#ECRchat – My Academic Trajectory for 2017

#ECRchat – My Academic Trajectory for 2017

With a bit of time to stop and think over the Xmas break, I’ve had a thought or two on my academic trajectory for 2017 – which of course came to me over a few beers with friends and family…

I’ve just returned from holidays where I spent much time with family, friends and people who I have no idea are. I kind of did an ‘East Coast Suburbs’ tour of Australia, and realised that with a young family of three boys, suburbia is pretty alright. Dudes can run, scooter, play, basketball, hang, meet other young kids, etc., and rarely did we have that overwhelming city feeling of ‘Where’s Mr 4? Is he in someone’s car?’ kind of vibe that is just part of the tapestry of city living I guess.

I also spent a lot of time with people not in my usual networks – weak ties to the network studies people reading this. It was awesome, and as an ethnographer it really sharpened my skills for my upcoming field work this year. One of the most interesting realisations I had was while camping in one of the many coastal spaces in Northern NSW was that most people couldn’t give a shit about what academics think, or where there trajectory is heading over the next few years.

I watched on with awe of this camping family that lived across the road from us in Minnie Waters. The parents owned a permanent caravan which they had for about 30 years, and there was generations of family that would pop in over the course of the week or so that we were there. They had 4WDs, boats, fishing and crabbing gear – all the toys that made their holiday life totally fun and enjoyable. They had friends and wives and girlfriends and kids… all the while laughing and hanging out with each other (and no doubt eating the best seafood).

It was at that moment that I thought ‘these people have a great life, and they just don’t care what stuff we academics are doing. Like, at all. So that was the impetus to the thinking behind this year’s academic goal:

Make my academic work have some real world impact!

In the day to day grind of academic life, I think we head down and go for glory with our publications, grant writing, strategy development, research and teaching and kind of forget the bigger picture (well I certainly do at least). Some of the real world stuff that has been surfacing in the latter part of 2016 gathered much academic interest (that has enormous real world impact), but I never really saw much of it move from the ‘ivory tower‘ and into any kind of action. I may be wrong here, and tell me if I am in the comments, but I see this as a pretty flaw of the academic profession.

I think we are pretty good at pointing out the short-comings of politics, economics, cultures, governance, communication, etc., but I think we have a problem with converting that into any real impact. Certainly any impact that would have an effect on our fishing family in Minnie Waters.

I saw some great research last year that worked it’s way into the main stream press and reached wider audiences, but on the whole, I only heard a lot of talk about all the bad stuff. I’m using this as a launch pad to try and use 2017 as a time to not only critically analyse shit, but to also make some kind of positive change with it.

Topics that are always coming up in my filter bubble include (to name a few):

  • Trump
  • Fake News
  • Alt Right
  • Algorithms (the algorithm made me do it)
  • Negative economic growth
  • Disastrous left-leaning parties

If we put all of this together, it could be a right disaster for our entire contemporary civilisation. Are we not in über privileged positions to have a bird’s eye view of this stuff, and should it not be our responsibility to feed this in to the public sphere?

It’s one thing to identify this, but another thing to action it. I’m not clear on how to do my part yet – maybe more media appearances? Maybe I will engage local community groups and feed information into them? Maybe I’ll run in politics as Obama Reckons I should?

But I certainly need to get out my academic circles this year and talk more with ordinary people about how they can change things – you know, encourage people to lead their own shit.

Oh yeah, and I’m going to do this after I finish my book, submit my DECRA, take on my responsibilities as the new undergraduate coordinator, write a new university wide online course for social media, continue to teach my Social Media MOOC, coordinate and teach four subjects and undertake the field work for my new research project.

I do love how time off makes you put things into some sort of perspective 😉

Digital Media Contexts for Policy Interventions in Australia: Regulating the Share Economy

Digital Media Contexts for Policy Interventions in Australia: Regulating the Share Economy

I’m in Seoul South Korea this week, and presenting some research on the sharing economy that we’ve (along with Associate Professor Tim Dwyer) been undertaking for the past few months, specifically #Airbnb conversations and how Australia is regulating what Pritchard (2016) terms ‘consumer capitalist economy‘.


