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The Flipside Contextual Essay

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http://viewoftheview.wix.com/theflipside

The authenticity of the mainstream media is in decay. The trend and popularity of ‘infotainment’ has seen the news packaged into entertaining formats where the separation of information and opinion has become increasingly blurred (Cramerotti, 2009). Traditional journalistic methods have become progressively entangled within these changing formats. This has created a new challenge for the audience; they must decipher for themselves the representation of what is true and what is fiction. Alternative media essentially provides an alternate angle, format and presentation of information to that presented by the mainstream media. This is necessary as mainstream media is usually commercial, publicly supported or government-owned, relinquishing it to political and economic control. Alternative media often aims to challenge these existing powers, or at least give more power back to the audience. Aesthetic journalism challenges the notion of truth through artistic forms. It relies on the audience to interpret their own messages and reach their own conclusions, rather than channelling the message to ‘passive consumers’. The Flipside is an alternative media site developed to explore the potentials and boundaries of aesthetic journalism. It is an aggregation of reliable information from a wide-range of sources, with a particular focus on visuality. The aim of this site is to allow the viewer to interpret and reach an understanding of some current global circumstances and events through their own processes. “To make sense is to actively interpret the world and one’s place in it” (Fiske, 1982), my wish is to employ active-sense making and promote the necessity of creating a media literate and visually literate audience. I also created this site to enhance my own global perspective and understanding, as well as further exploring my interests and abilities in this area.

The mainstream media has long had an instinct to show as well as tell, allowing the reader or viewer to see for themselves. This has resulted in a reliance on visual symbolism and photographic ‘evidence’ to support a news article or stories. This reliance means that the press has become adept at creating codes and conventions that go beyond the referential. Projecting connotative and symbolic meanings that interact with and sometimes underpin or contradict the photographs original perspective or features (Huxford, 2001). We are now so regularly addressed by images in the media that we often become inclined to perceive them as ‘naturally produced artefacts’, whose meaning is truly authentic because a photograph provides that visual evidence we need to make sense of a situation. The issue here is that often the meaning of these images is neither constructed nor contested by the audience, causing a ‘shared competence of interpretation’ to develop. This makes the preferred meaning intrinsic to the particular construction of the text and images all the more automatic, and it is then perhaps inevitable that many will unknowingly allow themselves to be led along the epistemological path that a symbolic device, like framing or alteration, is constructed to project (Huxford, 2001).

The Flipside is a very personal project and in no means is it an ideal or holistic representation of aesthetic journalism and it’s potential. Of course, The Flipside, like many other alternative and mainstream news sources, has utilised symbolic devices, however this does not necessarily have to be negative. I have personally chosen twelve global circumstances and events that I had an interest in. As a result my perspective will certainly be evident throughout all of my ‘flips’. I have chosen the information and quotes that I believe help explain these global situations, which are often over or under-represented in the mainstream media, and I have chosen what images to pair with the text. In many cases I have specifically chosen an image to match a quote because there is a symbolic connection, which I believe will help promote thought and interpretation. By no means have I ever purposefully tried to frame or taint an image to reflect my own bias on a story. I specifically chose issues that I wanted to understand further, when I began constructing each ‘flip’ I had a limited knowledge of the situation I was explaining. I had my own personal pre-conceived ideas, opinions and perspectives on each issue, while I tried to separate my own thought process from each ‘flip’ I believe there are certainly elements of my progressive understanding in each story. My intended audience is really just classmates and my close-circle of peers. So I hope that the progression of my understanding will accompany them on their own progression, as they ‘actively make-sense’ of these important issues that I believe my generation needs to further engage with.

Every photograph “isolates the appearance of a disconnected instant” (Berger & Mohr, 1982), this leaves photos disconnected from the place and time they appear to designate (a process that serves to reduce meaning to bytes of information). This means that photographs can be recombined into radically different interpretations than that of their ‘snapshotted reality’. Susan Sontag (1973) states,

“In a world ruled by photographic images, all borders [‘framing’] seem arbitrary. Anything can be separated, can be made discontinuous, from anything else: all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently. Conversely, anything can be made adjacent to anything else . . . Through photographs, the world becomes a series of unrelated, free-standing particles . . . The camera makes reality atomic, manageable . . . (p. 22)”

The mainstream news process makes it clear that every image is subject to sections, interpretations and often alteration as it works its way through the news process. Firstly you have the perspective of the photographer, who chooses what they want to capture and from which angle, you then have the sub-editor or page designer who may choose to crop or frame the image in a particular way. This image is then combined with a headline, caption or text. The image is made to conform to a certain narrative structure or news angle, while simultaneously being bounded within the news companies policies. The introduction of digital technology into this equation also gives a higher profile to practices of digital manipulation, like alteration and erasure (Huxford, 2001). As an alternative news source The Flipside’s process only really involves the perspective of the photographer in the images I have selected, and of course my perspective, as I have constructed each ‘flip’ personally. Even though my site is merely an aggregation of many other journalists and photographers I have tried not to let their news processes and perspectives influence my own too greatly. This awareness connects with one of the Flipside’s major goals and part of it’s social utility, to highlight the importance of creating a media literate and visually literate audience.

