Jenkins-Isms?

As I mention the other day, I am currently posting this blog from Singapore. I was invited here as a guest of the Singapore Press Holdings Foundation which hosted a public lecture at the National Library’s Drama Center on Friday night which was attended by some of the country’s political, economic, and intellectual leaders and was designed to focus public debate around the issue of Media in Transition. The talk has received enormous interest here — I think I have been interviewed at this point by pretty much all of the English language media in Singapore. (I am starting to feel like Noam Chomsky!) The first interview came on my first morning of the country and went up on line almost immediately. It was with AsiaOne and resulted in this story.

They asked for my photograph, having no time to get a photographer over to my hotel, and wondered if they could take some images from my blog. I was amused to see that they went with a picture of my Mii, created by Alice Robison, and the photograph of me reading a Polish comic book outside the Warsaw train station. In this context, the Mii looks a little bit like the kind of artist renderings a police might circulate about a crime suspect but I suppose it does drill home my attitude towards game and digital technology.

The article ran with the provocative headline, “The Youtube of Tomorrow Will Come from Asia,” and discusses in some depth my interest in the flow of Asian produced goods into the west and my belief that Singapore as a nation may be posed to become a key broker in that relationship.

On Saturday, I opened up the Straits Times over breakfast and found a full page article about my talk, including a side bar on “Jenkins-isms” which included the following tidbit about my recent visit to Teen Second Life:

“Prof Jenkins himself went into Second Life and met a young girl from Mexico City. Despite their age gap, they could talk freely about many things.”

So, Mariel, it looks like our encounter the other day is making international news!

It’s pretty scary when people start naming “isms” after you!


I have also found this rather interesting blog post from a Singaporean who attended the public lecture and who describes some of the kinds of questions and concerns that got raised from the audience:

I was amused to hear about the story of how one lady was not too happy with her daughter studying before the exams with her iPod plugged in. Her daughter was actually listening to her own lecture notes, but hey, when I was studying, the radio or Walkman was always on full blast. This is what we define as The Generation Gap.

But I was not amused was when this PR practitioner stood up and said most of the online stuff that people are crazy over is “rubbish” to her.

Actually her point was that it was difficult for her to find useful stuff on the Internet apart from traditional media content (like a PDF of a print magazine interview), and she couldn’t get the hang of being a constant web community. It’s this sort of dismissal that will cause the older folks to be blindsided when the carpet is suddenly pulled from under their feet and they realize the old media ground no longer exists.

On Sunday, there was a second, longer profile of Prof Jenkins in the Straits Times. written by Cheong Suk-Wai, a high profile Singaporean journalist. I was really impressed with the quality of the reporting here: she manages to convey some of the core concerns animating my work and also to capture something of my personality as well. There are a few glitches — most notably, she took my estimate that this blog gets 4000 visitors per week (more or less) and wrote that it had gotten 4000 hits since June.

I am also struggling with her side comment that I speak in a “chirpy rapid-fire throttle.” I will certainly buy rapid fire throttle — I do talk way too fast, just trying to fit in everything I want to say, but I never thought of myself as “chirpy” before.

The portrait captures both my optimism and the concern that we need to work together to confront some of the challenges and risks represented by this moment of media transition. A heavy focus here was on the work we are doing with MacArthur on new media literacies and with my own experiences raising a son during the digital age. My southern background — described her as “homespun” — seems to strike a note in this piece which is at once exotic (a world not often encountered here) and familiar (with its stress on family and religion.) This is perhaps the first article about me that talks about being raised a Southern Baptist by a mother who ran our church’s vacation Bible school.

In addition to the public lecture, “From YouTube to YouNiversity: Learning and Playing in An Age of Social Networks,” I did a workshop with employees of the various newspapers represented by my host, the Singapore Press Holdings, which centered around the relationship of old and new media as it impacts news and journalism. Since this talk was off the record, I can’t really share with you what they asked or what I said. But much of what I conveyed drew upon some speculations I put together along time ago for Technology Review and for the MIT Communications Forum. Anyone who wants to read my thoughts on the future of news would do well to start with these two articles, now somewhat out of date, though many of the same issues remain.

