Eckerson: Week 9

I spent a good chunk of time immersed in the MediaStorm® website this week, as they have been referenced by a few of our professors.  It seems that they are at the forefront of edgy, semi-participatory, content creation and curation for the mainstream media.  I was disappointed, therefore, that it seemed they were really just a high-value production company creating  advertisements, essentially, for different clients.  I was particularly troubled by this because they present themselves as journalists, when really, they’re being paid to make the work for clients.

This struck to the heart of the issue I keep returning to, which is the ethics of media created for profit.  I don’t mean people shouldn’t get paid for their work: but I do mean that there is something inherently uncool about journalists using their journalistic gravitas to then make a few thousand dollars on a piece for any organization –even one like the Red Cross.  This wouldn’t be an issue if there was some unifying ethics underlying the organization, but the only unifying factor I can see is making high-quality media for the amorphous word “social change.” This is fundamentally problematic.

It speaks directly to the one of the essentially ironies in this course, particularly for the Strategic Communication folks, who are thinking about participatory media as a strategy to get people to engage with their client’s work.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, the issues arise with the very concept of “creating participation.” I am struggling here with the authenticity of a piece of media, or or a community, or of the very idea of participation itself. Anyone else have insight on this?

 

 

 

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7 comments to Eckerson: Week 9

  • natalieb@uoregon.edu

    MediaStorm confused me, and I think it was because of the reasons you noted. I could sense an inherent conflict because they were using their skills to create content for a broad array of clients, some of them non-profit organizations who probably don’t get enough journalistic coverage of their issues, issues the org thinks are very important. Yet the organization is also doing work for retail companies. It’s fine for an organization to do both, but their “about” page makes them seems pretty altruistic, yet it doesn’t come off as totally genuine.

    Your questions/concerns get to something bigger though, not just MediaStorm. I think it is difficult to make any ethically for profit. Even someone who raises her own bees and sells honey, beeswax, etc from her hive — she is participating in a culture of capitalism. The people buying her products are making their money somehow. When you work for a non-profit, while you can decide that it is a conflict of interest to accept donations from certain companies or organizations and not go there, there are very few companies you would probably refuse from — only the ones with direct conflicts of interest. Nothing is completely pure. Have you ever read Ecotopia? It’s about a society, in the Pacific Northwest actually, where citizens seceded and formed their own insular country. It is nearly impossible for outsides to get in. Everyone works a 20-hour week. They live communally. And they live on a lot less than any of us are used to. It’s a very difficult thing, and maybe I am taking this further than necessary, but truly when I think about profit, I think about capitalism and the system we live in. When I think about for-profit strategic communications, even if one was promoting something you thought was truly a benefit, there is always a negative somewhere. To me, your post gets to a central conflict in our economy: There is no giving back. Our net impact is nowhere near neutral; it is extraordinarily extractive.

    One of the reasons I liked the Games for Change Climate Challenge game that I just finished playing was because it reflects that. It shows the player the interaction between carbon emissions, power, transportation, water, food, and more — all to support industrialized society.

  • natalieb@uoregon.edu

    (That is supposed to say: I think it is impossible to make anyTHING ethically for profit)

  • abk@uoregon.edu

    What you’ve brought up Amanda is something that seems to be a pesky undercurrent of so many different projects we’ve looked at this semester – do the ends justify the means? I too was somewhat surprised to see that Media Storm was essentially just a production company, as they seem to have been held in such high regard in the work we’ve looked a this semester. However, my surprise didn’t lead to disappointment. In fact, I was even more impressed with them. I know you’re a firm believer in using all of one’s powers for the good will of the people, but you at least have to admit that it’s admirable that they can make work so compelling that it leads you to believe their morals are in direct alignment with the work they create.

    It totally correlates with the discussion some of us were having in Thinking Story the other day about the notion of whether every “selfless” act has some degree of a selfish desire behind it. The thing with the Media Storm folk is that they were never attempting to mislead anyone on who they were. It’s the same with what we’ve talked about in Wes’s classes – there is no completely objective documentary out there. But just because it’s nearly impossible to eliminate every clue to the creator’s own view on their subject doesn’t necessarily make it an un-authentic piece of media. So equally, just because the Media Storm team doesn’t have a set guideline of their moral views doesn’t mean that their presentation of just topics is not an authentic presentation.

  • natalieb@uoregon.edu

    Yeah, actually, after looking at their client list more thoroughly now, their clients are mostly organizations working for either social change or better information sharing/journalism. Amanda, how do you define “for profit”? If you get paid by a private client, is that a different kind of for profit than getting paid by the Canadian Film Board, in your opinion?

  • amandae@uoregon.edu

    Hey guys: Thanks for jumping in with such (long!) responses to this issue. I think my uncomfortable feelings go much deeper than what I have time to summarize right now, but it has something to do with Adam’s comment about being “upfront” about who they are. I disagree that they’re “upfront,” I think they’ve shrouded themselves in this journalistic integrity cloak, but even the non-profit work is just sugar-coated adwork: it’s making a product because someone paid them, not because it was a story. Period.

    The Film Board gives grants –grants based on projects and pursuits, usually with a combination of intellectual, factual, and artistic merit. Maybe they commission a film delving deeper into an issue –but a journalist could be paid to do a story delving deeper into something, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that either. I think the difference here is this is clearly a client based company that uses the merits of journalists to get work. Even if the work they produce deepens our public discussion, the larger morality and ethics is different when the main profit is money. It blurs the lines, no matter how you sugar-coat it.

  • amandae@uoregon.edu

    I also think there are ways you can do this well –but you need to have crystal clear ethical guidelines, and acknowledge your purpose — and in my opinion, be hyper-aware of the system you are operating within. I guess the social activist in me thinks that simply saying you want to “tell stories that create empathy” leaves it open for all sorts of production work, and they don’t go deep enough in acknowledging the inherent contradiction in their work to make millions of dollars while telling the “untold” stories of the masses.

  • Joel

    I’m not sure what’s ambiguous about MediaStorm, whose About page states in bold letters, “We Create Cinematic Narratives.” Their Clients section states, “We work with a variety of clients on commissioned work.” Their Training section states, “We teach advanced multimedia storytelling skills.” And their Publication section states, somewhat less concretely, “Our goal is to provide a vehicle for the most outstanding work.” Only the latter contains a journalistic purpose; the former are explicitly commercial. Perhaps by ‘journalistic’ you meant ‘non-commercial,’ since some of MediaStorm’s work is for non-profit causes. In this case, it’s important to appreciate that ‘journalistic’ is not the opposite of ‘biased’ or ‘commercial,’ since both commercial and non-profit media messages are biased. It sounds like your opposition to strategic communication is deeper, since you describe profit and telling untold stories as being at odds with each other. In this case, should only (government-funded/non-profit) journalists cover human interest stories? Presumably, the basis for excluding such commercial coverage would be the cognitive dissonance between an ‘inauthentic’ organization – one not motivated exclusively by altruism – discussing an authentic concern, since we don’t want to spoil a meaningful issue by associating it with something ‘unworthy.’

    This represents an untenable degree of sensitivity, since it’s predicated on a binary, reductive moral universe. Removing the ethical hazard of commercial interests dealing with serious issues would preclude them from a category of moral action and scrutiny; it would reduce their responsibility. The right path here is not to narrow the standards by which we evaluate commercial interests, but to preserve them as full moral agents to encourage responsible investment and commercial activity.

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