It’s been another great piece of social media research from my perspective that reveals some unique insights into the social and cultural application of what has recently been reframed as a regulatory problem in NYC and San Francisco.

Through the global analysis of #airbnb (1.6m tweets, across 29 June – 27 July), we revealed the following insights:

  1. The Airbnb conversation has an almost equal emphasis on travel and users enterprise;
  2. This is a business that is only enabled by mobile media devices, as demonstrated through the #livethere campaign;
  3. The conversation is beginning to gain momentum in Asia, specifically South East Asia;
  4. There is a subsidiary level of business that piggy-backs on Airbnb, where some of it has a strong civil role, for example keeping senior citizens connected and social, see for example the work @helpage are conducting;
  5. If the regulation of Airbnb is too restrictive, you will damage these secondary markets that may not be precisely in the ‘consumer capitalist society’.


From here, we continue to build ties with our colleagues at Yonsei University and develop this research further around the impacts of digital diplomacy, regulation and the sharing economy, and comparative studies between mobile broadband in Australia and South Korea.

Disrupting Online News at the ABC – Martin Egan talks to #MECO3602

Disrupting Online News at the ABC – Martin Egan talks to #MECO3602

We are no longer the home of news, we are the source – Michelle Guthrie

We are lucky enough to have Martin Egan, Senior Product Manager at ABC News Online talk with us this week. He gave us the  low down on how the digital news world is changing, under Michelle Guthrie’s push.

Product Manager – what do they do? Well one aspect of this role is a sort of R&D person that looks at various developments. One concept in this space is MVP – minimal viable product – this is a small bash at something small to test the theory, for example integrating Apple News into the news delivery.

ABC News Digital – remit to educate all Australian websites. Started as HTML blog where the script form 11 o’clock news on the internet, through to now ‘better’. They have a remit of innovating, for example ‘ask a bot’.

Content is still king, regardless of interaction. Mobile is going through the roof, look at your own digital behaviour to understand where it is going. For example, key areas such as content, mobile, video, social, UGC. The case study of Facebook moving to Marketplace and the interface being in place of where messenger was.

The ABC Charter is no longer the home of Australian Stories, The ABC is now the source as per Michelle Guthrie. Have to come out and talk to everyone – what does this mean?


  • UX – user experience is the gatekeeper to the audience.
  • IA – Information Architecture, how the info is structured
  • TLDR – too long didn’t read it is the basis for Interactive to engage the audience beyond reading the long article
  • UGC – Paris Bombings, getting content way faster than the journalists, need to e careful
  • Continuous reporting and improvement, the ratings are crap, but data analytics are what we can actually use – these are how we tell what works ( i.e Chartbeat)


  • Mobile vs desktop, most work on mobile now
  • 2nd screen, not only competitor, but a complimentory device
  • No longer one message across all platforms, specific content for platforms
  • Web vs. App – mobile is the battleground, i.e Facebook vs. open web
  • Google can’t search apps


  • Vertical video which is associated with smart phones
  • Captions on videos – this is the message of the video, which is a new format
  • Washington Post are doing this on Snapchat
  • Good revenue for media orgs
  • 360, VR, AR is where the current thought is – huge market in the next couple of years


  • ABC is the Source – we have to publish to where the audience is, Snapchat, aligning with Facebook News
  • iPhone and the spotlight change to srengthen Apple News – this is where the current strategy is
  • Q&A locked in with Facebook Live

User Generated Content

  • Opening doors for citizen journalism – will this really work? Isn’t this why The Drum died?
  • Trust is huge for the ABC – how does this translate for citizen journalism?

Is News going to die?

  • No – think The Big Four: Apple News, Google AMP, Facebook Instant Articles, Jeff Bezo buys the Washington Post (he’s pouring money into digital journalism)
  • The ABC now sends news to these platforms
  • Analysis at 7pm will become the big thing

Future of News

  • Follow the audience – Buzzfeed model which syndicates news to multiple platforms
  • Difficulty in subscription vs advertising vs sponsored, no one really understands this model
  • Adblockers are killing the previous economic models
  • We are now in a Post-Napster era: people pay for quality and convenience –
  • Chatfuel
  • Neimans Labs and Poynters as key info spaces for text


Digital Influencers for Public Service Media?

Digital Influencers for Public Service Media?

