups online collaborate to find out about upcoming episodes and circulate information about them or 'spoilers'; American Idol and ‘democracy’- the first US programme to use mass text voting, a way in which some would suggest that the audience participate in a form of limited democracy to choose their winner. The Matrix and ‘transmedia’ looks at the ways in which a text can be produced in a number of different forms- the films, animations, comic books, each of which adds a different element to the jigsaw of the story and which cannot be fully understood on their own. Star Wars and fan film production- of which there are many thousands on the net, some of massive technical prowess and Harry Potter- kids as writers and activists, where Jenkins looks at the ways in which young Potter fans have become involved in political movements based upon how they have interpreted the stories applying to real life issues.

Jenkins argues that the web has created ‘knowledge communities’ where fans meet together online to share interests and discuss them in depth. He sees fansites as having a sort of 'collective thinking' and sets of rules and credentials, where some things can and some things can't be said and where individuals can gain kudos for their knowledge as expert contributors in the same way as they would in the academic world- for example site admins or the most regular posters often have special status in fan groups and forums compared to newbies.

Jenkins' definition of convergence is wider than the generally used definition around technology and the digitalisation of media content, as he looks also at the ways in which the integration of media industries into conglomerates represents an economic convergence but perhaps most importantly how the online age creates a social and cultural convergence too- with audiences coming together socially online from all over the globe and start to make things which they share online.

This cultural production by fans of fiction that extends beyond the original text has been around since long before the web, but the distribution of it has become significantly easier since the online age began. If you want to use fan production as a case study in the exam, here are some starting points. have a look at the videos and click on the youtube link so you can see the user comments and also the videos to which they relate- other fan production. Some are examples of what I would call 'acting out', some involve extending the story, one is a celebration of other fan art to explore the relationship between characters in a story, some involve re-mixing and mashing them up, but all involve distribution of fan production and sharing amongst an online audience, often starting with a 'knowledge community'.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

More revision blogs

I'm going to post any revision blogs here that I think could be useful to students for either AS or A2 Media

Here is a start:

Dave's blog- collective identity for A2 but also useful for AS TV Drama
Nick's blog- music industry for As or for A2 online age

Monday, 24 May 2010

How to do an exam answer

With three weeks to go to the G325 exam, it's time to see how the material you have gathered might be used in answering the questions. First we will look at questions 1a and 1b, then at the questions on Media in the online age.

These were the questions in January, so obviously the June exam will not feature the same ones (!) but the general principles which I shall explain here will still apply.
The first steps for these two questions is to read the instructions! You also need to consider the number of marks available relative to the time for the exam as a whole. It's two hours long and worth 100 marks, so a 25 mark question should be completed in a quarter of that time (30 minutes). that's how long you should devote to each of these questions. If you prefer to do Section B (the 50 mark question) first, that's fine- you can answer questions in any order. Just make sure you do answer all three and you devote the right amount of time to each.

So in terms of instruction, the main things to note here are that for 1a you write about ALL of your work across the course (and you can write about anything else you might have made on other courses or in your spare time too!) and for 1b you just write about ONE of your productions. Try not to overlap too much, so that each answer is different.

1a is entirely concerned about skills development, but the area that comes up will be quite specific. So as you can see, in January, it was about development of skills in research and planning; the other areas which can come up are skills in:

digital technology use
use of real media conventions

It is possible that a question might refer to two of these categories, so be prepared to talk about any/all of them!

a few tips on what they mean:

digital technology refers to hardware, software and online technology, so the cameras, the computers, the packages you used and the programs online that you have worked with. It is worth considering how all this inter-links.

post-production would actually fall under digital technology as well, so if that comes up it would probably represent an expansion of points you'd make in one section of digital technology. It is really about everything you do after constructing the raw materials for your production; so once you have taken photos and written text, how do you manipulate it all in photoshop or desktop publishing for a print product or once you have shot your video, what do you do to it in editing.

research refers to looking at real media and audiences to inform your thinking about a media production and also how you record all that research; planning refers to all the creative and logistical thinking and all the organisation that goes on in putting the production together so that everything works and again gives you the chance to write about how you kept records of it.

Creativity is the hardest one in many ways because it involves thinking about what the creative process might mean. Wikipedia describes it as "a mental process involving the discovery of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the existing ideas or concepts, fueled by the process of either conscious or unconscious insight." For your projects it might involve considering where ideas came from, how you worked collaboratively to share ideas, how you changed things or even how you used tools like the programs to achieve something imaginative.

Use of real media conventions involves consideration of other texts that you looked at and how skilfully you were able to weave their conventions into your work or ways in which you might have challenged them.

