Archive for the ‘Media and Society’ category

Digital Serfs

February 14, 2011

With AOL buying the Huffington Post for about a third of a billion dollars, many have begun to ask how those who originate content in the digital age get paid. Huffington Post was created with mostly unpaid blog posts. The bloggers got a lot of exposure and understood what they were doing, but they may not be so sanguine as they watch the big checks get written. It’s all well and good to say that you are blogging to create PR for yourself, but at some point, you have to put food on the table. David Carr wrote a thoughtful article on this subject for the NY Times today (At Media Companies, A Nation of Serfs). It’s nicely summed up with a quote from Anthony De Rosa, a product manager at Reuters. “The technology of a lot of these sites is very seductive, and it lulls you into contributing,” he said. “We are being played for suckers to feed the beast, to create content that ends up creating value for others.”

We in post production are digital content creators, too, and many are facing declining wages as our technology gets democratized. Will Huffington Post begin to pay everyone? Or will we continue to chase each other to the bottom? Jaron Lanier, in his brilliant book “You Are Not a Gadget,” indicates that creative people are destined to become the peasants of the digital age. “The combination of hive mind and advertising has resulted in a new kind of social contract,” he says. “The basic idea of this contract is that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising” (p83).

Verizon Sues the FCC

January 22, 2011

If anybody was laboring under the illusion that the big internet service providers are benign giants who want us all to share in the democratic bounties of the net, a small article in yesterday’s NY Times should serve as a cautionary reminder that we ain’t living in Mayberry. The FCC recently drafted a grand compromise on network neutrality (remarkably similar to a proposal originally suggested by Google and Verizon) that would force landline internet providers to treat all websites equally, but would let wireless providers block or give priority to whichever sites they choose. Transparency was supposed to prevent abuses, but since, for better or worse, we’re all moving toward the wireless web, most public interest groups thought this wasn’t much of a compromise. And, even thought it was their idea, it just wasn’t good enough for Verizon, which promptly sued, saying that the FCC lacks jurisdiction to regulate them at all.

Screen Time is Bad for Your Health

January 13, 2011

In a new large-scale study examining the relationship between screen time and heart problems, scientists found something dramatic. Just sitting in front of a screen for four or more hours a day correlates with a doubling of heart disease risk compared to less than two hours. And it was associated with a 50% higher death rate, as well.

The study, led by Emmanuel Stamatakis at the University College of London and published in the January 18th issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, looked at “leisure” screen time, what the scientists called “recreational sitting,” and followed study participants for four years. Whether the same correlation would be found regarding work-related screen time wasn’t studied, but it doesn’t take much imagination to assume that there would be a link there, as well. We editors spend way more than four hours a day sitting in front of a screen. And we do it for a lot longer than four years. What is it doing to us?

Here’s a more complete look at the research. And here’s the abstract of the original article.

Year End Showbiz Wrap Up

January 4, 2011

Hollywood production workers have been hit hard by this recension. People are struggling to find work and many have lost their homes. I’ve lived through a few recessions here, and for the most part they’ve been okay for Hollywood. When money gets tight, people want escape, and Hollywood provides it. But this time was different. Was that situational (the de facto strikes) or a long-term trend, caused by the shift of audiences to the internet and videogames?

Three articles in yesterday’s paper offer a good overview. In general, 2010 wasn’t as bad as it might have been, and there were some strong bright spots. Total TV viewing was up 1%, to the highest level in history. (The average American is now watching 35 hours a week.) TV ad rates were way up after a long dry spell, that’s very good sign for anybody who works in television. Theatrical attendance was down a bit but box office was flat, a result of higher ticket prices. And it was a big year for documentaries, though they didn’t do so well in theaters. Over all, the big draw was escapist fantasy — and that looks like a good, old-fashioned Hollywood recession. This year, that’s something fondly to be hoped for.

Found Photography

January 2, 2011

She lived in obscurity in Chicago, worked as a nanny, and for a time was homeless. But she took pictures. Tens of thousands of pictures — showing them to nobody. And then, in 2007, a young Chicagoan named John Maloof, looking for pictures for a book, bought her work at a storage locker auction.

At first he didn’t know what he had. He wasn’t a photographer. But he put some of the pictures on the net, and people responded. Eventually it became clear that he had acquired the work of an important artist — mature, perceptive, visually arresting, with hints of Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt and Walker Evans.

Those pictures changed Maloof’s life. He eventually acquired roughly 100,000 images, and a great deal more that have never seen by anyone, including the photographer, since they were never developed. He’s now working full time scanning and processing them.

You can see a selection of these photographs and learn more about the story on Maloof’s blog and on this gallery from Chicago Magazine.

To find so much important work lying unseen for so long is dramatic enough, but the last act is the strangest. When Maloof first went to that auction, the photographer was still alive. But he had no idea who she was. Two years later he found a lab receipt and learned her name: Vivian Maier. He did a Google search — and discovered that she had died just days earlier, presumably unaware of what had happened to her life’s work. A fascinating, elusive character, when she wasn’t working as a nanny she was never without a camera, usually a Rolleiflex. The children she cared for likened her to Mary Poppins.

In the last year, there’s been a groundswell of interest in Maier’s photography, and Maloof is now working on a documentary and a book. You can see a trailer for the film and help fund it here. A show will open next week at the Chicago Cultural Center. A local TV station did this ten-minute profile. There are more pictures on the site of collector Jeff Goldstein. And the radio show “Which Way, LA?” covered Maier and Maloof at the end of the Dec 29 episode.

Will Maier be seen as of the great photographers of the mid-twentieth century? It’s too early to say. But whatever history decides, it’s already quite a story.

João Silva

December 27, 2010

I was deeply saddened today to learn that João Silva was severely injured in late October, when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan. Silva is one of the world’s great war photographers. I’ve been struck by the beauty and power of his images for a long time now, and I had become accustomed to seeing a particularly arresting picture in the Times, looking at the credit and seeing that, sure enough, it was his.

He was stuck down in the same anonymous and brutal way as another great photographer, Robert Capa. Silva was luckier — he survived — and is still recovering from severe injuries at Walter Reed. But both his legs had to be amputated.

I suspect that whether you know their names or not, you know the work of both men. Capa is best known for his photographs of the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and in particular, the Normandy invasion. He summed up his approach to photography this way: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

War photographers take great risks for their work, and they don’t get rich doing it. Silva was a contract worker for the Times. But within days of his injury, the paper hired him full time. Whatever life he faces — with a wife and two kids — he will at least have some financial security.

You can make a donation to help with his recovery or buy prints at this site. There’s a good sample of his work on the Times’ Lens blog here and here. You can learn more about the episode in this article, this appreciation by Michael Kamber, or on Nick Kristof’s blog. For more about Capa, see the International Center of Photography.