Beginning Oct. 26, the AP style has been updated to remove the word "writer" from the byline. The new format includes the author's name followed by "Associated Press." While seemingly innocuous, this is a subtle but significant shift that acknowledges contemporary reporters are engaging in creative news activity beyond tapping out keys in an often dated word processing program. The classic definition and skills of a journalist could be in the process of redefinition as a result.
"It reflects what's been going on for a long time---people go out, they take pictures, they write stories, they do video, they work on different platforms," AP Managing Editor Thomas Kent told Editor & Publisher, noting that "it does say something about the changing skill set of our journalists, and that they work in may different formats."
While the absence of this description is not unusual---the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times do not employ "writer" in bylines---explicitly addressing content creation for multimedia platforms as AP has is a significant bellwether of what will be demanded of journalists in a digital media age.
Online sources indicate that the birth of the newspaper comic was the result of a culture of experimentation in the newspaper industry -- a culture that has since been lost. Indeed, the rise of the newspaper comic strip seems inevitable in retrospect; precursors to the comic strip appear to have arisen independently in several newspapers during the 1890s. The early history of the form is ambiguous, however, and a number of cartoons claim to be the first newspaper comic. I will discuss two such strips, The Yellow Kid and Little Bears, both because they have the most legitimate claims and because they illustrate a larger point about the newspaper industry of the time.
The Yellow Kid, the strip most commonly referred to as the first newspaper comic, was created by R.F. Outcault in the mid-1890s. Outcault was working as an illustrator for Electrical World magazine, and, during 1894 and 1895, occasionally published cartoons for a weekly humor magazine called Truth.He also worked as a technical illustrator for the Sunday edition of Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, then the paper with the highest circulation in the nation. On at least one occasion, the World published a humorous cartoon from Outcault, and in early 1895, it republished one of his cartoons from Truth magazine.
Newsgames have often been described as the videogame counterparts to editorial cartoons. Both forms aim to present thought-provoking opinions on current events in way that is diverting, brief and easily understood. While newsgames have enjoyed increasing popularity throughout the past decade however, the political cartooning industry has experienced a steady and serious state of decline. In 2004, the number of professional political cartoonists in the United States had dropped from nearly 200 to just over 90. Today, political cartoonist Jack Ohman of The Oregonian estimates that number has dropped to 58.
This may seem to be an unsurprising symptom of the ailing newspaper industry or even a simple matter of downsizing in a tough economy. Any professional cartoonist will tell you the problem is more complicated than that, and that more than their livelihood is at stake. In his article, "The Fixable Decline of Editorial Cartooning," Chris Lamb describes how political cartooning changed after 9/11.
Most political cartoonists felt it was unpatriotic to criticize government leaders immediately following the terrorist attacks, and they modified their cartoons accordingly. Lamb states that several cartoonists continued to act as government propagandists following the crisis however, and those cartoonists who did return to satirizing and scrutinizing the government were accused of being unpatriotic. This rocky political climate helped lead editors to adopt a more conservative stance, which was later exacerbated by the present economic crisis.
Link TV is an independent media outlet (including online fora and a satellite television channel) that seeks to foster these very skills through a project called Know the News (KtN). Link TV hosts two online tools called Remix the News and News Challenge, both of which are games that encourage students to reflect on the source of the news and how it is delivered; however, the ability to be critical is not one that is limited solely to the consumption of news broadcasts, but one that plays into a more basic literacy of information analysis. It becomes a question of pedagogy: by explicitly stating their aims to encourage media literacy, is KtN successful? Bloom's Taxonomy is a model worth investigating as a constructive means of assessing the efficacy of Remix the News, News Challenge and the overall objectives of the KtN project.
The remainder of the history of news games as we have so far considered it bears out the centrality of this metaphor. That is, the games are produced by a dedicated class of design practitioners, usually in the form of named authors and studios that create artifacts for the benefit and edification of a separate class of individuals called news or information consumers. Even when an individual crosses from the latter class into the former (e.g., citizen journalist, amateur game designer), the producer and consumer classes themselves remain undisturbed.
In this way, games stand in for the traditional news story, editorial cartoon, or flat information graphic. They enact a one-way flow of knowledge or ideas from the knowledgeable to the ignorant, from the journalist to the reader. In allowing the game creation process to escape our scrutiny, our critical focus shifts largely to the mechanics of game play, and all the learning is presumed to take place on that stage of play. Missing from this equation is the process by which the game design itself encodes a body of knowledge with the concomitant question of how that body of knowledge may itself be altered by the design process.
OurCourts.org states, "A growing body of research shows that games have extraordinary potential for promoting learning and civic engagement," but do the games released by Our Courts live up to this potential? In this article I will review Do I Have A Right? (hereafter referred to as DIHAR) and discuss how the elements within the game promote learning and civic engagement. This is accomplished through a few methods, but what appears most effective is that the game builds civic literacy by harnessing the natural process of learning that takes place when a player first picks up a new game.
