Putting that bird to rest

21 12 2009

That’s it, I’m calling it a dissertation. No more bending over backwards, no more worrying about arguments, no more fewer moodswings, no more late night revision rounds, no more excuses. Time to look up some old friends. Have a beer. Check out some new music. Relax. Sleep. Night everyone.

Writing is thoughts unraveling

13 12 2009

Rules – by LaserBread

MSCE 1/03/09: blank sheet of paper + old note pad + thread + tape + exacto knife + camera

Uploaded by Laser Bread on 3 Jan 09, 9.10AM PST.

The contingency of academic labor

26 09 2009

There are a number of methodological and theoretical similarities (and differences) between journalism and what I call ‘soft’ science (i.e. mostly qualitative, social science like media anthropology or linguistic ethnography). In essence, journalism and soft science are eclectic sense-making practices that produce accounts which are situated (socially, geographically, topically) and interpretive.

There is another link between news work and academic work: the labor conditions in these two fields are becoming increasingly precarious, contingent or otherwise ‘atypical‘. The arts faculty at my alma mater no longer offers post-doc positions because it simply cannot afford them. External funding, downsizing, increased teaching loads and productivity demands (publish and perish) have become symptomatic of an ongoing trend towards the commercialization and marketization of tertiary education.

I am writing this down not just out of self-indulgent frustration over professional insecurity but because I share Mark Deuze’s concern that if the market orientation of the university

does not come with specific caveats, protections, checks and balances, the university as we know it becomes just another factory workplace – not a place for independent and critical reflection; a place that teaches people to make up their own minds.

This post is loosely based on Michael Bérubé’s feather-ruffling Op-Ed and Mark Deuze’s eloquent rant on the precarity of work in academia.

DiO Workshop day III: final plenaries

18 09 2009

Four, yes four, plenary presentations were scheduled on the Friday afternoon. Two corpus linguistic studies kicked off the written corporate communication theme. Birgitta Meex & Heidi Verplaetse (Lessius/KULeuven) compared German and English corporate mission statements. Berna Hendriks & Margot Van Mulken (University of Nijmegen) then presented an analysis of CEO communication.

The final two presentations were on…journalism. Ha! Martina Temmerman & Els Belsack (Erasmus University College Brussels) talked about positioning and self-representation during televised political interviews. Finally, Ellen Van Praet (Ghent University) and yours truly went the reflective/methodological route. We opted not to present micro data and instead focus on the pros and cons of secondary analysis.

Thank you: Geert, Katja, Craig, Chris, Sylvain, Priscilla and all the delegates for coming out. Hope to see you again at a DiO event.

DiO Workshop day III: PhD colloquium

18 09 2009

Third and final DiO day. The morning slots were dedicated to a PhD colloquium (in collaboration with the Association for Business Communication). Ten people presented their research in five parallel sessions. Each participant was appointed one or two mentors.

I attended four presentations: first up was Kristian Hursti (Helsinki School of Economics). His talk on financial forecasts doubled as Kristian’s maiden speech, but it did not show. Kristian previously worked as a financial journalist at Reuters and has only recently embarked on a PhD project. My future colleague Jasper Vandenberghe (University College Ghent) then gave a presentation on self-justification in press releases.

Sabine Rettinger’s (Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München) talk on competence displays in – to quote Chris Braecke – Socratic coaching interactions illustrate, among other things, how coaches position themselves interactionally vis-à-vis their clients. The final presentation I attended was by Hana Blazkova (University of Birmingham) on involvement strategies in so-called business development network presentations.

I am now a blogger without a day job

1 09 2009

At midnight yesterday, my PhD scholarship ran out. I immediately embarked on a government-sponsored ‘sabbatical’ so I can finish a draft version of my PhD. Of the six chapters due, I’m done with one, nearly there with two and three, halfway there with four and five but only at the rough draft stage with six. One more week to go. Whoop whoop.

Welcome to the mental health hotline

20 08 2009

Friends, family and colleagues often inquire about the progress of my PhD. When will you submit? Why are you losing so much hair? You look stressed out. How come? In my mind, I often contemplate random acts of violence but mostly reply with a polite feline hissing sound. Maybe I should try the mental health hotline.

[H/T: on-point.be]

Writing and marathon training are one

10 08 2009

After my long distance debut in Brasschaat, I took a month off from training to regenerate, work on my PhD, organize a press conference, travel to lovely Melbourne to network and conference with linguists and journalists, organize a race and watch my children grow up. I resumed training on August 1, the same day I became a writer-in-residence on the shores of Lake Donk.

To shake off the rust, I’ve been swimming in the lake under the watchful eye of the fishermen, cycling and running. I’ll be doing much more long distance running as I prepare for my marathon debut on November 15 in Kasterlee. A 14-week diet of LSD runs, track sessions, interval sessions and regeneration runs should prepare me to run 42 kilometers and 195 meters. Thank you, coach Kurt.

