Monday, 24 May 2010

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!


  1. could a mashup be considered a meme - e.g. remixing youtube or film footage to music? (CopperCab's gingers have souls, etc.)???

  2. Geffbell: To be or belong to a group of Duces.

  3. if the question was about lets say production and consumption would i talk about the production and consumption of both media's or would i talk about one for production and the other for consumption?