So I’ve just returned from this year’s RIPE conference in Antwerp, which, as Greg Lowe has highlighted, provided a clear discussion about connection and detachment. The thrust of my presentation, however, was focussed on the role of digital influencers within public service media.

I was initially arguing that given the success of individuals on commercial platforms (Instagram, musical.ly, etc.), along with the production model being forged by multichannel networks (MCNs), PSM should engage digital influencers to mobilise sectors of their audience that have disappeared. This is especially important for ‘generation notification’, the 13-18 year olds, but also for other groups that are heavily engaged with social media beyond traditional media.

But in thinking through how this might or might not work for PSM, the best question a colleague asked me was, “what’s in it for the digital influencer?” (thanks CK Wilson). Probably not a lot, and could in fact damage their reputation as ‘fun’ or ‘cool’ with potentially ‘daggy’ PSM.

So I reframed my approach and am now thinking that it is useful for PSM to indeed foster the role of digital influencer from within. I posit: PSM needs to employ and train social media digital influencers from within the organisation. This cultural intermediaries operate on social media through platform-specific content and engage audiences that have either turned away from PSM, or fail to have access to typical terrestrial broadcasting services. From this approach, we can better understand PSM through value and universality.

Here are some thoughts from my developing and reworked conclusion that demonstrate what I mean:

Operationalising New Roles of Cultural Intermediation within PSM

It is clear that there is a new way of reading how the audience engage with content that PSM is publishing beyond existing audience metrics, for examples views of broadcast content or downloads of uploaded material. If PSM focus on the significance of socially relevant content described as public issues which is afforded by cultural intermediation, they have the potential to enrich the conversation. As cultural intermediation enables a two way conversation between PSM institution and its audiences, they are bolstering their already very capable skills of producing content that is of significance to a nation’s citizens. In this regard, PSM has much to learn from how the commercial operators are functioning and in some respects innovating within the digital influencer space.

In a similar way that MCNs operate, that is through a model that moves away from the attention economy alone and more towards an exposure economy (Ferdinands, 2016), PSM organisations have the potential to build audiences that are both large in size, and also address demographics that media organisations, especially PSM, are failing to address, for example the 13-18 year-old audience. One immediate response to enabling this sort of communication strategy is to align with existing digital influencers like @babyariel or Troye Sivan for example. However, these digital influencers have worked especially hard to develop a particular type of brand and working alongside an existing PSM organisation could do more damage than positivity. Moreover, in a relationship that sees PSM teaming with existing digital influencers would be enormously advantageous for the media organisation, with very little benefit for the digital influencer. This arrangement suggest a new model of cultural intermediation is required for both non-commercial and commercial media organisations.

Alternatively, media organisations could be looking towards bringing the digital influencer role in-house by beginning to train content producers in the skill set of lifestyle bloggers. Ferdinands (2016) has conducted compelling research into the skills and tools that digital influencers use to build a specific brand, create a lifestyle story, build large audiences and communicate to those large audiences. This is not a role that is within the same space as creating content to ‘go viral’ which is entirely hit and miss and for the most part left to chance: rather, this approach has a strategic process that has historically demonstrated multiple successful iterations. This role could be housed within the existing digital media teams within most media organisations in one of two ways. First, the digital influencer role could be constructed entirely for the media brand and be hosted by the media organisation. Secondly, once this digital influencer is established and operating, they could engage in ‘collabs’ with other content producers of the media organisation to bolster their audience within the social media environment. Through a sort of social development intermediary we see PSM and commercial media organisations engaging in the concept around branded me and essentially creating their own in-house microcelebrities.

In this environment, we see the PSM as the key organisation that is integrating vanity metrics with critical analytics: that is to bolster microcelebrity with socially relevant content. The issue that would need to be addressed as PSM develop such a role, is under what conditions would this person operate? Are they required to only talk about non-commercial products? Would that influence how they converse in such a space? Would a non-commercial discussion limit the extent to which their success is generated? What is the tone that the digital influencer should and indeed could use when communicating with their audience? These sorts of discussions would need to be entertained to align the work of an internal digital influencer with that of the remit of PSM. Aligning the focus wouldn’t be an issue but ensuring the digital influencer remains entertaining and at the coal face could be difficult.

