What’s new in M/C Journal: the ambient issue

"Smear No. 12" by Luke Jaaniste, from the cover of M/C Journal. Image: M/C Journal

M/C Journal has just released its latest issue, edited by my colleague, QUT’s Luke Jaaniste. The topic is ambience, a special interest of Luke’s that he explores in his editorial, “The Ambience of Ambience“:

Now is not the time or place to give a detailed history of these discursive manoeuvres (although some key clues are given in Spizter; and also Jaaniste, Approaching). But a list of how the term has been taken up after Eno–across the arts, design, media and culture–reveals the broad tenets of ambience or, perhaps, the ambience of ambience. Nowadays we find talk of (in alphabetical order): ambient advertising (Quinion), aesthetics (Foster), architecture (CNRS; Sample), art (Desmarias; Heynen et al.), calculus (Cardelli), displays (Ambient Displays Reserch Group; Lund and Mikael; Vogel and Balakrishnan), fears (Papastergiadis), findability (Morville), informatics (Morville), intelligence (Weber et al.), media (Meeks), narratives (Levin), news (Hagreaves and Thomas), poetics (Morton), television (McCarthy), and video (Bizzocchi). There’s probably more.

The articles in the issue are just as interesting. Of particular interest to readers of this blog are two articles about “ambient journalism”, by Alfred Hermida and Alex Burns.

Hermida puts forward the now-conventional thesis that social networking technologies like Twitter are creating a new style of news-gathering:

… ambient journalism presents a multi-faceted and fragmented news experience, where citizens are producing small pieces of content that can be collectively considered as journalism. It acknowledges the audience as both a receiver and a sender. I suggest that micro-blogging social media services such as Twitter, that enable millions of people to communicate instantly, share and discuss events, are an expression of ambient journalism.

Burns takes issue with this. He argues that cirizen journalists or “para-journalists” may lack the professional expertise to carry out the functions of journalism in any comprehensive sense:

Craft and skills distinguish the professional journalist from Hermida’s para-journalist. Increasingly, media institutions hire journalists who are trained in other craft-based research methods (Burns and Saunders). Bethany McLean who ‘broke’ the Enron scandal was an investment banker; documentary filmmaker Errol Morris first interviewed serial killers for an early project; and Neil Chenoweth used ‘forensic accounting’ techniques to investigate Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer. Such expertise allows the journalist to filter information, and to mediate any influences in the external environment, in order to develop an individualised, ‘embodied’ perspective (Hofstadter 234; Thompson; Garfinkel and Rawls). Para-journalists and social network platforms cannot replace this expertise, which is often unique to individual journalists and their research teams.

As always, there is plenty more to read and digest in what I found to be a high-quality and thought-provoking issue of this journal.