As I once again face PhD deadlines, there is nothing that helps me to organize my thoughts better than trail running. Pictured above is the Google Earth map of today’s run, an 11K LSD run around Lake Donk. Lovely. Whenever I’m struggling with how to mix data analyses, field observations, theory and oomph into an elegant and coherent chapter in my PhD, all I need to do is put on my running shoes. Run, PhD student, run.

IPrA panel on collaborative news writing

14 07 2009

Takeaways from the 11th Int’l Pragmatics Conference in Melbourne:

  • Don Bysouth’s research on ‘teasing’ by American service personnel in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan – oh, the boredom of warfare
  • Val Williams’ inclusive research – empowering people with learning disabilities: feel-good applied linguistics research
  • Conference clichés: “So when did you arrive?”, “That’s really interesting, thank you”, “So what part of the States are you from, Tom?”, “And how’s your PhD coming along?”
  • Daniel Perrin’s social skills and networking expertise – in a class of his own
From L-R: Aloxe Jetlag, Daniel 'I flew business and slept 8 hours on the plane' Perrin, Lut Baten, Val Williams

From L-R: A still jetlagged yours truly, Daniel 'I flew business and slept 8 hours' Perrin, Lut Baten and Val Williams @ the IPrA conference opening reception

  • Marcel Burger’s jaw-dropping data – turning the process of television journalism inside out
  • the thematic coherence of and audience response to our panel on news production – thank you

Collaborative news writing: A discursive perspective on news production
Convenors: Daniel Perrin, Ellen Van Praet & Tom Van Hout

Panel line-up

  • Daniel Perrin – “Let the pictures do the talking” – Investigating TV journalists’ collaborative text production strategies
  • Tom Van Hout & Ellen Van Praet Buy or sell? The role of consumption and authorship in financial news writing
  • Ellen Van Praet & Tom Van Hout – Competence on display: negotiating status during editorial meetings
  • Marcel Burger – Dealing with conflicting journalistic styles to achieve texts: oral negotiation of written media discourse
  • Inés Olza – The role of metaphor in news production: Political metaphors in “preformulated” media texts
  • Jasper Vandenberghe – New Spanish conquistadores? Newspaper articles and press releases on Spanish foreign investments in Argentina.

Churnalism as new media literacy

29 06 2009

In his now widely cited Why journalists deserve low pay lecture (.pdf, blog post, CSMonitor), Robert G. Picard examines how traditional (i.e. Media 1.0) journalists create economic value primarily through the distribution of the knowledge of others:

In this process three fundamental functions and related skills have historically created economic value: Accessing sources, determining significance of information, and conveying  it effectively. Good journalists possess secondary skills, of course, but these three constitute the core value-creating functions and skills.

Picard is not breaking new ground here: media-source interaction, news judgment and news writing have been on the journalism studies research agenda for years. And deservedly so.

Further down, Picard talks about how the digital revolution has de-skilled professional journalism. Source access is no longer exclusive; everyone with an internet connection has become a potential news source. Likewise, source selection has also become a public good, thanks to Google (here’s to you, Jeff Jarvis). Lastly, software like the one I’m using to write up this blog post has allowed ‘the people formerly known as the audience’ (heads up to Jay Rosen) to publish information and comment on events as they please.

This leads Picard to conclude that

If value is to be created, journalists cannot continue to report merely in the traditional ways or merely re-report the news that has appeared elsewhere. They must add something novel that creates value. They will have to start providing information and knowledge that is not readily available elsewhere, in forms that are not available elsewhere, or in forms that are more useable by and relevant to their audiences

This is a conclusion I can dance to. Let me explain why. Churnalism – the  practice of churning news from press releases and news agency copy – is often seen as the nail in the coffin of print journalism. However, in an online environment, I see churnalism becoming capital – a form of new media literacy if you will.

Online, news is a process (rather than a finished product). This renders the practice of churnalism visible and hence turns it into a yardstick. We can now gauge the added value of this transformation. What did the author add/substract/change/edit?

My point is this: online, churnalism becomes transparent. This opens up the dreaded side-effects of churnalism – reproduction of corporate spin, falsehood and distortion – to public scrutiny. Crucially this (source) transparency enables reporters to really show their mettle by providing information and knowledge that “is not readily available elsewhere” to quote Picard’s conclusion once again.

Crucially, the skills involved churning information fast, efficiently and effectively boil down to appropriation (“the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content“, aka re-entextualization or, more fashionably, retweeting), a crucial new media literacy skill. I see a market for beat reporters who shed their light on events as they happen.

If I was an (online) journalist, the main question I’d ask myself is: here is a piece of information that will get picked up instantly. What can I add to this piece that goes beyond merely reproducing? In short, how can my professional expertise and knowledge contribute to the news production process?