Critical Analytics in public service media

Critical Analytics in public service media

I have been thinking and writing about how critical analytics can be applied towards public service media. This sort of analytics measurements become crucial when we are thinking through public issues – a core focus for a democracy supportive institution such as PSM. I am still convinced the digital influencer model can work for public service media, especially if we borrow from the successes and learning from multichannel networks (MCNs).

Below is the abstract for my upcoming paper to be presented at the RIPE conference, in Antwerp:

How can governments and policy makers understand their citizens’ value for their public service media (PSM) organisations beyond traditional audience metrics measurements? Public service media is under attack at the governance, remit and funding levels. This shift in political ideology and media policy towards the beneficial elements of public service broadcasting is strengthened through conservative governments, introspective and disorganised left political parties, hostile media environments, and substantially reduced funding arrangements (Barnett, 2015). Recent scholarship has attempted to promote the significance of ‘value’ of PSM (see esp. the collected edition by Lowe & Martin, 2013), which has been unable to protect the increasingly questioned relevance of public service broadcasting in a neoliberal and digitally advanced communication environment. Often these sorts of value judgements are based on governance structuring, content production and, importantly, audience engagement measurements.

Audience engagement measurements typically rely on historically boosterish and inaccurate audience measurement apparatuses that are incapable of understanding public engagement beyond ‘eyes on screens’. Inaccurate audience metrics are particularly problematic when mapping the relationship between PSM’s purpose, its value and government/subscription funding models. Social media, however, provides a new opportunity to explore audience engagement beyond these basic audience measurements, by being able to track and analyse PSM social conversations. In tracking these conversations in real time, scholars, media makers and policy makers will be able to understand the relationship of a PSM organisation with its citizens via social media, and how social media metrics relate to public service value.

The ABC especially relies entirely on the Australian Government to provide its funding, the level of which is decided by the government-elect. The allocation of funding is associated with the value of PSM to its citizens, which has historically been determined by out-dated and inaccurate audience metrics. Australian government funding agencies measure PSM value through audience engagement in traditional standards, yet the intellectual puzzle this research addresses suggests new evaluation processes are required to understand how audience engagement practices have shifted through social media. As such, this paper explores, how can government-funding bodies identify and use social media metrics to understand public service media value?

However, social media metrics are often associated with what has been framed as vanity metrics. Vanity metrics are those measures that refer to social media likes, fans, followers or friends and can be easily construed by marketing and advertising folk to tell a particular type of story. This approach towards audience metrics is not useful for PSM as measuring how many people might like a Facebook post fails to indicate if the remit of the organisation is indeed performing as they are legislated. Instead, what is useful in this environment to engage social media measuring of what Rogers (2016) terms an issue network, that is a network that is interested in social issues and social issue engagement. It is in this mode that audience research shifts from researching vanity metrics alone, which tell us one unique story, but to an approach that includes critical analytics to clearly understand if the PSM is indeed ‘entertaining and educating’.

This paper uses cultural intermediation as framework to understand a particular subset of intermediaries: digital influencers. Digital influencers provide a unique opportunity to explore how commercial entities, specifically Multichannel Networks (MCNs) have established cutting edge engagement strategies and economic models. While MCNs operate within the commercial sector, the strength of their ability to engage large audiences and influence their opinions cannot be ignored by large cultural organisations such as PSM. While digital influencers construct their business model around what can be termed vanity metrics (Ries, 2009), the strategic benefits can be aligned with what Rogers (2016) terms critical analytics. By incorporating critical analytics into PSM, which relies on monitoring and initialising discussion around public issues, the opportunity to engage new and larger audiences that have since left PSM properties emerges. The challenge is to align digital influencers with appropriate public issues that can be aligned with the remit of PSM. Critical analytics, then, provide us with new audience metrics that can be aligned with the remit of PSM, ultimately providing a new approach towards the value generated by these cultural facilitating organisations.

The significance of addressing the current measurement of the audience’s representation of public service media value and aligning it with contemporary social media practices provides insights of how to accurately allocate taxpayer funding to Australian public broadcaster programming. This research also showcases a new mechanism to highlight what the Australian public consider to be high-value public service programming as discussed in their social media conversations.