You will notice that most of the above were areas that you covered in the evaluation task at the end of each of your productions. This time, you are putting together ideas from evaluations and standing a bit further back to look across your production work and reflecting on how you developed across the course. You should feel free to acknowledge weaknesses and to reflect upon how you learned from them and how you overcame problems. It is not a place to be defensive about your work but to really reflect on it!

so how would you organise an answer?

paragraph 1 should be an introduction which explains which projects you did. It can be quite short.

paragraph 2 should pick up the skill area and perhaps suggest something about your starting point with it- what skills did you have already and how were these illustrated. use an example.

paragraph 3 should talk through your use of that skill in early projects and what you learned and developed through these. again there should be examples to support all that you say.

paragraph 4 should go on to demonstrate how the skill developed in later projects, again backed by examples, and reflecting back on how this represents moves forward for you from your early position.

paragraph 5 short conclusion

Remember it's only half an hour and you need to range across all your work!

Question 1b

I like to think of this question as being about moving a couple of steps away from your production work and imagining you are someone else looking at it for the first time. How would you analyse this music video, this magazine or whatever? Imagine you didn't make it but that it is a real media production.

Again the question will specify an area/concept for you to apply. The areas that could come up are:

Media Language

For each area there are theories or ideas which your teachers will have introduced you to which you need to know a bit about and then you have to apply those ideas to ONE of your productions and analyse it accordingly. Decide in advance which piece you will write about and make sure that whatever the concept, you can actually do it. Again, here is a bit of a breakdown of what the five concepts might involve.

Audience can refer to how media products target audiences, which audiences actually consume media products, but most interestingly how media audiences actually read or make sense of media products and what they might do with them. There is a lot of interesting material on all this and you should certainly be familiar with some of it.

Genre is all about the ways in which we categorise media texts. Whatever you have made will in some way relate to other examples of the same genre, whether it be in print, audio, video or online. Again a lot of different media critics have written their own 'take' on genre and this would be useful to apply to your work.

Narrative is about how stories are told. Applying different models of narrative structure to your work may reveal unconscious things that you did in the way you have constructed it. Again a familiarity with some of these models or theories will be helpful in the exam.

Media Language is probably the most open one if it comes up, because it allows you to talk about the other areas as well (genre, narrative, audience) as it is about the techniques and conventions of different forms of media (how shots are organised in film, how text is laid out on a page).

Finally, representation particularly focuses on the ways in which particular social groups are presented back to us by the media. So in your case how have you portrayed young people or females or males in your work? what messages are implied in what you have constructed and what would particular types of criticism (e.g. feminism) make of it?

so again, how do we write about this in half an hour?

para 1 Intro: which of your projects are you going to write about? briefly describe it

para 2: what are some of the key features of the concept you are being asked to apply? maybe outline some of the theories briefly

para 3; start to apply the concept, making close reference to your production

para 4: try to show ways in which ideas work in relation to your production and also ways in which those ideas might not apply/could be challenged

para 5; conclusion

So there's the first part of the exam! Next is part B- media in the online age!

How to do an exam answer: Media in the online age

Here are the January questions for this topic (click on image to enlarge)

At the top of the paper, for all topics, there is an instruction that you need to refer to the past, contemporary media and future possibilities and that you should use case study examples to support your arguments. You also need to have some reference to media theory and to refer to examples from at least two media areas. Since 20 of the marks are for explanation, argument and analysis (EAA), twenty are for use of examples (EG) and 10 are for use of terminology (T), you can see that this is not an easy task. In this post, I am going to try to show how you can make the most of your material (including examples from previous posts on this blog) to do a good answer.

So how would we go about answering these questions? Links refer to examples used previously on this blog so you can read more

Step 1: Identify what the question is about.

Exam questions are often written to a bit of a formula- 'to what extent...' 'how far...' '...discuss' - you'll see these a lot in G325. what they are all doing is asking you to consider a debate and to look at both sides of something, not just to prove a point. So when Q.8 asks for a discussion of whether the impact of the internet is revolutionary, it is not setting it as a statement of fact, but asking 'how far' this is true. Similarly, q.9, which refers to distribution and consumption, is asking whether the internet has made these things very different. So there are similarities between the two questions, though the second one gives you more to tie your answer to, where the first one is quite open. In both cases, though, what you use for case studies is really open to your choice!

Step 2: decide which of the two questions to do

Step 3: note down a plan, with the main points you want to cover and the examples you want to use. Break this down so you cover all the areas needed

Media areas x2 or more
Which theory/critics to reference- it just means whose ideas do you want to mention
Main arguments

If you run out of time, the examiner can at least give you credit for where you would have gone.
remember, you could answer this section before you do 1a and 1b if you want.

Step 4 Write an Intro

keep it short and simple. for example- 'In this essay I shall consider how far web microseries and internet memes demonstrate the changing nature of distribution and consumption of the media'

This intro already uses two bits of terminology (microseries and memes) and shows you are going to address the question (distribution and consumption).

If you know that you are going to use the ideas of contemporary critics, you could go on to say 'I shall refer to the ideas of David Gauntlett and Michael Wesch to consider whether the arguments they make about Web 2.0 really do suggest that the media has changed dramatically.'