Traditionally, journalism schools, at least in the United States, have been separated into broadcast and print departments. This division of teaching has been present for decades as these platforms were completely different worlds: different skill sets, different media companies, and so forth. Today, with the efforts in the industry to converge and the growing space of the web as a blender of the traditional media, the separated platform training has been challenged.
Another focus that can be seen in Journalism Schools is a more theoretical one where it is possible to find more media, culture and communication research. Around this perspective we can see videogames taken as a cultural and societal phenomenon. For example, schools would observe how the entertainment industry is creating brands that are deployed across different platforms, including videogames, or they would assess how games affect people and society.
In both cases it is difficult to see videogames more than as an observable phenomenon, and far beyond from the idea that videogames could be something that journalists could create as news-related product. However, if I would predict how games will knock on the door of the Journalism schools, I could see that news-gaming might be introduced in the same way as multimedia and online journalism was done some years ago.
A few months ago I attended a couple of Journalism related conferences:
The Society of News Design conference in Las Vegas and the Online News
Association in Washington D.C. One of my goals attending these
conferences was to assess the current understanding of new storytelling
resources inside the online media industry, mainly interactive
infographics and games, and how the newsrooms where adapting to the new
challenges. It was good to see that many outlets were thinking and
doing things about these topics. However, I believe their approaches
are still too shy... and probably still unsuited for game development in a news environment.
For many years the word "convergence" has been present inside the media industry, but not many experiments became as successful as expected. Some companies blended their broadcast, print, and online newsrooms, others created collaboration teams between them, and many other combinations. In many cases the companies underestimated the culture clashes, technological challenges, and other issues that they would face. Others made deeper changes that seem to be going into the right direction. Even media companies where convergence was not an issue years ago are streamlining their operations and integrating as much as they can with their web counterparts.
It's time for another post in which I show how a mainstream videogame manages to capture the spirit of a particular aspect of journalism better than any existing edu-game on the same subject! This month's game is Beyond Good & Evil, an artifact that shares with Psychonauts the distinction of being a relatively late entry in the sixth generation of videogames that didn't sell nearly as much as it should have considering its critical reception and creative flair.
Everything one needs to know about BG&E is masterfully presented within the first thirty minutes of playing the game. A newscast cinematic opens the experience, with Hyllis's most popular newscaster Fehn Digler (Fehn, a Scandinavian surname, is apparently the forename of all "goat sapientes") announcing an oncoming wave of alien enemies called the DomZ (perhaps a riff on Ubisoft's own Petz series). He transfers control of the broadcast over to the voice of General Kex of the Alpha Sections - an intergalactic military that is purportedly protecting the people of Hillys from the DomZ. He begins, "Loyal Hillians, the impending battle will be a difficult one, but thanks to the Alpha Sections..." before being cut off by a fadeout to the protagonist, Jade, meditating on a rock. Both Fehn Digler and General Kex are instantly set in opposition to Jade by this somewhat disruptive cut. Although the name "Fehn Digler" connotes the historical form of investigative journalism known as muckracking, he in fact aligns with the propagandistic Alpha Sections. When the introductory DomZ invasion begins, Jade springs into action and is captured in a series of black-and-white photograph snaps--Jade is a rugged photojournalist, an independent force flying in the face of the Alpha Sections' media hegemony
The goal of the game is that the user reports and writes a story for a local media company in the city of Medina. The game starts with the editor's briefing, which explains to the user the issue that he needs to report about and reminds him about some core elements of a journalistic practice. The user needs to go around the city to collect the information needed to create a story by selecting different buildings or sites from an overview map of Medina. Each location contains information that can be gathered (such as news paper clips from the library) or has people that can be interviewed. Every once in awhile the editor pops up in a video screen to urge you to finish the story timely or to suggest you to go to a specific place to gather more information.
In their 2004 textbook, Behind the Message: Information Strategies for Communicators, Kathleen Hansen and Nora Paul write, "Informal sources include observations about audiences, messages, and the environment in which the communicator operates, as well as networks of supervisors, colleagues, clients, neighbors, and friends the communicator deals with every day."
his⋅to⋅ri⋅og⋅ra⋅phy [hi-stawr-ee-og-ruh-fee, -stohr-]
1. the body of literature dealing with historical matters; histories collectively.
2. the body of techniques, theories, and principles of historical research and presentation; methods of historical scholarship.
3. the narrative presentation of history based on a critical examination, evaluation, and selection of material from primary and secondary sources and subject to scholarly criteria.
We rarely consider the difference between news and history. After all, isn't a two-day old newspaper similar to a history textbook? They both chronicle information that has passed, yet clearly there is a significant difference in their format. Yet in the same way the Global Conflicts games can be seen as teaching journalistic practice, they are also teach the practice of researching and understanding history. This makes perfect sense, considering Serious Games Interactive's focus on school-curriculum and the accompanying literature. In the course of discussing the Global Conflicts games in the Newsgames project, we have questioned why the games are packaged as classroom tools. Was it a part of the original scope of the design process or was it a marketing-driven afterthought; a way to sell a niche game in bulk. In either case, we can dissect the games, the teaching materials, and student guides to analyze the game's representations of historiography.