Media literacy is defined as the understanding we have about the way in which media affects our society, our culture and ourselves. David Natharius (2004) states that ‘the more we know the more we see’. This a belief that as we learn more about the human experience, both personally and through acquired information, our visual knowledge increases and we are able to increase the meanings we can make from our visual impressions. This is where my focus on visuality to provide an explanation of global human experiences and events stems from. Visual literacy should be a pre-requisite for the comprehension of visual media. The general cognitive consequences of visual literacy are an awareness of visual manipulation and aesthetic appreciation. This is the ability to recognize mediated images as illusions of reality not reality itself. While The Flipside does not specifically outline to its audience how to be aware of visual manipulation I believe those who visit will leave with at least an improved understanding of the potential of images and aesthetics to communicate and help build understanding. I hope that those who do visit the site also leave with a more defined global perspective and a motivation to improve and explore our global reality.

Since I began creating this project my biggest regret has been my choice of HTML editor. I am not exactly technologically talented (I aim to work on this), so there are a lot of aspects of web design that I have no understanding of. Since I first began this project I have understood this limitation and have been stuck within its boundaries. Due to time and money restrictions I chose not to allocate time on improving this aspect of my skill set, however I am certainly motivated to do so in the future. While I originally paid for and created my own domain name I was unable to use it, as I would have to wait over 60 days for it to activate with Wix and I was unwilling to pay the excessive amount Wix demands for a premium account. As a result, Wix will continue to taint my site with its advertisements and it’s name. I sincerely regret not doing more research in regards to a platform on which to build this site, however this is my own fault and I hope other students do not fall into the same trap in the future! The more I look at the layout and design of this site the more I dislike it. I believe if I had used a platform like ‘Squarespace’ the layout would have been a lot cleaner, more timeless and more aesthetically pleasing. This site is also more affordable and would have opened up a lot more opportunities for this website. As mentioned in my project critique the layout is busy and messy. I find it tacky, clunky and un-professional and as a result do not wish to promote its existence. While I am happy to share it in my close circle I do not wish to open it up to the critique of the public. I have come to terms with this and am content with the immobility of The Flipside, it is now nothing but a “disconnected instant” and that is ok! This project has merely become a space for me to explore my own interests and I will use it as a space for collaborating with my other university work, possibly for the purpose of a future portfolio.

While my Twitter page does not have a far reach I believe this is an aspect of The Flipside that I could continue on with in the future. I believe it could become a great space for sharing my interests and involving others in this conversation regarding media literacy and visual literacy. To be honest I should probably have developed a more defined methodology for the creation of this site. I kind of just made it up as I went a long and as I reached those last few stories my interest in creating them started to dwindle. I think this is probably because I knew The Flipside would remain stagnant unless I completely re-created it. While there have been many limitations there have also been some personal successes. Firstly, I have learnt a lot. While I had to skim through a lot of research to get these stories done in time my understanding of some seriously complicated global events has certainly improved. I am satisfied that I finally have some idea what is going on in Ukraine and in Gaza. I am extremely interested in the China’s future and aim to follow its developments closely. I also feel passionately about the employment of self-directed learning and technology in our education system, as well as how we tackle problems like e-waste and the lack of support for foreign freelance journalists. The biggest achievement of The Flipside is that it has helped me discover and strengthen my interests and has shaped the direction in which I want to take them.

Leah Foster

Bibliography

 

Benjamin, Walter (1978), ‘The author as producer’, in Demetz, Peter, ed., Reflections Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing pp. 220-238 (trans.

Edmund Jephcott), New York: Schoken. Accessed 28 October 2014.

 

Cramerotti, Alfredo, 2011, “What is Aesthetic Journalism”, Aesthetic Journalism: How to Inform Without Informing, Intellect, London

 

Foucault, M. (1991). ‘Discipline and Punish: the birth of a prison’. London, Penguin.

Huxford, John (2001), ‘Beyond the referential: Uses of visual symbolism in the press’, in Journalism Vol. 2 (1), pp. 45-71, London, Thousand Oaks and New Dehli: Sage Publications. Accessed 28 October 2014.

 

Natharius, David (2004), ‘The more we know, the more we see: The role of visuality in media literacy’, in American Behavioural Scientist, 48 (2), pp. 238-247, London, Thousand Oaks and New Dehli: Sage Publications. Accessed 28 October 2014).

 

 

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Where am I?

Well hey, my name is Leah Foster and I am a BCM student at the University of Wollongong, Australia. I am now approaching the end of my Bachelor of Media and Communications, majoring in International Communications & Digital Communications. This has entailed a rather daunting amount of blogging and tweeting. As a result I have created ‘Media Atlas’ as a kind of central access point for the rest of my media blogs, which at the moment are categorised by subject. You can also access my Twitter page (don’t get your hopes up) – Enjoy & Talk soon ☼ I can see you

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