Step 5 get on with it: case study 1

this is where you discuss your first example- microseries. First define the term. Second, outline some examples and show what their conventions are (episode length, typical content, how distributed, type and size of audience). Third, start to suggest why this might be something different from TV (no scheduling, small budget, no big institution making it- sometimes, watch anytime, chance to comment or even interact) for the audience. Draw upon Gauntlett to contrast this kind of production with conventional Tv production/distribution. Maybe note that actually some of this stuff is made by big companies anyway...Note that in drawing comparisons with TV you have addressed your second media area, the web being your first.

Step 6 case study 2

your second example- internet memes. Define the term, outline some examples and how they spread (via social networking, youtube, viral e-mail etc). talk about how they evolve as other people make new versions of them (see the coppercab videos and click on various links on youtube to see this evolution in action). Bring in Wesch's ideas about how these spread (the first five minutes of his video talk about numa numa guy as an example).

Step 7 pull your ideas together, preparing for conclusions

... an attempt to ensure that you explicitly address past, present and future and that you argue with the critics rather than just accepting their view.

make some points about the audience changing - we spend more time online, informal distribution of media is growing via social networks and e-mail, maybe some of us make stuff ourselves to distribute (as Gauntlett and Wesch suggest). Maybe speculate that this could grow even further in the future. But... the sting in the tail is that Tv is still going strong, these online communities we belong to are still owned by big companies and much of what is being consumed is actually just transferred from one medium to another; Wesch argues that it is all getting more democratic, but is contributing to memes really democracy in action or just a form of play with no wider significance? Gauntlett's 'the media were like Gods..' - has that really changed? were audiences ever as passive as his model characterises them? Are they really that much more active now? isn't it just a tiny percentage who actually make stuff to put online?

This essay model just uses stuff from a few of my posts. You could take a totally different approach, using other posts as a starting point- for example talking about collaborative texts as a new role for audiences or about the changes to the music industry illustrated here and in much more detail here. Or you could answer the question about revolutionary change by reference to technology and consider whether it makes any difference at all.

Remember- your choice of case studies is up to you. What you know about them and how you are able to relate them to ideas is where the marks come in!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Theories and theorists part 2

Angela McRobbie, Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her work focusses on Youth Culture and particularly the role of gender, with a special focus on girls' culture in magazines, dress and music. Her ideas would be particularly useful for looking at the Media and Collective Identity, though any study of audiences in relation to any of the topics might find her work useful.

Professor Sonia Livingstone is Head of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics. Her research on television audiences and more recently on children's use of the internet would be very useful for both Media in the online age and Regulation as topics for the exam.

Charles Leadbetter

"More people than ever can participate in culture, contributing their ideas, views, information.
The web allows them not just to publish but to share and connect, to collaborate and when the conditions are right, to create, together, at scale.
That is why the web is a platform for mass creativity and innovation." Leadbetter's book 'we think' explores these notions, with contributions from many early readers of drafts which appeared online.

Stuart Hall

Now professor at the Open University, Hall was a key figure in the development of thinking about how the media do not simply reflect reality, but actively construct our understanding of it. His ideas about how different meanings may be taken by different types of readers from media texts are well worth applying to examples for exam topics.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Media and Collective identity

The main text slides and some pictures from a presentation I recently gave at Rich Mix. Video material will be linked in forthcoming posts.

Collective Identity
View more presentations from petefrasers.

The quotes from Buckingham and Gauntlett both come from the A2 textbook and raise the issue of how identity relates to use of the media. In my view, a study of collective identity cannot simply be about how texts represent different groups but must also consider how people interpret those representations and how they construct a representation of their own identity, particularly online. Throughout the presentation, I try to make this point.

I have set out here what the basic needs for the exam would be and towards the end attempt to show how the areas we consider in the presentation might be used to answer the January 2010 exam questions on the topic. I have also tried to summarise how the work of particular critics might be useful towards an answer.

Jenkins' idea of cultural convergence is illustrated by the Bert and Bin Laden example, where an image done in photoshop in someone's bedroom took on a new resonance when it was picked up in Pakistan and posters were made which were then used in a demonstration reported in the `western media.

The presentation goes on to consider issues around the construction of identity online- such as false identity and the end of privacy that the online age has brought about, before moving to case studies of the construction of collective identity around the thmes of youth in particular case studies, such as 'Skins' and 'the Wire'.

We also looked at a current meme- 'coppercab' whose angry rant about 'ginger people having souls' attacks an episode of South park and some subsequent responses. His video, made in january, has had over 3m hits and been parodied on numerous occasions.

The presentation also looks at the way that a deviant image of youth around moral panics is often constructed by news media and the ways in which facebook can be used to construct a collective identity and the homogenising impact it appears to have on profile photos and other elements of a user profile.