Public Service Media, Digital Influencers and Critical Analytics: #dmdscu16 Day one

Public Service Media, Digital Influencers and Critical Analytics: #dmdscu16 Day one

We’ve just had the first day of the Digital Methods for Social Development Summit here at the Chinese University Hong Kong, which brings the digital methods expertise from the University of Amsterdam’s Digital Methods Initiative to the Global South.

It was a great set of presentations from leading people in the field that provided us with stimulus for the coming week of sleeves-rolled-up, down and dirty, digital methods work. I would like to focus on one presentation from Richard Rogers that I think can really develop my current line of enquiry.

After giving my public lecture a few weeks back for Media@Sydney where I was trying to understand how digital influencers are useful for socially good areas such as public service media (PSM). I arrived at a place that highlights why they are useful, but I still have a gap in how to really bridge between the two quite different approaches to highly commercial success and non-commercial PSM.

Richard’s presentation focussed on the concept that takes vanity metrics (followers, fans, etc) to critical analytics which looks at how socially important issues can be measured within a network society. Critical analytics are:

  • Dominant voice (source hierarchy, credibility),
  • Concern (actor presence or absence in the issue space – who is making the issue a concern),
  • Commitment (the longevity of concern),
  • Positioning (the purposive deployment of a keyword – framing for e.g. or the use of a keyword),
  • Alignment (the company a keyword keeps – alliance of the word, how do people use the word #securitywall, #apartightwall)

No while Richard presented this as a one versus the other type of dichotomy, I can’t help but think, in fact feel and know, that this is the way to bring digital influencers towards PSM. If we can look at digital influencers through the framework of critical analytics, I think we are looking into the space that is bringing commercially successful models (cultural intermediation), towards socially relevant projects, in my field of research:public service media.

Looking forward to developing this idea further this week in the lead up to RIPE in September.

CFP: Digital Media Methods @ #ANZCA16

Call For Papers – Digital Media Methods

Australia and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA), Newcastle Australia, 5-8 July, 2016.

Scraping the Political, Economical and Social: The state of digital methods for media and communication research

Media and communication researchers have embraced the computational and digitisation turns (Rogers, 2014), which have notably seen the multidisciplinary inclusion of computer science with the humanities. From early methods that some argued over-claimed their impact, towards contemporary approaches that have been nuanced and improved by researchers and specialists, digital media methods are now a collection of ‘how to’ tools to research social, economical and political sites. Globally, multiple researchers and institutions have developed cutting edge technologies that enable a large proportion of media and communication researchers to interrogate existing research sites in new ways. Additionally, these digital media methods have enabled researchers to find new research environments through data repositories, big data, digital media platforms, and social media, for example. Our interest in digital data will increase further as we see new cultural practices emerge through activities associated with drones, autonomous automobiles, sensors, and the internet of things.

There remains a significant gap, however, in our current media and communication methodologies and the current research technology. While we are able to identify conversations of public concern and how they inform ‘issues’ (Burgess & Matamoros, 2016), there remains the problem of how to integrate cultural context (humour, geography, history, etc.) into our understanding of large social media data sets. Further, the increasing shift away from text-based communication towards visual methods, i.e. Instagram, instigates a methodological conundrum (Highfield and Leaver, 2016). Finally, while the efforts of Wills (2016), Fordyce et al. (2016), Bruns et al. (2016) and Dowd (2016) advance our understanding of ontologies and typographies of social media data, further work needs to be undertaken to standardise our collection and analysis methods of digital media. Collectively, these issues present problems in data gathering techniques, research design, university ethics and access for digital media research methods.

We are seeking contributions from scholars for a ‘progression session’ at the 2016 Australia and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) that can address one or many of the following:

  1. What are the cutting edge examples of digital media methods in media and communication research?
  2. How can we integrate cultural contexts into the broad computational approach of digital platform research?
  3. How can we as media and communication researchers access digital media tools for our own projects?
  4. How should we approach ontologies and/or typologies for digital media research?
  5. How do we negotiate these emerging research areas with our university ethics boards?

Contributions from this panel will form the basis for a collected edition on digital media research methods.

Please send your 400 word abstract to Jonathon Hutchinson at jonathon.hutchinson@sydney.edu.au before 26 February, 2016.