One journalist said that Singapore was a great country which suffered because it was in a “shabby neighborhood.” A central theme of my remarks had to do with the ways that geographic location might be playing a less central role in the production and circulation of news in the future. So, in 2001, I wrote that the American tradition of local newspapers might give way — was indeed already starting to give way — to a culture centered around national papers. More and more Americans get their news from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor or USA Today, all of which are essentially national rather than local or regional newspapers. Many techies still read the San Jose Mercury online, both because it was one of the first online newspapers and because it has unique access to developments in Silicon Valley and on Sandhill Road. I personally get my national news from the Washington Post and my international news from the New York Times. I know many Americans who prefer to read about Iraq and the War on Terror through the British media because they don’t trust how the American trust has handled this story.

Can we imagine, then, other newspapers developing specializations which play on their core competencies and which thus attract readers nationwide? Could the Boston Globe, say, build on its access to leading colleges and universities by becoming in effect a center of excellence (or something like the journalistic equivalent of a magnet school) focused on covering Education? Could the LA Times beef up its coverage of entertainment news and start to attract nationwide readers online? What happens next — I am seeing students in my dorm who continue to read the online editions or listen to the digital radio broadcasts from journalists in their home country. And the same thing is happening to readers of small town newspapers in this country when they go away to college.

In such a world, is it far fetched to imagine that a publication like the Straits Times, which does a first class job covering developments in Asia (both political and cultural), might become the newspaper of choice within the Chinese Diaspora or might even attract the interest of pop cosmopolitans in the west who want to read more about anime, manga, Jpop, Bollywood, and other forms of Asian popular culture or the Asian business scene?

In such a scenario, newspapers as a medium will survive but there’s no guarantee that any particular paper will survive. Some newspapers will wither and die in such a world, just as we’ve seen over the past several decades, the consolidation of rival newspapers in major cities. How many American cities still have competing dailies? Surprisingly few. So, the next step may be the consolidation of publications within the Northeastern Megalopolis, say, so that papers in Boston and Providence start to fold into each other. Those newspapers which survive will be those which know how to identify and serve specific interests not just for their local readership but for interested consumers nationally or even globally.

All of this is of course totally speculative. I am channeling my inner McLuhan here! You can just chalk it up as another example of Jenkins-ism run amok!

An aside: While I am in Singapore, my name seems to be cropping up in relation to a controversy in the American gaming community. Penny Arcade’s Tycho ran a piece last week discussing a new documentary, Moral Kombat, which centers around video game violence. I gather that the film’s trailer is pretty sensationalistic (though I have had trouble accessing it here in Singapore). As Tycho notes, “I sincerely doubt the tone of the piece matches this trailer, given some of the participants – for example, I don’t think that Henry Jenkins would be party to a hysterical dialogue, even in an attempt to tame it.”

Thanks, Tycho for the vote of confidence. I haven’t seen the film yet myself so I can’t guarantee what its contents actually look like. I have been snookered before by producers who seemed earnest and then ambushed me. See the article in Fans, Gamers, and Bloggers about my experience on Donahue. And there was the guy who signed me up for an interview and then ended up confessing mid-interview that he had lost his son to the evils of gaming: actually, his son was a national CounterStrike champion but the father couldn’t accept the place of computer games in his son’s life. Needless to say, that was not a fun interview from that point forward and the final film — which will remain nameless here (primarily because I’ve blocked it out) — ended up having a major ax to grind.

But my sense is that Spencer Halprin, the producer of this film, really wanted to get out both sides of the argument. He spent time following around Jack Thompson and hopefully gave the old buzzard enough rope to hang himself with. And he asked me some pointed but thoughtful questions, giving me a chance to spell out my arguments for why the links between video games and real world violence have been over-stated. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the finished product has the same reasonable tone and rational perspective as the interview I did with the producer several years ago. If I get an advanced peek at the work, I will certainly share my impressions here.

Comments

  1. Aswin says:

    Given that one of your core concerns is to demonstrate relationships between media convergence and a vibrant political society, I am curious about your meeting with the Singapore Press Holdings. As you know, they control practically all the newspapers there (and the advertising revenue). And journalists’ freedom in terms of reporting on local politics is always a touchy subject. In such an environment, how do journalists take to/challenge some of your ideas about media convergence and politics? For instance, how would they read your “photoshop for democracy” chapter? I understand you might not be able to give us details about the meeting, but any speculations based on your visit would be great. Thanks!