Both interactive applications are mainly tailored for kids. The first one is a game which is available in numerous computer stations ready for the young-want-to-be-reporters. The goal is to make the kids aware of the journalistic practice, how reporters work in the street, and teach them broadly what makes good journalism. The graphics are completely computer generated, and look like cartoons, which seem a fair choice taking into account the audience. Also, the way that the game addresses their users is more from a teaching perspective where the editor explains and instructs many of the standards of high quality journalism. For example, if you interview someone and the responses sound like a rumor or an opinion, the always-on virtual editor on the corner of the screen will remind us that those inputs are not good quality information and that we should keep digging.
I've been trying to get a handle on how interactive software such as games can be made more transparent, and perhaps more trustworthy. As suggested in The Elements of Journalism, transparency signals a respect for the audience and reaffirms a journalist's public interest motive, the key to gaining credibility. "The willingness of the journalist to be transparent about what he or she has done is at the heart of establishing that the journalist is concerned with the truth" (p. 92). I've begun the process of teasing apart understandings of transparency in journalism, which encompass a number of different notions including:
Global Conflicts: Latin American, released in 2008, turns the player's attention to Bolivia, Guatemala, and Mexico, where investigative skills help support the interview process. Though each game has different in-game goals, the external goals are to teach the practice of journalism, media literacy, and research and historiographical skills. This is the first in a series of posts which analyzes how the Global Conflicts games are used as instructional tools, how the games function for different kinds of learning, and a critical analysis of the internal mechanisms of the games.
Games and Journalism both evoke their own cultural images; the Ramen and Dorito stained gamer on one hand and the hard nosed, gum shoe journalist on the other. It's not immediately obvious that oil and water can mix, nor am I going to argue that they should. But there are some interesting opportunities here, both for games to fill functional gaps in journalism and for games to come closer to journalism by adapting the cultural values of news institutions. How can games fit into the sociology of news and journalism?
I started by reviewing "The Sociology of News" written by Michael Schudon, a sociologist at UCSD. If you haven't read this book I would recommend it, not only for its concise definitions of terms like "news" and "journalism," but also for its in depth description of the American culture of journalism.
This news begs the question: does the exclusion of the photography mechanic in the Wii version of Dead Rising change anything about what the game says about photojournalism as a practice? Let me first explain what the game is.
Back in the mid 1990's there was a flurry of activity in HCI in trying to understand the explainability and transparency of interactive systems. Paul Dourish published extensively in the area and is known for his book, Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction, which (among other things) connects ideas from ethnomethodology with those of technology and system transparency.
A key concept studied in relation to ethnomethodology is that of accountability, meaning "observable and reportable" or able to be made sense of in the context in which an action arises. It addresses not just the result or outcome of an action but also includes how the result was achieved. Dourish sums it up thus, "Put simply it says that because we know that people don't just take things at face value but attempt to interrogate them for their meaning, we should provide some facilities so that they can do the same thing with interactive systems. Even more straightforwardly, it's a good idea to build systems that tell you what they're doing."
While the state of the system is central to the notion of system transparency, what we're really interested in is an idealization of the system state. What's important in a user-centric model is the representation of "state required to account for the future external behavior." In the text Dix refers to this as the "effect" which I think is nasty terminology. I'm going to call it the "User-Relevant State" or URS.
Both stages are essential to the practice of journalism. Information without proper context and rigorous verification is just unreliable raw data; analysis without original reporting is just aggregation or editorial.
Of course, journalistic news media exists as a spectrum between these two poles. An interview typically focuses on reporting, whereas an editorial typically focuses on review. Nevertheless, we should note that the best interviewers contextualize and respond to the interviewee, and that the best editorial writers frequently incorporate their own reporting.
How do videogames fit into this spectrum?
The question we're tasked to answer is, "Do the kind of people who create indie games have any reason to move away from their personal interests and goals in order to join our cause of making more thoughtful, creative newsgames (than the ones that are currently available) that follow the principles of The Elements of Journalism?" This question has multiple layers. Who are these people making Indie Games? Are they a homogenous group, or are they largely fractured in philosophy and practice? What constitutes a more "personal" style when it comes to newsgames, and does this raise issues for journalistic transparency or verification? And finally, is it actually important that a newsgame creator ascribe to the values in The Elements of Journalism that we've found so helpful in our own studies here at JAG?
A few weeks ago, Adam and I gave Democracy 2 a spin.
In Democracy 2, you play as a newly elected president who analyzes data, sets policies, manages a Cabinet, and responds to crises. There are a number of different scenarios (nations) to choose from. Most of them are fake names based on real configurations, although there is one explicitly real-named scenario (the United States).
The game is certainly fun. For our purposes, Democracy 2 is especially relevant because it acts as a kind of commentary on current issues. Admittedly, the game does not claim to be journalistic. Nonetheless, it does suggest a number of interesting challenges and solutions regarding the intersection of simulation and news.