Saturday 8 October 2011

some writers festival takeaways

I discovered some new authors at the Brisbane Writers Festival, as well as feeling concerned about the impact of the digital revolution on the delivery of quality journalism. I have been meaning to post this for ages!

Favourite sessions were local authours ~ Nick Earls (who is laugh out loud funny) and Kate Morton as well as scientist Bryan Gaensler at the Everything and Nothing session. And the two sessions that left a lasting impression were…

Almost Ordinary Stories: There is nothing extraordinary about a sex scandal, couples having perfect babies or the streets of India…unless, of course, the story is written by Rachel DeWoskin {Big Girl Small}Mridula Koshy {If It Is Sweet} or Tim Richards {Thought Crimes}. These writers discuss turning ordinary stories into evocative and thought provoking tales.

Beautiful writing – this was the common thread of each author, who read passages from their books and shared tales of life.  I now have all three books on my reading list!

However, it was Rachel DeWoskin, the author of Big Girl Small who intrigued me. She is an American and the daughter of a Sinology professor, who majored in English and studied Chinese at Columbia University in New York City.

She went to Beijing in 1994 to work as a public-relations consultant and later starred in a Chinese nighttime soap opera, the hugely successful Foreign Babes in Beijing, which was watched by approximately 600 million viewers. DeWoskin played the character of Jiexi. As the Reuters news agency noted, the show was a “sort of Chinese counterpart to Sex and the City revolving around Chinese-Western culture clashes.” At the time, she was one of the few foreign actresses working in mainland China and was considered a sex symbol. Read more here.

DeWoskin returned to the United States in 1999 where she began graduate work in poetry at Boston University. In 2005, W.W. Norton published her memoir of her time spent in China, Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China.

Mridula Susan Koshy is an Indian writer. She lives in New Delhi with her partner and three children. She is the author of a collection of short stories If It Is Sweet, which are poetically, sensually and powerfully written.

The Digital Revolution: Who Pays? Deriving an income from the online distribution of books, blogs, news and more remains elusive. Henry Rosenbloom, Jeff Sparrow and Sophie Cunningham discuss the opportunities and challenges of doing business on the net while using marketing automation  to support business growth efforts. (more on that here )

This session highlighted the challenge faced by writers and authors in a changing literary world of the internet. And when the thread is followed, the quality and ethics of journalism unravels.

The Huffington Post was sited as an example of the complex environment. Here is the story: The Huffington Post is an American news website and content aggregating blog co-founded by Arianna Huffington. It was launched on May 9, 2005, as a commentary outlet and alternative to news websites like the Drudge Report. The site offers coverage of politics, media, business, entertainment, living, style, the green movement, world news, and comedy, and has news, blogs, and original content. In 2008, the site launched its first local version,  HuffPost Chicago; followed by HuffPost New York, Denver and Los Angeles in 2009. The Huffington Post has an active community, with over one million comments made on the site each month. The Huffington Post launched its first international edition, HuffPost Canada, followed by the Huffington Post UK in 2011. On February 7, 2011, AOL acquired The Huffington Post for US$315 million. 

This excerpt from WebProNews identifies the complexities of producing web content.

The Huffington Post has taken a lot of criticism since the announcement of its acquisition by AOL. Much of this has been more aimed at Google as part of the whole content farm debate (though nobody is really saying the quality of Huffington Post’s content is as poor as some known content farms). It’s more about search results being saturated by content from a handful of companies.

But some of the criticism has been geared directly at The Huffington Post. For example, as we mentioned in a previous article, LA Times columnist Tim Rutten recently wrote:

To grasp the Huffington Post’s business model, picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates. The media-saturated environment in which we live has been called “the information age” when, in fact, it’s the data age. Information is data arranged in an intelligible order. Journalism is information collected and analyzed in ways people actually can use. Though AOL and the Huffington Post claim to have staked their future on giving visitors to their sites online journalism, what they actually provide is “content,” which is what journalism becomes when it’s adulterated into a mere commodity.” 

Huffington Post political reporter Jason Linkins doesn’t like what he’s hearing, and has written a lenghty post defending the HuffPost’s practices, saying essentially that such criticism is coming from people that don’t know what they’re talking about (granted, he did not name anyone specific). In the post, he says:

It’s often written: “HuffPost does not pay its writers.” I assure you, they do! Somehow, I always seem to have money for food and shelter and stuff. That’s because I am an employee of The Huffington Post.

And there’s this article from AJR: Why high-profile journalists are leaving prestigious news outlets like the New York Times to join The Huffington Post. Posted: Tue, April 5, 2011. Here’s part of the story…

Huffington, who launched the site in 2005 and now oversees all of AOL’s media properties following that company’s $315 million acquisition of The Huffington Post in March, says the heightened emphasis on original reporting doesn’t mean abandoning the past. Huffington says the site had 148 journalists on payroll prior to the merger and is in the process of hiring dozens more, even as aggregation and blogging remain key parts of the site’s operation. “I really want to have everything. I don’t want us to move away from curation, aggregation or blogging,” she says. “I want what we’re doing to be additive, not subtracting.”

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